There are more than 40 known intersex variations and may apply to up to one in 60 individuals which is effectively as common as someone being born with red hair, making it much more common than people might think.
Yet, most schools fail to engage mindfully with contemporary content about intersex variations – a reality that one University of Southern Queensland (USQ) academic says must change.
Dr Annette Brömdal from USQ’s School of Education, said students born with an intersex variation experience significant harm in schooling spaces, including in sexuality education.
This is especially so when their stature, pubertal experience or other elements of bodily appearance do not conform to conventional gender expression, puberty or binary notions of sex characteristics associated with male or female bodies, and this can lead to severe psychological problems.
In collaboration with other intersex rights and health advocates and scholars in Australia, Dr Brömdal has developed a Strategic Framework to assist principals, teachers, education support staff and administrators to implement such an approach.
‘A whole school approach’
In an interview with The Educator, Dr Brömdal said it is important for principals to ensure students with intersex variations and their families are supported by access to affirmative and knowledgeable forms of school support.
“This includes respect for the students’ privacy and confidentiality, and providing assistance for them to be self-determining,” Dr Brömdal told The Educator.
“Principals must also provide mechanisms for feeding back to school policy, connected to one another including ongoing affirmative peer and other psychosocial support”.
Dr Brömdal also pointed to the importance of instituting intersex awareness raising for families and school boards/governing bodies.
“School staff should be able to refer parents or guardians of students with intersex variations to intersex affirming resources and support, or direct them to staff who can assist with this,” Dr Brömdal said.
When it comes to supporting students with intersex variations through the curriculum, Dr Brömdal said there are a number of options for schools.
“These could include cross-cutting, affirming and accurate material on sexual, biological, physical and psychological diversity, and the human rights of people of diverse sex characteristics in the sexuality education curriculum,” she said.
“This could also be expanded to other relevant curriculum and learning areas and domains, such as Health and Physical Education, English, Science, Humanities and Social Sciences, the Arts, and in general capabilities”.
Dr Brömdal said principals must consider the evolving capacity of the child, ensuring that students with intersex variations, their families and intersex-led organisations have input into sexuality education curriculum/teaching and learning content development.
“Sexuality education material – both in libraries and in the classroom – also helps students critically examine stereotypical thinking about sex characteristics, gender and sexuality, sensitive to intersex knowledge, lives and experiences,” she said.
“Schools can also ensure the inclusion of positive intersex stories and role models that speak to both intersex and endosex students, and promote the delivery of content by people with intersex variations”.
Dr Brömdal said Victoria is leading the way in emphasising that the most effective sexuality education programs take a whole-school learning approach which are most effective when developed in consultation with parents and guardians, supported by learning and teaching that is developmentally appropriate.
“When students feel included, affirmed, visible and supported they are less inclined to experience health and wellbeing issues and more likely to have improved educational outcomes and employment opportunities ensuring that sexuality education is transformative and is valued as a human right”.