Report: The Schools OUT conference 2012 (part one)

Published: February 10, 2012

The first in a two-part report of the 2012 Schools OUT conference, Educating OUT Prejudice through the LGBT Lens.

Tackling Transphobia

In schools, LGBT pupils are routinely excluded from school and college curricula. Stonewall’s survey (PDF) in 2006 provided a sobering reminder of the misery faced by gay youth in schools when it was revealed that 65 percent of gay pupils had experienced bullying. While the awareness of bullying and homophobia has been raised thanks to celebrity campaigns such as Ben Cohen’s ‘Stand Out’ and a handful of sports personalities coming out, a Times Educational Supplement survey found that homophobic attitudes and language are rife in Britain’s schools today.

The key challenge is that in many cases, teachers have insufficient training, confidence, understanding or guidance to tackle homophobic bullying. Some teachers are too afraid to bring up the subject of homophobia or transphobia, for fear of a backlash from pupils and parents. Furthermore, autonomous academies have greater freedom to set their own curriculum, and consider diversity as a low priority. And some – though by no means all – faith schools expose pupils to homophobic teachings in the name of ‘teaching sexuality according to religious ethos,’ as the law allows them to do. As for transphobia – a term not even recognised by the notebook with which this article is written – ignorance of the condition is institutionalised.

SchoolsOUT, which has been campaigning to create a culture of inclusiveness for LGBT people since 1974, is determined to tackle these issues head-on. Central to the organisation’s campaign is its eighth annual LGBT History Month, in which participating schools in Britain counter the legacy of silence by celebrating the achievements of sexual minorities. The group has met the demand for teacher resources with a new website, The Classroom, which has had over 22,000 hits since its November launch. The SchoolsOUT conference, held at the RADA Studios in Central London on February 4th, provided an opportunity to hear about the state of progress in promoting inclusiveness.

The first session examined the issues surrounding transgenderism. Terry Reid O.B.E., founder of GIRES (Gender Identity Research and Education Society), which provides transgender-related policy advice to the public sector, explained the prevalence of and scientific explanations for gender variance.

Statistics show that a school of 1,000 pupils will have six pupils who have to deal with transgenderism throughout their lives. Recent estimates suggest nearly 7,500 people have undergone for treatment of gender dysphoria, at a rate of 1,500 per year, and growing at fifteen percent. More trans youngsters are having the confidence to come out because they talk to each other and on the internet and learn that they feel the same way as others do.

Rooted in the brain

The evidence that gender identification is rooted in the brain, determined in the womb and largely stable thereafter, is extensive. Variations may result from additional hormones in the pregnant mother’s system, or unusual X/Y chromosomal patterns. There is a spectrum of variance, from undetected cases, to Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, in which a person grows up with the brain wiring and external appearance of a woman, yet shortened female genitalia with undescended testes. Furthermore, research by Professor Milton Diamond has shown a raised incidence of gender and sexual orientation variance among twins, who are vulnerable to different inputs of hormones. Unlike those with atypical sexual orientation, pupils with gender variance need medical attention. Trans people may experience stress at the onset of puberty, when their bodies become increasingly discordant with their gender identities. At this point, after careful screening, hormone blocking treatment may be given, so children can have more time to decide their gender role.

But while nature loves variance, society hates it. One only has to look in a children’s toy or clothes store to see how boys and girls are straitjacketed into gender specific roles, almost from birth. Those who don’t fit the mould often face rejection and abuse.

The Leveson inquiry this week showed that while the press have by and large moved on from depicting LGB people as objects of ridicule, trans people are still fair game (PDF). The Tavistock and Portman Clinic in North London, the only gender clinic for young transgender people, reports that 23 percent of its patients have attempted self-harm.

The challenge, says Reid, is to help people understand that gender is not a choice but like sexual orientation, it is who you are. Ignorance about causality of gender prevails even in the medical community. Eighty-four percent of NHS doctors believe public money shouldn’t be spent on gender reassignment because it was a ‘lifestyle choice’.

Report: The Schools OUT conference 2012 (part two)
 
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