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Chrestin Meina


Assignment 1
Chose one contemporary social justice issue
currently being focused upon in the media such as:
sexuality, gender, language, refugees or ethnicity
and discuss how Australian schools are meeting
the challenge of equity and access for (impacted)
minority groups.

In recent years, the issue of sexuality has been focused upon in the media, especially within
the school system. Students are very diverse and this flows through to sexual diversity in
schools. The dominant discourse in society, and hence, schools, gives power and privilege to
those who fit into the accepted or normalised sexuality categories while creating a
disadvantage for those who do not. The policy of Australian Schools has to meet the needs of
the diverse range of sexualities within the student population so as to provide equitable access
to education for all students. The effectiveness of these policies towards sexual diversity in
schools can be assessed through the use of Feminist Poststructuralist theory.

To fully comprehend the issues relating to sexuality in schools, one must understand the idea
of sexual and gender diversity. This idea refers to the recognition that young people identify
with a whole range of sexual identities, including those who identify as having no gender,
identifying as both male and female, gender fluid or expressing themself in ways that do not
match those of social expectations (Smith, Jones, Ward, Dixon, Mitchell & Hillier, 2014).
Diversity Australia (2016) also refer to the LGBTQI people which stands for Lesbian, Gay,
Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning, and Intersex. These are also terms that are
given to describe the many ways people can express their sexual and gender identity. Sexual
diversity, sexuality and gender are therefore not binary concepts but rather very subjective

In order to understand educational disadvantage as it pertains to sexuality and sexual

diversity, one must also understand equity and access in education linked to this. In Australia,
and generally around the world, the dominant discourse in regards to sexuality is
heterosexuality. Those who do not identify as heterosexual can therefore face issues of
discrimination and violence. The Safe Schools Coalition Australia is a national coalition of
schools dedicated to creating safe and inclusive learning environments for gender diverse
students, staff and family members (The Safe Schools Coalition Australia, 2015). As part of
their analysis of research conducted in this area they have put forward that school bullying
that is associated with homophobia or transphobia can be linked to poor mental health, poor
academic achievement, higher rates of truancy and higher rates of suicide (The Safe Schools
Coalition Australia, 2015). The Coalition also refers to research which shows that those
students who attend schools where they feel safe and supported are less likely to have poor
mental health and have better educational outcomes. This is important as it shows how the
dominant discourse and the views of the Australian and global community regarding
sexuality can affect the educational, and hence, life chances of students. Moreover, in 2010, a

national survey of 3134 gender questioning and same sex attracted youth were asked what
they wanted from their schools ; a 40% majority wanted the delivery of sexuality education to
be more inclusive of gender diversity and same sex attraction (Hillier, Jones, Monagle,
Overton, Gahan, Blackman, & Mitchell, 2010).

Sexuality and sexual diversity are a major social justice issue due to the discrimination
towards (LGBTQI) people. According to The Safe Schools Coalition Australia (2015)
regarding the LGBTQI community in Australian schools; 75% of these students experience
discrimination and abuse, and 80% of this occurs at school. Even more alarmingly, 81% of
these students feel that they are not supported by their schools. Considering that bullying
leads to poor mental health, poor academic achievement, lower rates of attendance and higher
rates of suicide (Safe Schools Coalition Australia, 2015), it is seen why sexuality is an
important social justice issue. It can have long lasting effects on an individual's life chances
and must be addressed. A study looking into the mental health of gender diverse and
transgender youth in Australia found that nearly half of the participants had been diagnosed
with depression and 38% had suicidal thoughts (Smith, Jones, Ward, Dixon, Mitchell, &
Hillier, 2014). Those who experienced verbal or physical abuse had a higher likelihood of
having depression, suffering from PTSD and having an eating disorder (Smith et al., 2014).
Additionally, research conducted regarding Australian gender questioning and same sex
attracted youth by Jones and Hillier (2013), concluded that one in ten trans-spectrum people
are homeless, nearly a half have engaged in self-harm behaviour and over one in four
attempted suicide.

In schools there are cultural biases and assumptions that are made about a student's sexuality
or that of their parents. As per the dominant discourse the assumption is made that all
students, and even staff members, are heterosexual. The Safe Schools Coalition Australia
(2015) presents some statistics from research regarding the LGBTQI community in
Australian schools, finding that 10% of students are same-sex attracted while 4% are
transgender or gender diverse. It is also assumed that students come from a household where
the parents are a heterosexual male and female, but this may also not be the case (NSW
Teachers Federation, 2011). In the curriculum this can be limiting as it does not allow for the
students to learn about gender diversity and the variations in sexuality. As teachers and pre-
service teachers it is important to be aware of these assumptions and biases so that a more
holistic view of sexuality can be attained. Students' sexuality is a subjective experience which

can be influenced by many factors and can be expressed an range of sexualities so teachers
must be aware of this so as to provide environments of inclusivity for all students.

Feminist Poststructuralist theory is a way to explain how dominant discourse and ideas of
sexuality occur within society and in schools. We can look at the issue of sexuality through
Feminist Poststructuralist theories and how these interplay with the ideas of power, discourse
and language (Ferfolja, Jones Diaz & Ullman, 2015). The ability of language to construct
one's reality is a fundamental concept in Feminist Poststructuralism, as it seen to construct an
individual's perception of themself and how others perceive them. There are numerous ways
that language can shape a person or thing and the knowledge regarding that person or thing
depends on how they are talked about (Ferfolja, Jones Diaz & Ullman, 2015). This dominant
discourse is a by product of discrimination towards those who did not fit into this group,
however, in recent years attitudes towards sexual diversity are changing (Ferfolja, Jones Diaz
& Ullman, 2015). Regardless of this, the dominant discourse in schools relating to sexuality
is heterosexuality. This streams down from the dominant discourse in the wider society. In
the school system there was or and arguably still is, an opposition to or a silence towards
homosexuality and other sexual identities (NSW Teachers Federation, 2011).

Power, discourse and language play a vital role in the issue of sexuality and sexual diversity
in schools. Ideas about dominant femininity and masculinity are supported and celebrated by
peers and families, in popular culture and in schools and other institutions (NSW Teachers
Federation, 2011). These dominant femininities and masculinities are dynamic and change
depending on location, culture, place, socioeconomic group and time. Some of the dominant
feminine and masculine traits that are established as the standard in schools frequently
degrade, disregard or marginalise the other ways of expressing masculinity or femininity
(NSW Teachers Federation, 2011). One example of this is Homophobia in schools, which is
used as a means to control the expression of gender and sexuality. Those students who are
seen to be non-conforming to the conventional ideas of gender and sexuality can be
discriminated against, ignored or marginalised, which in turn further lends to the dominant
heterosexual culture in schools (NSW Teachers Federation, 2011). A national survey of 704
secondary students in 2013 by Ullman (2015) found that 94% of students had heard
homophobic language at school, with 58% reporting that this happened on a daily basis.
Concerningly, when staff members also heard the homophobic language, the students
reported that they intervened only 5% of the time (Ullman, 2015). These statistics illustrate
how heterosexuality is the dominant discourse in schools.

The NSW Teachers Federation, Decision of the 2011 Annual Conference, titled 'Gender,
Sexuality and Identity' is a valuable tool relating to sexual diversity in schools. This policy
starts by stating that the Federation is committed to protecting the rights of LGBTQI people
and that discrimination towards these people, whether teachers, students or others within the
community, are infringements to their rights and must be eradicated. The document also
recognises that "there are many different ways individuals express their gender identity,
sexuality and sense of belonging" (NSW Teachers Federation, 2011, p.1). It informs the
reader that LGBTQI people still experience higher levels of violence and harassment as
compared to others in the community, with a majority of this occurring in schools.
Discriminatory acts such as homophobia and transphobia have an effect on the health and
well being of gender diverse individuals and their families and friends (NSW Teachers
Federation, 2011). They are associated with isolation and exclusion which influences these
individuals' opportunities and ability to form personal and social relationships. Adding to
this, it states that there are also detrimental effects of homophobia on academic participation
and performance (NSW Teachers Federation, 2011). The policy, using this information sets
out strategies to used in early childhood settings, primary and secondary schools and in the
union, to address these issues that present challenges to students of diverse genders and
sexualities. It then presents five action plans that include strategies to foster respectful
relationships and inclusive practices and in educational settings, institutions and within the
curriculum (NSW Teachers Federation, 2011). These strategies reject discriminatory
practices, acknowledge differences in sexuality and gender, challenge the limited notions
about these issues, and discuss inclusive curriculums so as to provide positive educational
experiences and protecting the rights of LGBTQI people (NSW Teachers Federation, 2011).

The 'Gender, Sexuality and Identity' document is very effective in assisting gender and sexual
diverse peoples. The language used is very positive, for example words like "respectful" and
"inclusive", show support for gender and sexual diversity. The acknowledgement of this
diversity and the discussion of the terms used to describe gender diverse peoples, is in itself
an effective strategy as it aims to change the dominant discourse and power privileges
through language. The issue of sexual diversity is addressed directly and this allows LGBTQI
issues to be part of the dominant discourse in positive way. There is also the idea of
discrimination being not tolerated, stating that teachers have moral and legal obligations to
intervene in cases of discrimination or harassment based on sexuality, which shows negative
connotations associated with the unacceptance of sexual diversity. Additionally, the strategies

are specifically targeted to early childhood, primary, secondary and post-compulsory
education institutions, recognising that sexuality and the issues relating to it are prevalent in
many areas of society and hence should be addressed at all levels.

The Department of Education and Training Victoria's School Policy and Advisory Guide has
a few policies that relate to issues of sexuality (Victoria State Government: Department of
Education and Training, 2013). There is one section that is titled 'Respecting Diversity' which
includes some mentions to transgender, intersex and gender diverse as well as same sex-
attracted students. The presence of these in the policy acknowledges that there are sexually
diverse students in schools that identify with a range of sexual identities. This is vital as it
recognises that it is not only the more traditional heterosexual category of sexuality present,
but rather a range of sexualities. This shows that there is a move towards understanding
sexual diversity, especially as it applies to students in schools. The policy outlines ways in
which school management plans and principals can respond to the diverse needs of students
and how to incorporate more relevant literature for these students as part of the curriculum.
Through the use of more inclusive educational materials the policy pushes the schools to
normalise sexually diverse content, challenging the traditional heterosexual content, and
allowing for the learning and education of sexual diversity on a day to day basis. This
encourages the development of the dominant discourse to include sexual diversity.

The Learning and Teaching resources on the Victorian Department of Education and Training
website also have a page which refers to 'Inclusive Sexuality Education' (Victoria State
Government: Department of Education and Training, 2013). This highlights the importance
of school based sexual education programs recognising and responding to the diverse student
needs including sexual orientation. This resource asserts that according to national data, most
students learn about sexuality from school-based sexuality education it is therefore of vital
importance that these programs are inclusive and respectful of sexual diversity to be
meaningful to all the students. It makes reference to the Same-Sex Attracted Family
Environments (SSAFE) in Schools Project which was a program created by Family Planning
Victoria and the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society at La Trobe
University. The purpose of the project was to support schools and their communities in
dealing with homophobia and creating safe learning environments for students who were
gender nonconforming and same-sex attracted (Victoria State Government: Department of
Education and Training, 2013). The program's resources include strategies for developing the

curriculum, training teachers, providing information to families and the school community as
well as ways to support the students. Some of these resources have been integrated into
several sites for the Department of Education. This resource is a guide for all schools to
accept sexual diversity and acknowledges that this diversity exists in schools and is therefore
relevant to students' learning. It also realises the importance of education regarding sexual
diversity in order to understand it. The links to the SSAFE project's information are also
effective as they show a whole school and community approach to making schools a safe
place, free of sexually based discrimination and bullying, through educational resources that
are inclusive and normalise sexual diversity in the discourse.

It can be seen that sexuality is a social justice issue, particularly in schools today, due to the
negative outcomes that arise from being marginalised for not fitting into the dominant
discourse of sexuality, as set by the wider society. This dominant discourse is shaped and
perpetuated to a large extent by the language and powers of the society as described by Post-
structuralism. Australian school policies and strategies that address sexuality and sexual
diversity play a vital role in reshaping the dominant discourse so as to be inclusive of
LGBTQI peoples and sexual diversity.


Diversity Australia (2016). LGBTQI. Retrieved from

Ferfolja, T.; Jones Diaz, C. & Ullman, J.(Eds) (2015). Understanding Sociological Theory for
Educational Practices. Australia: Cambridge University Press

Hillier, L., Jones, T., Monagle, M., Overton, N., Gahan, L., Blackman, J., & Mitchell, A.
(2010). Writing themselves in 3: The third national study on the sexual health and wellbeing
of same sex attracted and gender questioning young people.

Jones, T., & Hillier, L. (2013). Comparing trans-spectrum and same-sex-attracted youth in
Australia: Increased risks, increased activisms. Journal of LGBT Youth, 10(4), 287-307.

NSW Teachers Federation (2011). Gender, sexuality and identity. In J. Diamond (Genral
Secretary), Decision of the 2011 Annual Conference. Conference conducted at the meeting of
the NSW Teachers Federation, Surry Hills, NSW. Retrieved from

Safe Schools Coalition Australia (2015). Supporting sexual diversity, intersex and gender
diversity in schools. Retrieved from

Smith, E., Jones, T., Ward, R., Dixon, J., Mitchell, A., & Hillier, L. (2014). From blues to
rainbows: The mental health and well-being of gender diverse and transgender young people
in Australia. La Trobe University. Melbourne: The Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health
and Society. Retrieved from

Ullman, J. (2015). Free to Be?: Exploring the schooling experiences of Australia’s sexuality
and gender diverse secondary school students. Centre for Educational Research, School of
Education, Western Sydney University, Penrith.

Victoria State Government: Department of Education and Training (2013). Learning and
Teaching Resources. Retrieved from

Victoria State Government: Department of Education and Training (2013). School Policy and
Advisory Guide. Retrieved from