January 13, 2017

Taylor Carre-Riddell

I’m sitting with Ashleigh* and Jamie*, with whom I have shared colourful friendships. They are both in high school: Ashleigh is 18 years old, and Jamie is 15 years old, and they both identify as genderqueer: more specifically, bisexual and biromantic. I decide to focus our discussion primarily on how subtle homophobic discrimination, verbal and non-verbal, continues in the classroom despite modern school policy and classroom conduct codes.

Most of all, my friends seem to agree that the best thing we can do is not only have sound school policies which not only allow teachers be the educators of queer students, but allies and promoters of diversity. Policies are good for setting safety rules and boundaries, but what we need now is for those policies to penetrate, and in a sense, to be translated into every corner of classroom culture. Of course, it is the kids’ who must drive such a cultural change in the long run – but a little adult help to begin with can go a long way. To find such guidance and leadership, the teacher-student relationship is one the greatest and most accessible avenues we have.


What were some experiences where you felt directly and/or indirectly discriminated against in the classroom or school environment?

Jamie: At school I have a best friend, and my classmates assumed we were a lesbian couple because we were super close. At first I felt the need to say we were just friends. Now, I don’t feel the need to defend or clarify it.

Ashleigh: I do tend to get a lot of guys misunderstand and take my sexuality to mean I’m sexually promiscuous; that my sexual preference for both men and women (I’m bisexual) means I’m some kind of party animal. I’ve had a fair amount guys comment about how they thought the idea of me hooking up with, or doing anything with chicks, is a turn on.

Although it gets a little cringe [sic] sometimes, I wouldn’t say that it’s discrimination. Unintentional discrimination maybe, but certainly not deliberate attempts. I’d put that kind of behaviour down to simply being a case of bad stigmas and poor awareness regarding those of a non-heterosexual orientation. And I think, it results from a lack of positive exposure [in the classroom] to people who ARE gay, lesbian, bi, transgender or those of indeterminate gender.

How did you cope with such discrimination personally? How did you fix the situation, as a victim and/or witness? What kind of assistance would you have liked from your teachers?

Jamie: I retaliate! I get on a face to face level, adopt a stern tone. Maybe some intervention would be nice sometimes. I think we need to realize how and why we let something like who you love pass as insult. That’s a complex social reality to tackle, so some teacher guidance would be nice. Real guidance though, actual instructions you can use later on. Not just using their authority to tell the bullies off.

Ashleigh: While I mostly get unintentional discrimination, I definitely HAVE had people attempt to tell me off outright and correct me. I’ve had people tell me that my sexuality is either a phase just because questioning your sexual orientation is prevailing trend at the moment; because I’m really just a crazy attention seeker. What gets said, gets said. I don’t engage or waste my time trying to educate hateful people. Like I said, at the end of the day I’m comfortable with myself enough not to take any close minded [comments] to heart and it’s not worth my precious time or breath to try convince people to be decent human beings. They’re not people I’d surround myself with and they’re not people I see on an everyday basis. I don’t honestly care about other’s opinions of me when those individuals are of no particular importance to me nor do I feel the need to obtain people’s praise.

How do you aim to promote diversity and acceptance in your daily life/amongst peers, and do you wish for your schools to the same?

Jamie: I believe it’s what inside that matters: gender doesn’t matter because it’s the people that make the relationship at the end of the day! And a relationship is between two people – not them and a bunch people – its none of the other people’s business. So, if I hear something offensive about a non-traditional couple, I say something. It’s the modern day. I treat it like any other rudeness! A gay or lesbian couple is not a bad thing- why say it as an insult? It doesn’t harm or involve you.

In terms of school, you go there to learn everything and think about what you want to be in this world, so you should be exposed to everything in this world. Being gay or lesbian [is a] part of reality. So school should be preparing you for every reality! So if school isn’t showing you all the options, they are not showing you all you can be, not fostering all your potential. All points on the sexuality spectrum should then be subconsciously perceived as not a big deal. Hell, even something to celebrate.

Ashleigh: Just general acceptance of others and the numerous and diverse things that make people different is how I try to promote ‘tolerance’ I guess. How we’d promote diversity and tolerance in a school environment though… I think it really does come down to a serious need of more positive LGBTI exposure.

I came from a Catholic school as well, and while the people at school as a whole seemed very accepting of those who had come out as anything other than heterosexual, there was still a sort of, taboo when it came to the LGBTI community in our education. It never really got mentioned, there was no discussion, and there was no exposure. During religion classes we talked about healthy relationships with fellow human beings and how men and women can come together to create loving relationships and unless you were being taught by particularly savvy teachers (which often wasn’t the case; our religion teachers were often devout senior women who’d seem a little uncomfortable discussing anything controversial like gay marriage), you’d only ever hear about heterosexual relationships.

So I surround myself with open minded, compassionate people who all happen to be of a similar opinion when in regards to anything LGBTI orientated. I surround myself with decent, accepting, compassionate and honest human beings and I reckon that and my self-confidence is what helps me ‘cope’.

What is your approach for coming out to people and living your live as a LGBTQ person in a way that allows you to be yourself, in a world where you continue to face subtle or casual discrimination?

Jamie: I don’t really come out as such. If it comes up in conversation, I won’t deny it, but I don’t feel like I [need to] pronounce it. People don’t come out as straight – so why we should I come out as bisexual? It’s all part of part of the normalisation. The love that I feel is not a different category of love just because of the genders involved.

Ashleigh: I honestly don’t know how one would actually go about it, but I feel schools need more exposure to the gay community so that we see less and less of those borderline uncomfortable or downright inappropriate remarks. Perhaps start by teaching gay history in school as part of their syllabus?


My friends are quick to realise that no teacher or adult is perfect, and that they may be hesitant to be leaders and translators of school policy on such an intimate, micro level. When I showed them a summary of practical tips to implement diversity culture in the classroom setting (see the list below), they agreed that practical advice and teachers helping each other is the key to such success. At the end of the day, teachers can help innovate what it is to be a leader and provide safe spaces.

The list, provided by the team at Queer Sphere Group, is as follows:

  • Students quickly learn what they can get away with in your class. Make it so that homophobia isn’t ok.
  • Set rules at the start of the term/year and make it clear that homophobia will not be tolerated. Enforce this.
  • You set the tone for language in your class. Set it right and set it early.
  • Set up consequences and explain who homophobic language is offensive and not ok.
  • Wearing a rainbow lanyard or having a rainbow sticker on you diary or laptop is a subtle way to say that you are a safe person.
  • Look for ways to building in conversations/project into class work that explore gender norms, sexuality, homophobia and other types of social justice.
  • Gender and sexuality are fluid, and that is ok, so don’t tell me it is just a phase I am going through, it undervalues my experience.
  • My pronoun is my choice. He/she, his/her or them/they is my choice and not dictated by my perceived sex or gender.
  • Don’t separate the class by gender. It alienates transgender and intersex students – try separating by birth date, postcode, if students like pineapple on pizza, etc.

For a glossary of LGBTI terms, visit this website.

Other helpful websites include this one for primary school aged children, this one listing problematic and offensive terms and this one for educators.

* Please note: We have changed all names, identity markers and circumstances for privacy purposes.

-Taylor Carre-Riddell


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