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For Teachers & Professionals

For Teachers & Professionals

Teaching Children About Gender Diversity

Should children and adolescents be educated in school about gender diversity, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues? Despite overwhelming evidence that comprehensive sex education benefits children and society as a whole, we currently face renewed opposition to the provision of mandatory sex education in schools. Such resistance is often an illustration of a broader opposition to the full realisation of the human rights of specific groups, in particular women, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons and, to some extent, children themselves, on grounds that it would threaten traditional and religious values. Inclusive sex education is defined as education that encompasses all forms of human sexuality, including heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersexual, queer, non-binary, questioning, pansexual, polysexual, asexual, and many others. Many parents, organizations, and political parties support the idea of a more inclusive sex education. At the same time, government bodies face the resistance of other parents, religious groups, and political parties who argue against this inclusion. 

Typically, the arguments of those who oppose the idea of inclusive sex education in schools are:

(a) if children learn about LGBT topics in school, then they will engage in same-sex practices or even become lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender themselves; 

(b) if children learn about LGBT topics in school, then schools force a particular view on children that stands in contrast to the heteronormative, religious, and/or political views of parents; and finally

(c) if children learn about LGBT topics in school, then teachers act as role models and will change the sexual orientation and identity of their students.

The current knowledge instead challenges these beliefs, underlying that on the contrary, there are good reasons to expect that the educational benefits will be overwhelmingly positive, particularly for at-risk students belonging to a sexual minority. This exclusion instead results in feelings of being “different” and “other,” which in turn leads to further disengagement in the sex education classroom, contributing to poor sexual health literacy, greater risk of abusive relationships, and higher rates of sexually transmitted infections.

A practical example of inclusive sexual education is the use of trans-inclusive language.

1. Not Gendering Anatomy and Biological Processes

It is recommended to use gender-neutral terms, pronouns and labels when talking about bodies and biological processes. When talking about sex, make sure that it’s not in gender-essential terms. Not using pronouns like she or he to talk about people who have vulvas and people who have penises. It is recommended to use gender-neutral pronouns (e.g. they, them and theirs) and gender-neutral terminology. For example, it is suggested that sexual health educators use gender-neutral labels by referring to “people” rather than “men and women.” 

2. Using Anatomy-Based Language

It is recommended to talk about specific anatomical parts rather than relying on gendered euphemisms, for example, saying “people with penises” or “people with uteruses.” 

3. Facilitating Linguistic Self-Determination

The importance of using an individual’s preferences for what words are used to describe their body and genitalia. Establish if some children or adolescents experience dysphoria. Referring to the vulva as female genitalia may evoke dysphoria in some individuals.

4. Including Narratives that Emphasize Self-Determined trans and non-binary Identities

A narrative that emphasizes that someone “is a woman, man or non-binary person” over one of being born in the “wrong” body/gender or “becoming” another gender. Cisgender often people paint transgender folks as people who want to be the other gender than the one they are born with. But instead, they should be acknowledged to actually be the other gender. Narratives that affirm trans and non-binary people’s current self-determined gender identity and used the language “sex assigned at birth” are preferred over narratives about “being born in a girl/boy body” or “wrong body” or narratives about “becoming” another gender. Sort of “a trans guy is a guy” not someone who chose to be a guy.

5. Increasing Agency through Trans-Inclusive Language

Trans-inclusive language can increase youths’ ability to advocate for themselves. Using the right language also conveys that trans and non-binary people deserve consent and respect.

REFERENCES

Epps, B., Markowski, M., & Cleaver, K. (2021). A rapid review and narrative synthesis of the consequences of non-inclusive sex education in UK schools on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and questioning young people. The Journal of School Nursing, 10598405211043394.

Gegenfurtner, A., & Gebhardt, M. (2017). Sexuality education including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues in schools. Educational Research Review, 22, 215-222.

Tordoff, D. M., Haley, S. G., Shook, A., Kantor, A., Crouch, J. M., & Ahrens, K. (2021). “Talk about bodies”: Recommendations for using transgender-inclusive language in sex education curricula. Sex Roles, 84(3), 152-165.

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