Over a year ago I ran a survey on queer kids’ experience in Australian Schools. I haven’t yet written it up, in part because it is incredibly traumatic stuff. My own youngest child is trans, and trying to ensure that their experience of school is safe, free from bullying, and inclusive of their non binary gender is, frankly, exhausting, demoralising, and traumatic, both for them and for us.
And now, the Australian Federal government wants to legislate to ensure that religious schools can discriminate against transgender kids without fear of repercussions. I am torn between wanting to scream my despair into the void, collapsing into a sobbing wreck, and marching to Parliament House to tell these people face to face what happens to vulnerable kids in our schools RIGHT NOW. When it is, technically, illegal to discriminate against trans kids – an all too flimsy protection, that they want to remove in the name of buying a vote or two.
I am particularly outraged and despairing that the Labor party intends to support the bill.
So, just to be clear, let me tell you some of the things trans kids experience at schools now. Without this heinous bill making it easier to discriminate against them.
Over 50% of queer kids and their families who responded to the survey have experienced bulling at schools FROM SCHOOL STAFF. Let that sink in for a moment. The very people charged with educating our kids and keeping them safe are actively harming some of our most vulnerable kids.
In the survey, I asked for their stories, and hooo boy, did they pack a punch. Among other experiences, trans kids heard staff speculating about “what was in their pants”. They were not allowed to use the toilets of the gender they identified with, so they held it all day, resulting in urinary tract infections, kidney infections, and intense distress. Staff stood by and watched as other kids bullied trans kids and demanded to know what was in their pants. (Honestly, transphobes obsession with what’s in the pants of others speaks to some deep seated issues of their own!)
Kids as young as ten years old not allowed to go on camps because it was “too hard”, and being made to feel that they were a risk to other students if they were allowed to share a room with them. Being subjected to teachers conducting lessons on how transgender “is not a thing”, or is “evil” and “the work of the devil”. Constantly being outed and bullied because teachers refuse to use their correct name and pronouns.
Kids and their families get told they should look at other schools, because they “don’t belong here”, while also being told that they will be bullied anywhere they go, because there’s no way they can fit in. Teachers making derogatory comments about “chicks with dicks” in front of transgender students.
I’ll leave you with some quotes from the survey. As you read them, imagine this was you, advocating for your child. And then, as an act of decency and compassion, please email or call your Federal MP and urge them to oppose this bill.
“Staff repeatedly ignored inappropriate and bullying behaviour by students – even right in front of me while I was at the school for a meeting. Staff suggested my child be excluded from certain subjects during health class, without understanding how that would further alienate her as “different” and implicitly support discriminatory attitudes. Staff tried to address bullying by isolating my child during break times rather than addressing other students behaviour, which served to further alienate her from her friends and potential allies. Some staff used incorrect pronouns in school reports. Some staff repeatedly suggested I look at other schools, making me feel like my child was unwelcome and a problem they wanted to “go away”.”
“The burden of advocacy. Fighting for your child’s right to exist as they are is hard work. It is worrying at times thinking of how they may get treated or exposed. Trans kids are innocent too and deserve to be respected for who they are. We know gender diversity exists across all cultures throughout time. It’s not a new thing and is a natural expected human variation. To advocate against the ingrained sense of entitlement based on socialisation of adults takes a toll.”
“It is an isolating experience for the child at the school and as their parent. There are not many of us around and we are the ones who have to do the educating and advocacy. It would be amazing to have in-services or professional development training around LGBTIQ + experiences for staff. Also for the school community including kids and families to have information sessions. Would ease the burden on the kids especially, to have their lives validated within a place like school where they need a sense of belonging. Our identities are fundamental to who we are. When LGBTIQ+ people are subdued or silenced deemed unacceptable or erased, it has an impact. We know through research the mental health outcomes for trans kids who are supported are the same as for kids who are not trans. It is the environment that causes issues for the LGBTIQ community. All kids deserve the right to thrive far more than a teacher/principal/ school worker or the wider school community has the right to avoid discomfort.”