At Verdala International School (VIS) we have a strong anti-discrimination statement that emphasises both our positive standing on diversity and equality but also the need for open-minded discussion within and beyond the curriculum, by including the statement: “Teachers are encouraged to provide students with a variety of opportunities to learn about diversity and different cultures”.
We are about to enter Pride Month, a time for education and representation to help create a more just, accepting and inclusive world. The purpose is to learn about and include the LGBTQI+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and other gender and sexuality diverse identities) community who continue to face oppression in various shapes and guises. Not everyone is yet comfortable with the topic, and until they are, we must persevere in raising awareness and ensure no one feels marginalised.
In our VIS community of 54 nationalities, we must be mindful that not every country on our list is as embracing as Malta on this topic and cultural prejudices may be deeply rooted in home-country attitudes. The challenge remains to manage those respectfully while honouring our inclusive values. Through our policies and practice we strive to promote a supportive environment for all those who identify as LGBTQI+; this includes our staff and students.
Schools are cisnormative, heteronormative places. This means they are not always inclusive of LGBTQI+ people, who challenge these ideas. They are traditionally a place where students learn about people who identify themselves in male or female gender roles.
Learning about oneself starts when children are very young; they try out playing with all kinds of toys, they dress up as different people and learn to see the world through a variety of perspectives. Growing up is difficult for everyone; however, it can be more challenging for those who don’t feel they fit in.
It is our job as educationalists to be non-judgemental and provide a safe space for growth and maturity to happen. This includes helping our children to gain inner confidence and be proud of themselves. We must ensure an environment where teasing or bullying of any kind is challenged, and provide the positive affirmation all young people seek.
It is our job as educationalists to be non-judgemental and provide a safe space for growth and maturity to happen
Normalisation is the key here; this should not be a topic that is censored until they are 13. There is a misconception that LGBTQI+ education should be tied into the sex education topic. This is wrong; one is about biology, the other about identity, learning about oneself and is a part of human development that evolves as you grow.
During our Pride Month, we will be tackling the topic with our younger children by focusing on self-confidence and what our young people are proud of in themselves; this is not about questioning who I am but celebrating who I am.
Age appropriately, we will look at various family models, so we can help those who come from these homes feel quite normal. The rainbow flag is a useful way to share the concept of LGBTQI+ as an example of how everyone matters.
Our staff have all had Diversity Equality Inclusion (DEI) training and are thinking about how to incorporate marginalised groups into their curriculum; the library has reviewed the books on offer to readdress the balance.
Our secondary students will be exploring the history of LGBTQI+ discrimination and consider in alignment with our anti-bullying policy, the vulnerability a LGBTQI+ person might feel. Focusing on the positive, they will highlight role models and have discussions about any normalisation of LGBTQI+ characters they are noticing in the media. Finally, they will reflect on their own community and how safe it is to be LGBTQI+ at our school and what we can do better.
We look forward to these discussions with our students, helping them to be proud of their identity, but also teaching them to be respectful of each other. Sadly, we must continue to acknowledge that society has not found the perfect balance yet. It is 2022, and things are changing, as the norm is becoming a mixed bag. Our LGBTQI+ human beings deserve to be in a place where they are no longer seen as different but simply part of a diverse community.