Sex(uality) ed: the LGBTQIA+ inclusive teaching that’s missing from schools
Being divided into gendered groups during sex education is just the beginning of exclusive practices that LGBTQIA+ people like Jay Jones have been experiencing during their schooling.
Jay believes a more inclusive and empowering education may have been enough to ease many of the struggles they faced as a young person, and the community agrees.
At large the Australian community knows [that] … schools should be a safe space for all students.
In the Victorian curriculum sex education is mandated, but issues are still arising for LGBTQIA+ inclusion.
One study revealed fewer than 10 per cent of trans and gender-diverse students can recall learning about LGBTIQA+ topics in school.
To put this in context, nine out of 10 trans and gender diverse students have been ignored by the sex ed textbooks they’re mandated to read.
According to LGBTQIA+ student expert Professor Mary Lou Rasmussen, head of the school of sociology at the Australian National University, teachers are hesitant to provide inclusive education.
Professor Mary Lou Rasmussen. Picture by Courtney Black.
They worry what parents might say if LGBTQIA+ topics are a part of sexuality education in a positive way, they said.
“But many parents want this education for their children,” she said.
A Western University Study found more than 80 per cent of parents support the curriculum inclusion of gender and sexuality diversity topics for all students of all ages.
In their experience as a sexuality educator for Body Safety Australia (BSA), Jay sees the difficulty in schools providing this inclusive education first hand.
Schools want to ensure all students are included and celebrated in [sex education] … but they often express the difficulty of putting this into practice.
Rasmussen believes the issue is rooted in a lack of teacher training.
“The inclusive conversation is often limited by teachers not having access to high quality education … [we need] universities that offer a specialisation … on how to talk about sex,” she said.
Imagine being trusted to teach young people about sex education and never being trained in it. That is the case for half of the 200 sex ed teachers surveyed in 2021 who didn’t have any pre-service training on teaching the subject.
“It really speaks to how we value these issues in the curriculum,” s Rasmussen said.
“it’s important that teachers and young people feel supported … rather than feeling they put themselves on the line by doing [this inclusive work].”
Over-politicising these issues may override the great work that’s already happening, but there needs to be a national curriculum on inclusive education before teachers can be trained, she said.
While there is no current mandate or curriculum for training teachers in sex ed, the Federal Labor Government has been funding a $77 million plan for sex education – including teacher training – this year.
Jay said it is heart-warming when teachers express their gratitude after inclusive sex education workshops at their schools.
“Those teachers feel more confidence continuing that very work moving forward … schools need that support to ensure they are creating inclusive spaces for all,” they said.
Jay believes the Victorian Child Safe Standards are a leading force in mandating LGBTQIA+ safety and inclusion in schools.
“They go a long way to ensure these students can come to school as their authentic selves.
Many schools don’t know where to start when it comes to meeting the standards, and that’s where BSA comes in, they said.
Jay also said they are thrilled that the Victorian Government is funding many LGBTQIA+ youth sectors.
“We need more government support and funding to reach as many young people as possible,” Jay said.
Navigating identity is difficult for any young person … the more representation youth have, the more empowered they are.
“I often walk into the room as a neurodivergent, queer, trans person and I see students light up because they see themselves in me.”
Rasmussen said if this LGBTQIA+ inclusion and representation is not in schools, young people will continue to learn about it online or through their friends.
Sex education needs to inform people who aren’t queer about queers, she said, otherwise how do they know they’re not queer?
“Young cis and straight people are engaging with queer cultural resources … [such as] Heartstopper and Heartbreak High… which tap into the changing subcultures about gender and sexuality in schools,” she said.
Heartbreak High and Heartstopper are Netflix TV series that include LGBTQIA+ diversity. The two series have only been out for a few months, but Heartbreak High has already gained over 42 million hours of viewing time and Heartstopper is even higher at more than 53 million hours globally.
That’s a combined total of more than 95 million hours.
Heartstopper has been a popular Netflix series. Picture: Netflix.
“Parents and young people are quite keen to hear about [LGBTQIA+ issues] … but they also want that space [in schools],” Rasmussen said.
Jay calls it a lightbulb moment when young people are educated about queer issues.
“[They] begin to understand the perspectives and experiences of those different to them,” they said.
Organisations like BSA can’t address every problem, but they can start the conversation about LGBTQIA+ inclusion, they said.
“It’s crucial that this continues at school, at home and in the community,” they said. When we all work as one, drawing our experiences and expertise together, education can be even more safe and inclusive for all students, Jay said.
Sex education mandates and regulations in Victoria and Australia
The Victorian curriculum
Sexuality and consent education are part of the Victorian curriculum and are mandated for government and Catholic schools from foundation to year 10.
Sexuality and consent education are not mandated for independent schools.
Schools are not required to seek parental permission for the inclusion of sexuality or consent education.
A parent or carer may decide not to allow their child to participate in sexual education.
It is advised to be inclusive when delivering sex education, but it is not mandated.
The Australian curriculum
Relationships and sexuality are listed as part of the Australian Curriculum Health and Physical Education (HPE) department’s teaching.
There are no sex education national mandates for every Australian state to follow.
Each school is responsible for their own implementation of the national curriculum.
The national HPE curriculum including sex education is designed to be inclusive, but it is not mandated.
In the renewed version of the Australian Curriculum, likely to be introduced next year, there will be a national mandate for consent education.
Universities training teachers
The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) mandates that on a national level university courses training teachers are required to take the Australian Curriculum into account.
The Victorian Institute for Teaching also follows these AITSL requirements.
University courses are not bound by the curriculum.
Sex ed training is not mandated and there are no mentions of professional standards for teaching sexuality education.