Diversity in school [interview]

The spectrum between "male" and "female": diversity. Photo: reproduction.

Almost a month ago, I’ve published a translated story from IBTimes (Los Angeles) about gender diversity teaching in an Oakland city school, on California. In the story, we know the organization Gender Spectrum, which is based in the same Oakland, and developed the materials about gender diversity taking examples from nature. I’ve been in contact with them to better know their work in this issue, mainly because we were, at that time, in the middle of this “tense discussion” here in Brazil – the “controversy” of anti-homophobia kit of Ministry of Education. So below you can read the interview I’ve made with Gender Spectrum.

As IBTimes story reports, “Gender Spectrum is an organization that provides education, training and support to help create a gender sensitive and inclusive environment for all children and teens using a simple and straightforward approach”. Their websit states: “we present an overview of how society currently defines gender and how these restrictive definitions can be detrimental to those who do not fit neatly into these categories. We then help you identify and remove the obstacles so all are free to be our authentic selves”.

The organization site also has an interesting FAQ section about issues concerning gender identity and sexual orientation.

Queer and Politics — For how long Gender Spectrum is working on gender diversity issues and what’s the national range of your approach?

Gender Spectrum — Gender Spectrum has been providing training to school leaders, teachers, parents and staff for the past five years. We have worked in schools of all types: Pre-K, K-12 and college level; public, private and parochial; urban, suburban and rural; one room school houses with less than 30 students and high schools with more than 4000. Our trainings and consultations with educators happen across the country.

QP — How do you develop didactic materials to address these themes for kids? In what data, expertise, studies you rely?

GS — Our instructional approaches and materials are intentionally not designed to be “didactic.” We use activities, discussion, multi-media presentations and direct instruction to maximize student engagement. The materials are age-appropriate and come from a variety of sources. Founding Director Stephanie Brill, author of The Transgender Child: A Handbook for Parents and Professionals, helped develop the curriculum. Director of Education Joel Baum directs the creation of original content,  but our materials utilize activities, materials, and/or designs from other sources that have similarly taken on other topics such as reproduction, family diversity, sexual orientation, and race.

QP — How Gender Spectrum deals with parents that oppose themselves to these approaches?

GS — Gender Spectrum’s educational program is designed to educate others about gender inclusiveness for all children. Rather than focusing solely on transgender issues, our approach is designed to expand students’ conceptions of what being a boy, or a girl, or both, or neither really means. Our lessons honor and celebrate all students’ gender expression and identity, whether stereotypically “male” or “female,” as well as those children who sit outside these more typical experiences. Our materials encourage acceptance, diversity, and respect; they are not the “controversial topic” that some parents initially fear. Our bottom line is a message of kindness and respect and when parents see the facts they are much more supportive.

QP — Do you have any kind of direct relation with (local) governments, congressmen or do you work with public politics focused on sexual diversity?

GS — Currently, we are working with two grants from government mental health agencies. In addition, we are members of various safe schools collaboratives that work directly with local, state and federal policy work. We recently participated in a National Institute of Health Institute of Medicine study examining health disparities for LGBT individuals in the US.

QP — Considering your experience and feedback, how students, teachers and principals react to the materials and approaches?

GS — Participants find their work with us to be transformative, both personally and professionally. Feedback from our sessions with educators and parents is consistently positive. Many share with us that for these are concepts they are considering for the first time. We find it most hopeful that student reactions to our work are universally positive and that concepts about gender diversity and acceptance that seem so difficult for many adults are taken in stride by children at all ages.

QP — A very common argument against sexual diversity in schools is the so-called “influence or publicity to homosexuality” some groups argue. How do you deal with and reply to these topics?

GS — The work we do is not about sexual orientation per se, it is about gender identity and expression and the importance of accepting all people regardless of their own sense of gender. We point out every school’s obligation to ensure the safety and well being of all students. Depending on the location of the school, gender may well be a protected class, and the office of civil rights at the federal level recently issued a Dear Colleague Letter emphatically declaring that harassment or mistreatment of students based on non-traditional expressions of gender are protected under Title IX regulations.

QP — Do you believe this approach on gender diversity helps to reduce homophobia when those kids grow up? Are there surveys on this point?

GS — Absolutely. Recent research examining the relationship to gender-based school victimization and ensuing health and well being as young adults found the following: “The stakes of gender conformity are especially high for boys; undoubtedly, much of the LGBT school victimization that they experience is also rooted in a peer culture that demands conformity to masculine gender.”

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Note: I thank Cathy Renna, from Renna Communications, for the great help in this interview realization.

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