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LGBT+ Education in Schools: Teaching Gender and Sexuality Diversity in Primary School

Updated: Jun 21, 2023

A Guide to Simple Explanations of LGBT+ Identities for Teachers

LGBT+ education in schools. How to create inclusive classrooms for primary school aged children. How to explain LGBT+ identities in simple terms.

Schools have a responsibility to create safe and inclusive learning environments for all students. This includes providing comprehensive sexuality education that is age-appropriate, inclusive, and empowering. We need to ensure that students of all genders feel seen, supported and accepted at school.


This isn’t just our view at Let’s Talk About X. In Victoria, the Department of Education’s policy on Sexuality Education clearly states: “Schools must support and respect sexuality diversity, including Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and gender diverse, Intersex, and Queer and questioning (LGBTIQ) students.”

What does the policy say in regards to teaching LGBT EDUCATION IN SCHOOLS?


The Victorian Department of Education’s policy recognises the importance of sexuality education in schools. The policy emphasises the importance of promoting respect, tolerance, and diversity. It recognises that sexuality education is an integral part of a student's overall education and should be provided in a safe, inclusive, and non-judgmental environment.

In regards to sexuality and consent education, the DET provides the following guidance: “The curriculum supports students to develop knowledge, understanding and skills to support them to establish and manage respectful relationships. It also supports them to develop positive practices in relation to their reproductive and sexual health and the development of their identities. In doing so, students will gain an understanding of the factors that influence gender and sexual identities.”


This policy supports schools in teaching about gender and sexuality diversity, by making it clear that this is something students are expected to learn. One of the ways that schools can equip students with an understanding of what plays into gender and sexual identities, as well as ensure they’re able to create and maintain respectful relationships with one another, is through clear, age-appropriate explanations.

Why might teachers feel uncomfortable teaching gender and sexuality diversity in primary school?


It's understandable that some teachers may feel uncomfortable or unsure about teaching gender and sexuality in primary school. Those from previous generations may have grown up having been taught that these topics are taboo or inappropriate to discuss with young children.


But it’s important to remember that children are exposed to messages about gender and sexuality from a very young age, whether through media, peer interactions, or family discussions. By providing accurate, age-appropriate information and creating a safe and inclusive classroom environment, teachers can help to counteract negative or harmful messages that children may receive elsewhere.


Some schools are also concerned about how education around sexualities and gender identities will be received by parents. There’s a misconception that parents don’t support students being taught these things, but in truth 4 out of 5 Australian parents support teaching gender and sexuality diversity in schools, with more recent findings revealing 86% of Victorian parents support the teaching of gender identity.


It’s also natural for teachers to feel daunted and unprepared to teach this topic, given conceptualisation of gender and sexuality is such a rapidly changing landscape. That’s why Let’s Talk About X has set out to provide resources and training to help teachers develop a comprehensive, up to date knowledge.


With the right training and support, teachers can become confident and comfortable in teaching gender and sexuality education. By doing so, they can play a vital role in promoting acceptance, empathy, and respect for all individuals, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation.

How can teachers get comfortable delivering lessons on sexuality and gender diversity?


One of the best ways to feel confident teaching gender and sexuality in primary school is to get training from people with lived experience as members of LGBT+ communities. These individuals can provide valuable insights and perspectives that can help educators better understand the experiences and needs of their students. Training can also help educators develop the skills and confidence they need to address sensitive topics and provide support to students who may be struggling.


How can teachers begin creating an LGBT+ inclusive classroom from the Foundation year of primary school?


At Let’s Talk About X, we believe that one of the easiest ways to promote more respectful relationships and understanding of sexuality and gender diversity is to simply avoid gendered language. It’s why we train teachers to identify gendered language and the skills to communicate more inclusively.


When addressing students, we can begin by avoiding phrases like “boys and girls”. It’s likely there are kids in your classroom who are neither boys nor girls. This is equally important when referring to parents. Avoid “mum and dad”, which is instantly exclusive of any students whose family structure looks different to this, particularly those with parents who are the same gender.

Using gender-neutral language in the classroom can also have a positive impact on students of all genders and can promote a more inclusive learning environment. Here are some reasons why teachers should use gender-neutral language with all primary school students:

  1. Inclusivity: When you use gender-neutral language, you make the students in your class who identify as trans, non-binary, gender diverse, or who do not conform to traditional gender roles feel respected. This in turn leads to a more welcoming, safe and inclusive learning environment, where each one of your students feels valued and wanted. And if you think you don’t have any gender diverse students in your classes, remember that there is no way to know someone’s gender identity unless they have told you themselves.

  2. Avoiding stereotypes: Gendered language reinforces harmful gender stereotypes that can truly limit students’ aspirations and opportunities. If every doctor spoken about in class is referred to as “he”, and every parent mentioned assumed to have packed today’s lunch is “mum”, we are sending students messages that only certain types of people can perform certain roles, or have certain interests. Why should all girls have to play with dolls and all boys play with trucks? If we use gender neutral language, we challenge gender norms and encourage all students to pursue their interests and passions, regardless of gender.

  3. Avoiding assumptions: When we use gender neutral language, we take away any assumptions that we might have otherwise made about whether someone might have a boyfriend or girlfriend, whether someone’s best friend is a boy or a girl, whether someone has a mum and a dad, a brother and a sister. Assumptions that are heteronormative or exclusively fall within the gender binary of boy/girl, man/woman can make gender diverse students feel ostracised and othered. Anyone who does fall within those categories probably won’t even notice you using gender neutral language, but the students it matters to most will be made to feel safer when you show that you don’t assume that everyone is a straight boy or girl.

  4. Promoting equality: By using gender-neutral language in your classrooms you are stripping away assumptions about gender, sexuality, interests and abilities. This promotes equality for all genders by treating all students as unique individuals, rather than categorising them based on their gender or, worse, the gender you have assumed them to be. Gender-neutral language is such a simple tool to use to help break down gender barriers and promote respect and understanding amongst all your students.

While the importance of using gender-neutral language should be clear by now, this should not be the only tool in teachers’ belts. An effective sexuality education program also needs to explicitly teach sexuality and gender diversity.


What’s important when explicitly teaching gender and sexuality diversity?

It's important to use language that is respectful and inclusive when referring to LGBT+ people and identities. This includes using gender-neutral pronouns, avoiding stereotypes, and using language that reflects the diversity of the LGBT+ community. Educators should also be aware of the differences between gender identity, biological sex, and sexual orientation, and use language that reflects these differences. They need to choose language carefully to avoid ‘othering’ members of the LGBT+ community.


It's important to remember that it's okay to not know an answer or to realise that you have gotten the language wrong. When this happens, just be honest with your students and seek out additional information and resources. This can help you provide accurate information and avoid perpetuating harmful stereotypes or misinformation, and also models to students that it’s ok to admit when they’re wrong. You’re teaching the skill of taking ownership and learning from your mistakes.


It’s also okay to be upfront with your students about your limited knowledge or lived experience in this area. There’ll likely be kids in the class who know a lot more than you - that’s actually a good thing. Welcome corrections by thanking the students who come forth with them. You can thank them for their input and acknowledge that this is a rapidly changing landscape, and that identities mean different things to different people.


Lastly, it's important to explain things in a way that’s age-appropriate, clear and comprehensible for students. That’s why in this post, we’re providing you with a list of simple explanations of LGBT+ terms and identities.


Simple Explanations of LGBT+ Identities for Primary School Students


When teaching gender and sexuality in primary school, it's important to use language that is simple and easy for students to understand. While we’ve created this list with primary school students in mind, it’s also useful for older students who have disabilities or learning needs that make more complex definitions difficult to understand.

Here are some examples of simple explanations of LGBT+ identities that teachers can use.


BIOLOGICAL SEX

All bodies are different. When a human is born, their bodies will be either Male, Female or Intersex. This is called their biological sex.


MALE: Males have a penis, XY chromosomes and the main sex hormone is testosterone.

FEMALE: Females have a vulva, XX chromosomes and the main sex hormones are estrogen and progesterone.

INTERSEX: Intersex people have a variation in these characteristics (genitals, hormones and chromosomes). Around 2% (or 2 in 100) people are intersex.

You don’t need to worry too much about the biology. All you really need to know is that when it comes to physical sex, people are born male, female or intersex.


GENDER IDENTITY

This is who a person feels they are, no matter which sex they were born as. This could be a boy/man, a girl/woman, both, or neither.


CISGENDER (CIS)

When people are born they get called either a ‘boy’ or a ‘girl’ based on the body they are born with. If they grow up and how they feel matches what they’ve been called, they are cisgender.


TRANSGENDER (TRANS)

When people are born they get called either a ‘boy’ or a ‘girl’ based on the body they are born with. Sometimes, a person who gets called a boy might grow up feeling that they are actually a girl. Or a person who gets called a girl might grow up feeling that they are actually a boy. People who feel like this might call themselves transgender or trans.


GENDER AFFIRMATION

People who are transgender may ask other people to start calling them something different, for example, they might want you to call them ‘she’ instead of ‘he’. They might pick a different name for themselves. They also might want to change their bodies or the clothes they wear. When someone makes changes like this we can say they are affirming their gender.


Making these changes might make the person feel more comfortable. It’s important to support someone who wants to affirm their gender. They are showing the world who they really are.


NON-BINARY

Some people don’t feel like either a boy or a girl. Some people might feel like a boy some days and like a girl on others days. People who feel like this might call themselves non-binary.


Non-binary people might also decide to affirm their gender. Instead of ‘he’ or ‘she’ they might want you to say ‘they’. They might change things like their clothes, body or name.


GENDER IS ON THE INSIDE

Not everyone who is transgender or non-binary chooses to make changes to how they look. How someone looks or dresses doesn’t tell you what gender they are. A boy might just like to wear a dress. That doesn’t make them a girl or transgender. They might just like wearing dresses. Gender is about who you feel you are on this inside.


The way someone looks doesn’t tell us who they are on the inside. We only know who they are if they tell us. That’s why some people might say their pronouns when they introduce themselves to you, so you know whether to call them ‘he’, ‘she’ or ‘they’.



SEXUAL ORIENTATION

This is who a person finds attractive, has a crush on or maybe falls in love with. It's a perfectly natural feeling that most people have.


HETEROSEXUAL

When someone is attracted to someone who is not the same sex or gender as them, they might call themselves heterosexual or ‘straight’. For instance, Alice (a woman) is married to Tan (a man) and they are a heterosexual couple.


LESBIAN

When a woman is attracted to other women, she might call herself ‘lesbian’. For example, “my sister is lesbian. Her girlfriend’s name is Amira”.


GAY

This word is used by men who are attracted to men. It might also be used by others who aren’t straight, like women attracted to other women.


BISEXUAL

Bisexual people are attracted to more than one gender. For example, you could be attracted to men, women, and non-binary people.


ASEXUAL

Some people don’t feel attracted to anyone at all. Asexual people still have lots of feelings of love and care for others, but they don't feel that special kind of attraction that some people feel.


These are just some of the gender identities and sexual orientations out there, but there are many more. One of the most exciting things about growing up is getting to learn about other people, and how we are all unique.



What can you do next, to make your relationships and sexuality education lessons more inclusive?


Make sure that you and your school’s leadership team are familiar with the Victorian Department of Education policy. Invest in training from people with lived experience. Practise using the right language, and work on being open to learning and growth. By doing these things, educators can create safe and inclusive learning environments that empower all students to thrive.


Download our free resources


Let’s Talk About X has put together some free resources to help make your classrooms more inclusive. You can check them out here.


Mel Brush (he/they) and Eleonora Bertsa-Fuchs (she/they) are former high school teachers who now run Let’s Talk About X, providing training in consent and LGBTIQA+ inclusion.


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