Introduction GALE is proud you have chosen to read the toolkit "Working with schools". In this introduction we will give you an idea of what "working with schools on LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) issues" is about, an overview of the content and some information on how to use the toolkit.
Working with schools
The introduction of LGBT issues in schools is not the most obvious theme for schools. In most schools, sexuality in general and LGBT issues specifically are taboo and in many cases even forbidden. This kit aims to provide tools to help schools, school support institutions and LGBT activist organizations to deal with this subject.
GALE and its partners have a great interest in working with schools. This is in the first place to make the school more accessible for all students and a better learning environment for LGBT students. GALE estimates that annually, more than 6 million LGBT students are dropping out of school because of harassment by peers and incredibly, also by staff.
In order to create a safer and better learning environment, the school also needs to be a safe working space for LGBT teachers and other staff. Currently, in many countries, staff can be fired just for identifying as LGBT or when they offer neutral or positive information on LGBT issues.
Finally, the content of the curriculum needs to be more relevant for students. LGBT students need to know more about issues that pertain to them specifically. They usually are not taught relevant life issues at home and have to rely on the school for this. HIV prevention and coping with stigma and discrimination are extremely important issues for them to survive. The curriculum should not only have relevant information for LGBT identified students and students who question their sexual orientation or gender identity, but also for heterosexually identified students. They may lack knowledge, behave in a prejudiced and negative way, and often feel insecure and aggressive towards non conformist behaviors. They need to get objective information and learn tolerance and respect.
Improving the performance of schools is not only a question of curriculum and teaching. A proper school vision and policy are essential to provide a context for initiatives by students and teachers.
Until now, it is very rare to see mainstream organizations focus on LGBT issues in schools. Most initiatives to improve our schools are initiated by LGBT grass roots organizations or professional organizations which are rooted in the LGBT movements. That is why this version of the toolkit focuses in part on suggestions for activist organizations on how to access schools. However, just 'dropping' information and model curricula in schools and hoping school will use them, usually does not work. To make sure the tools for schools are tuned into the needs and possibilities of a school, and of an adequate quality to ensure a significant effect, we need to work with the schools themselves. It is this LGBT & straight collaboration we are focusing with in this toolkit.
Activist organizations are looking for ways on how to access schools. Because school systems differ considerably across countries, the strategies also vary considerably. In some countries, the focus should be directly on schools themselves, on others, a national advocacy campaign to get access or to change the nuclear objectives or curriculum may be a more effective strategy. This section of the toolkit offers a range of tools on how to start a strategy or a concrete project.
It is often most useful to work closely with the stakeholders who have real power to change the school environment. These are often (but not always) the school (location) managers or principals. In other cases local school authorities have governing power. This section offers tools to convince such stakeholder of the need for change and guidelines on how to do it.
Tools for staff
Teachers and other non-teaching staff have direct contact with students and they can have the most profound effect on the creation of a sustainable safe and inspiring learning environment. This section provides tools for them and for teacher trainers.
Tools for students
In lessons, teachers may need materials for students to hand out. This section provides some model texts which can be edited for use by teachers.
Students may also want to take action themselves. For example, they can start a gay/straight alliance (GSA) or they can plan short actions in the school. This section provides suggestions for student action and participation.
Tools for parents
The extent to which parents are involved with schools can vary very much. Most experts agree it is important to involve parents in what goes on in the schools, or at least elicit their support for what happens in the schools. This section offers information for parents and tools to involve parents in LGBT related issues in schools.