You are always welcome here

Unions are a place for inclusion, Australian Education Union Federal Secretary Kevin Bates told participants at the Diversity in Education Conference, a World Pride event. 

The conference was hosted by the Australian Education Union (AEU) and Federation, with support from Education International. Speakers offered insights to further the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, and other gender-diverse students and teachers. 

“What we do as unions is about the collective. We work together to bring about change. We work together to make a difference … to ourselves …our community. 

“Resilience: How does one maintain the energy? It’s through the strength of the collective.  

“Each of us has power as an individual but as a union, as a collective, we can do so much more,” he said, to make a difference in relation to recognition, inclusion and safety. 

Industrial and professional rights 

AEU President Correna Haythorpe told the conference: “We are committed to fighting for and protecting the industrial and professional and civil rights of our members and, indeed, the rights of all LGBTIQA+ people throughout the world.   

“We must ensure that safe and inclusive spaces are provided for all staff and students and that there is no place for discrimination in any education setting.” 

Ms Haythorpe shared some findings in the Writing Themselves in report, concerned with the health and wellbeing of LGBTIQA+ youth, including: 

  • 60.2 per cent of participants had had felt unsafe or uncomfortable at secondary school in the past 12 months 
  • 27.3 per cent said LGBTIQA+ people were never mentioned in a supportive or inclusive way in their schooling 
  • 40.8 per cent had experienced verbal harassment in the past 12 months based on their sexuality or gender identity 
  • 79.1 per cent of participants from a multicultural background reported experiencing suicidal thoughts. 

“These are not just a series of statistics from a report, this is the lived experience of young people right now in a country that has not achieved equity, diversity and love for all. We can and must do much better,” Ms Haythorpe said. 

In order for educational settings to have a culture of support and inclusivity, she believed governments and their departments must take the lead and set the standard. “To build inclusive systems we must address the issue of resourcing,” she said. 

“The need for more funding has never been more urgent; with this funding we can employ more teachers, more school counsellors, more specialist support personnel and we can provide the high-quality inclusive teaching and learning and counselling services that we all know is critically important to support our students.”  

The school chaplaincy program should be abolished and the resources put towards fully qualified student counsellors.  

Teachers as agents for change 

The special role of teachers was celebrated by speakers. 

“It takes all of us to build our society, but as teachers and education unionists we have a special responsibility,” Ms Haythorpe said. 

Education International President Susan Hopgood said research demonstrated time and again that teachers can play a vital role in creating a safe atmosphere for all students, which fosters their wellbeing, mental health, academic success, and sense of belonging.  

“As educators, trade unions, human rights defenders, and members of the global community, we play a critical role in promoting inclusion and diversity in our schools, and ensuring LGBTI students and families feel safe, seen, and respected.” 

Call to action 

“The collective strength of teachers, activists, and education unions means we can effect change even when governments are unwilling, unable, or hostile to providing quality education that is inclusive or ensuring equal access to human rights for LGBTI people,” Ms Hopgood said. 

“Let’s stand up to intolerance and discrimination whenever and wherever we see it. Let’s keep working to ensure our unions and schools are more LGBTI inclusive.”