Free2Be…Yet?: Findings from the second national survey of Australian gender and sexuality diverse high school students

Year: 2021

Author: Ullman, Jacqueline

Type of paper: Symposium

In 2015, Free2Be? investigated the experiences of gender and sexuality diverse students as they navigated high school in Australia.  Free2Be…Yet? (2021) presents a follow-up to this research and investigated relationships amongst central variables linked to students’ positive experiences of schooling.  Specifically, elements of students’ reported school climate with respect to gender and sexuality diversity, including verbal/physical homophobia; curricular and policy in/visibility; access to supportive adults and relevant information, were a key focus of study.  Further, constructs associated with students’ school-based wellbeing – an important predictor of academic outcomes, routinely assessed by state/territory Departments of Education – were evaluated and compared to mainstream cohorts.  In lieu of assessing students’ self-reported academic marks, as these are not directly comparable, students’ academic self-concept, academic aspirations and truancy behaviours were investigated.Across the 2,367 participating gender and sexuality diverse young people, ranging from Years 7 – 12 and attending schools across the three sectors (Government, Catholic and Independent), notable trends were present.  Students almost uniformly described environments in which homophobic slurs were commonplace and where teachers did not intervene with consistency. While a notable minority of students reported having inclusive, informal classroom conversations about gender and sexuality diversity, on average merely 6% of the cohort reported that it was “definitely true” that they had learned about LGBTQI identities during their Health and Physical Education instruction. Where schools were viewed as more inclusive of gender and sexuality diversity, students reported significantly enhanced wellbeing outcomes. Students with enhanced school wellbeing - who felt more personally connected to school and cared for by their teachers – had stronger reported academic outcomes, including higher academic self-concept, greater intentions to attend university and fewer reported incidences of truancy.  As with the 2015 Free2Be? research, findings from this wave of data collection highlight the need for definitive policy guidance and associated professional development to enable educators to create an affirming and safe school environment.