“Children need to be exposed to all ideas to stop discrimination”: Australian parents’ views on gender diversity as an element of the public school curriculum

Year: 2021

Author: Ullman, Jacqueline, Ferfolja, Tania

Type of paper: Symposium

A culture of limitation (Ferfolja & Ullman 2020) in Australia continues to impact schools and curriculum. Its discourses perpetuate the belief that all Australian parents are highly conservative and are opposed to schools educating children and young people about gender diversity, including the idea that gender and biological sex are not one and the same.  In reality, widespread silences on gender (and sexuality) diversity are fostered by a political minority and supported by well-organised, vocal, and ultra-conservative, lobby groups.  The political power this movement has should not be underestimated, as epitomised in the recently proposed amendment Bill (based on parental primacy) to NSW state Education Act. At the time of writing, this Bill actively seek to silence all school and tertiary-based conversation about gender and sexuality diversity via the proposed removal of teachers’ and initial teacher education courses’ accreditation respectively, should they discuss these topics.Less known has been the view of the ‘average Australian parent’ on these issues.  The survey element of our multi-year study, Gender and Sexuality Diversity in Schools (GSDS), sought to ascertain how parents of children currently attending a public/government school were positioned on the question of inclusivity of gender and sexuality diversity.  Trend analysis of the participating 2,093 parents, whose data was weighted to achieve approximate national representativity, revealed that the large majority of parents (81%) positioned formal instruction on gender diversity as being of at least some importance.  Of the 81% of parents who felt that the content area of gender diversity should be introduced across either primary or secondary school, more than half of these respondents wanted this topic introduced during the primary school stages (51.5%).  When asked why they would support an inclusive curriculum, parents were most likely to endorse a rationale of “equality”, which focused on their sense that schools have legal and social obligations to ensure they are equitable for, and representative of, gender and sexuality diverse individuals.These, and other survey findings to be presented, stand in contrast to circulating conservative discourses which position parents as opposed to inclusive curriculum on the grounds that education pertaining to gender diversity is political or ideological.   Rather, this landmark research highlights the need for federal and state/territory Departments and curriculum developers to acknowledge parents’ desire for gender-diversity inclusive curriculum for their children and their desire for safe, equitable places of learning for gender and sexuality diverse young people.