An Open Letter to Schools : An Inclusive Curriculum that Teaches Gender and Sexuality is Need of the Hour

I’m Mira, a fellow of Teen fellowship of Orikalankini, working along with another fellow of the same, Shwethambari. We have taken a cause that we think needs immediate attention as an evolving country with regard to creation of awareness.

We are writing this letter to improve inclusivity and destigmatize the LGBTQIA+ community in educational institutions. We have realised that the teachers are accustomed to using binary gender based language and often use examples that some people do not understand. People who do not identify with these generalisations feel uncomfortable.

Let us share the story of a student who identifies themselves as non-binary. Stones were thrown at them by other fellow students, which led to worsening of their mental health. They were diagnosed with depression and anxiety. At the same time, there was another person who had come out to their school as non-binary and were accepted. They too are diagnosed with anxiety because they are figuring out themselves and coming out to friends and family can create a lot of anxiety due to fear of rejection.

Because of self-stigma, there is a lot of internalised hate. This hate comes from being taught that being different is bad.

There are two forms of stigma – social stigma and self-stigma, and both forms affect an individual in the LGBTQIA+ community. Because of self-stigma, there is a lot of internalised hate. This hate comes from being taught that being different is bad. People in the LGBTQIA+ community have an increased suicidal rate than the cisgender heterosexual people. Because of social stigma, they feel like they must hide their sexual orientation or gender identity. This can be seen in the way they talk to their friends about relationships. Fearing rejection, they also distance themselves from their friends so as to not get hurt when they come out to them. This also creates social anxiety and they constantly live in fear of people finding out they belong to the LGBTQIA+ community.

Educational institutions have been seen as a place where one can get education. It provides a learning environment not only for educational subjects but also imparts values for life. While there has been significant improvement in the values being taught in institutions, one value has always been missing which is inclusivity.

For inculcating inclusivity, we think that it is important for gender and sexuality education to be taught to children. The curriculum could include what gender identity is, types of gender identities, types of attraction along with education about sexual orientation and differences between sex and gender. It is important to talk about gender expression and how it differs from one person to another. This would help people to accept others easily and avoid making fun of those who express themselves in the way they want to.

It is also important to teach this to students as there is a lack of representation in the media in a positive way. If proper and unbiased sex education inclusive to LGBTQIA+ community is given, inappropriate behaviours and interactions can be eliminated. By enforcing that it is okay to question sexuality, gender identity etc, students can grow up to be more empowered and live a true life. If this is spoken about in institutions, then they will find a safe place, especially if their home is not a safe one. The following are a list of organisations that conduct gender and sexuality awareness sessions who can help in designing a curriculum that helps students.

  1. The Gender Security Project – Chennai
  2. Sangini (India) Trust – New Delhi
  3. Nazariya – Delhi
  4. Sappho – Kolkata
  5. Umang – Mumbai
  6. Orikalankini – Puducherry and Pan-India

If proper and unbiased sex education inclusive to LGBTQIA+ community is given, inappropriate behaviours and interactions can be eliminated

We can also teach students and teachers to use inclusive language to everyone whether or not they are questioning their gender identity. Mental health deteriorates especially when people face issues with their own gender identity. When one questions their gender identity and finds out that there is no representation of their gender identity, it does not help with their mental health. What puts even more pressure on students is being called out for something they are not. This affects their performance in studies.

If we include gender and sexuality education and use inclusive language, it would help students to concentrate more on their studies and be less worried about whether or not they will be accepted in society. This small change can help their mental health which will improve their performance in education.

Few other steps that can be taken by the institution to become more inclusive are to use right pronouns, to teach about pronouns other than he, she and they as there are 6 other pronouns along with their usage. Installing a single gender neutral bathroom will help those who do not identify as the binary, male or female. It would also help those staff who bring their small kids who are of the opposite sex. While giving out forms to fill, there can be an option of “prefer not to say” or “others” especially when it comes to gender. Also using caution to refrain from calling one’s birth name unless it is absolutely required. We could also discontinue segregating lines and seating arrangements into boys and girls, as people might not identify into those labels and it also creates distance between the students.

Mira and Shwethambari