Peer education as an opportunity for practicing respect for sexual and gender diversity
The dissertation’s general aim is to investigate how a peer educator intervention can promote social acceptance of LGBT in pre-vocational education and whether the activities in this intervention ensure that students learn to respectfully deal with LGBT people in school.
- Marieke Kroneman
- 15 September 2022
- Fulltext in Leiden University Scholarly Publications
Dealing respectfully with LGBT+ people is not common sense among adolescents age 13-18. Research of Trimbos Institute, Health Behaviour in School aged Children (HBSC) and of WPF Rutgers show that boys have a significantly more negative attitude towards sexual and gender diversity than girls, and less educated students have more negative attitudes towards sexual and gender diversity than more educated students. Furthermore, students for whom religion is important have a more negative attitude towards sexual and gender diversity than students who are not religious or for whom religion is 'somewhat important'. Finally, it appears that students of non-Western origin have a significantly more negative attitude towards sexual and gender diversity than students of native Dutch origin. In pre-vocational levels and levels preparing for applied sciences, 49% - 56% think positively about homosexuality, while 71% of students in pre-academic levels think positively about homosexuality. In pre-vocational levels, 42.5% – 46.9% think it is possible to come out in school, while in education levels preparing students for studies in applied sciences and academic studies this figure is 57.2% – 65.2%. However schools are an important context for youth to learn to deal respectfully with sexual and gender diversity.
Unfortunately not many Dutch schools integrate programs for discussing the topic of sexual and gender diversity in the curriculum. The Dutch Inspectorate of Education wrote a critical report in 2016 on the lack of structural attention to the theme of sexual and gender diversity and wrote another report in 2020 on how schools deal with morally controversial topics, such as sexual diversity, in civic education. In the meantime, articles are regularly published in serious media about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth who, in the best case, struggle and, in the worst case, are thwarted at school from openly speaking out about their sexual orientation and gender identity.
Furthermore, the Dutch parliament has tightened the requirements of citizenship education to ensure it becomes less non-committal. As a result, schools are now obliged to promote citizenship among their students (and not only to increase their knowledge about it), and citizenship education must deal with the themes of tolerance, equality and the rejection of discrimination, including discrimination of LGBT persons.
The dissertation’s general aim is to investigate how a peer educator intervention can promote social acceptance of LGBT in pre-vocational education and whether the activities in this intervention ensure that students learn to respectfully deal with LGBT people in school. During the peer educator intervention a variety of activities was carried out in a participatory style by adolescents who stand close to the target group because of their social status and background and who were therefore expected to be credible sources of information for the target group to achieve a positive change in their attitude towards LGBT.
Kroneman investigated how a peer educator intervention can promote social acceptance of LGBT in pre-vocational education and whether the activities in this intervention ensure that students learn to respectfully deal with LGBT people in school in two outcome studies and two process studies that were carried out at five schools.
Kroneman trained students of universities of applied sciences to become peer educators. The students implemented a series of five lessons. Before the lessons and after the lessons students that participated in the pre-vocational schools administered a questionnaire about their attitude towards lesbian, gay and bisexual peers. Also at two schools pre-test and posttest questionnaires were administered measuring reflection about citizenship. In the process evaluations interviews were held with peer educators who implemented the lessons and with students of pre-vocational schools who participated in the lessons.
There were only limited and marginal effects in the outcome studies measuring the impact on attitudes towards sexual and gender diversity, class climate for LGB peers, attitudes towards the possibility of disclosing a non-heterosexual orientation in school and awareness of the relationship between reflections on citizenship and attitudes toward LGB people. In contrast, the process evaluation with the students showed that students experienced impact related to gaining more knowledge, more awareness of LGBT in their environment and that their attitudes towards LGBT had sometimes become more positive. Students liked the lessons because they provided them new and lifelike information with the personal stories of the peer educators. For example, a male student said: 'I, um, actually thought it was weird. Now, yes, I don't know. I just think they should know for themselves'.
Also active teaching methods, the opportunity to express their opinion and an open atmosphere were mentioned by the student as positive. In the process evaluation with peer educators, we found that they used their personal (coming out) stories, open discussions and several interactive activities to convey their message and encourage students to form an opinion. This also allowed them to create an open atmosphere where everything could be asked and every opinion could be shared. A female bisexual peer educator explained: 'Don’t say "You have to think this or that!". Don’t try to deny what the student thinks but present a different image.'
Peer education about sexual and gender diversity offers students the opportunity to practice their citizenship skills while at the same time having input as fellow citizens about social acceptance of sexual and gender diversity. Students practice ways of deliberating about how people can live together when they have different views and learn about the several perspectives on that topic. However, because there was apparently no impact of a peer educator intervention on attitudes toward LGBT people and on perceptions of citizenship, a process evaluation of what students think about the connection between citizenship and social acceptance of LGBT people is necessary.
Furthermore, through contact and discussions, students became aware that other people have the same need for belonging and respect as they do. However, citizenship education not only concerns how people have similar needs: it also emphasizes the respect for differences between citizens. This implies that peer educators should not only emphasize similarities but also differences between heterosexual and LGBT people.
Last but not least, coming-out stories should become part of the standard repertoire of (read) stories in kindergarten, primary and secondary schools because personal coming-out stories make it very easy to gain empathy and understanding how people become who they are. Although the origin of coming-out stories is the suppression and invisibility of sexual and gender diversity the powerful structure of this personal story is unique. Students can concentrate very well on coming-out stories for their personal touch, thrilling story line and eventually happy ending. Teachers and other educators and co-educators should be encouraged to find these stories because they enrich children’s knowledge.