Olivia Noto
Olivia Noto

Former teacher Olivia Noto reflects on how an innovative new educational resource will help today’s LGBTI youth.

For granted, most people take for granted that people see you, really see you when you walk through the school gates. But for some students, feeling invisible can be the norm.

That was how I felt in school. I was terrified about coming out and the possible reaction from my classmates, teachers and family. Witnessing the bullying that other gay kids (or kids perceived as gay) in my school endured made me all the more determined to keep this secret to myself. I went to great pains to act straight throughout high school, following the trends of my female friends, covering all my books with the latest male stars and nodding quietly as they checked out the latest cute boy.

I didn’t feel safe to be myself at school in a nutshell.

It wasn’t until I was 18 and formal classes had ended that I finally had the courage to tell a few of my closest friends. Their supportive response felt like a huge weight had been lifted, and finally, the ball of anxiety that was a constant feature in my stomach began to fade.

A similar delay in disclosing my sexuality occurred when I found myself back in the classroom as a high school teacher five years later. But that didn’t stop me from challenging homophobic and transphobic behaviour when it occurred, taking every opportunity to use it as a ‘teachable moment’ to unpack, discuss and explore some of the underlying assumptions and misunderstandings from my students, and even colleagues.

Schools are heteronormative places. Gendered toilets, gendered uniforms, a ‘girls line’ and a ‘boys line’, boys sports teams and girls sports teams, not to mention the constant chatter about girls liking boys and boys liking girls, and people assuming you’re straight unless you inform them otherwise.

In my schooling experience, both as a student, and as a teacher across all sectors (government, Catholic and independent in NSW and Victoria), there were minimal positive references to the lives of LGBTI people in the classroom, let alone the playground. At a time when belonging and fitting in is all too important for students, school is tough for much LGBTI youth. I often felt anxious and confused. Was I allowed to feel these feelings? Did anyone else feel this way? Who could I talk to without fear of being ‘outed’? It often kept me up at night.

Fast forward 14 years, and I now work for a program that strives to put an end to students feeling like they need to hide who they are to feel safe at school. A year in, I’m still pinching myself that I work for a program that is so well supported, in such high demand and  – most excitingly – is about to launch a teaching resource that explores same-sex attraction, gender diversity and intersex topics called All Of Us that has been funded by the Australian Government.

Now students and teachers alike have an opportunity to learn from the experiences of LGBTI young people through short videos, and access learning activities to support more inclusive school communities.

It is so inspiring to hear how young people today are creating the change they want to see in the world. Thanks to greater awareness and understanding of LGBTI topics, people like the seven young people whose stories feature as part of the All Of Us package can tell us how we can all play a role in creating safer and more inclusive school environments for our same-sex attracted, intersex and gender diverse students, friends, teachers and families.

All Of Us provides a teacher-friendly tool kit that will make schools better not just for same-sex attracted, intersex and gender diverse students, but for their friends, teachers and families too. And when schools are safe and inclusive for everyone, we all benefit.

Download your copy today

All Of Us has been jointly developed by Safe Schools Coalition Australia and Minus18.