Change Happens when GLBTI students take the lead - Agency

Student Agency – Driving Change in School

We’re often focused on what’s not working for GLBTI young people in schools. But what if we recognize student agency – a different picture and different possibilities can emerge.

It was an especially stark contrast that grabbed my attention – as I chatted to Roz Ward.

A contrast that had me upset and annoyed THEN delighted and uplifted. 

Here’s that contrast, as discussed by Roz.

School is still the most unsafe place for same-sex attracted and gender diverse young people.


More of these young people (along with their friends) are challenging the homophobic and transphobic bullying they face.

More of these young people are challenging the silence about their lives in school curriculum. 

More of these young people see their sexuality or gender identity in a positive light. 

These same-sex attracted and gender diverse young people don’t accept the status quo that views them and treats them as ‘less than’ (or as ‘confused’, ‘immoral’, ‘sinners) and unworthy of attention.

And if educators won’t do something about it, they will. They’re taking charge and leading change – making school safer for GLBTI young people. Now that’s agency in action. 

Agency as a concept and state of being – has long resonated for me – especially in an educational landscape that prefers to keep some students in their place, and is especially partial to deficit views of some communities. 

It really came to the fore for me – in a counselling session. 

I was working through the emotional and physical abuse I’d experienced throughout my primary and secondary schooling. 

I recounted a daily scene at school:

Every day I’d walk along the breezeway – where students sat chatting with their mates.

I’d steel myself before I walked it.

As I walked it they hurled all manner of abuse at me, much to the delight of everyone present.

My counsellor interrupted me –

….but you took the same route everyday.  You could have gone a different way but you chose not to. 

She was challenging a story that I’d long told myself: a story that reinforced how #!!^^ my school life was, and how weak I was for not fighting back. 

She was asking me to re-consider my view of this daily encounter:

  • to re-consider it as a story of agency and strength – as a story of standing up for myself – of holding my head up against the homophobic abuse spat at me. 

It was, an absolutely transformative moment in my life. To view my school self and my school experiences so, so differently. We often talk of ‘aha’ moments but I can still recall this moment decades later. It changed how I moved forward with my life. 

Agency continued to be a predominant theme in my life as I wrote my PhD (1997-2002) which focused on the agency of same-sex attracted youth (SSAY):

  • In it, I argued against top-down educational approaches that viewed SSAY as lonely, isolated and wounded;
  • I questioned the top-down premise that schools and teachers were central to SSAY’s lives improving;
  • Instead, I argued that SSAY lives improved when they connected with others like them;
  • Further, that SSAY support and social groups were better able to meet the needs of same-sex attracted youth than schools (as in a grass-roots approach). 

When GLBTI students connect change happens - Agency

Supporting GLBTI Agency

SO when Roz Ward – talked of how same-sex attracted and gender diverse young people were changing their schools for the better, I couldn’t help but be delighted.

Possibilities, potential, opportunity and ACTION.  It got me thinking about how we can support GLBTI young people – as they lead the way. And how might we connect them with others like themselves? 

Here’s some links to help:

  • The Safe Schools Coalition of Australia views same-sex attracted and gender diverse young people as having agency. They come in to schools at students’ and educators’ requests, to support the young people’s efforts at driving change. 
  • Minus18 is an Australian organisation that is lead by same-sex attracted and gender diverse youth. It focuses on providing safe social spaces, dance events and mental health support for gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans youth. 
  • The Gay, Lesbian, Straight Educators’ Network (GLSEN, USA) supports young people who wish to ‘make a lasting difference in [their] school’ especially in respect to Gay-Straight Alliances. 
  • The Trevor Project (USA) has a support line and a number of resources for young people considering coming out
  • Stonewall (in the UK) runs personal and professional development programs for LGBT people and their allies – to help them effect change.
  • LaTrobe University in Australia has been ground-breaking in its research on same-sex attracted and gender diverse young people. Check out their 3 historic studies.

LISTEN TOO – to my chat with Roz Ward. Hear how young people are driving change in schools.

Plus there’s lots of useful tips about how you can play a part, creating a safe school for GLBTI people, their friends and family. 

Additional GLBTI Resources

Check out my GLBTI Resource Page – Tips, Insights and Inspiration.

Students driving change in school