Creating rainbow-inclusive schools

Issue: Volume 98, Number 13

Posted: 2 August 2019
Reference #: 1H9wY0

Research in New Zealand and overseas has shown that young people who identify as part of the rainbow community are more likely to experience bullying and mental health issues.

With New Zealand’s youth suicide rate amongst the highest in the OECD and rainbow students five times more likely to make a suicide attempt, a nationwide organisation is working to help schools become safer and more inclusive for these students. 

InsideOUT works with primary, intermediate and secondary schools to help young people of minority sexualities, genders and sex characteristics have a sense of safety and belonging. 

“The impact that things like having gender-neutral toilet and uniform options, or students being referred to by their chosen name and pronouns have is huge for the wellbeing of rainbow students and can make a difference to whether someone even feels able to complete their schooling,” says Tabby Besley, InsideOUT’s managing director.

Primary schools have a huge role to play in bullying prevention, says Tabby, and encouraging children to be inclusive and accepting of diversity should start from a young age. 

“It can be as simple as having conversations about diversity, acknowledging diverse families and challenging gender norms and stereotypes.”

Small actions like not making a class separate into boys and girls or making an effort to address students with gender-neutral language can make a big difference to trans and gender-diverse children and their safety and comfort at school, she says.

“Never underestimate the power of what you can do – either as a school community or as an individual staff member –  to make a difference to young people.” 

Training to increase awareness

InsideOUT offers professional development training and workshops on understanding sexuality and gender diversity, to schools, organisations and workplaces wanting to increase their awareness and become more inclusive. 

It supports schools to start and sustain rainbow diversity groups, also known as queer straight alliances, and can give resources and guidance to those working to create safe environments for their trans and gender-diverse students.

Recommendations for improving things for young rainbow people include: ensuring all staff undertake professional development training; looking at ways to address homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying and responding appropriately when it happens; including adequate information about rainbow young people in sexuality education; and recognising rainbow young people’s leadership. 

Creating inclusive cultures

In the lead-up to Pink Shirt Day this year, InsideOUT, funded by the Mental Health Foundation, ran a series of workshops in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Nelson, Christchurch and Dunedin on creating inclusive school cultures for rainbow students.  

Over the next 10 months the workshops will be held in nine other regions. Topics will include bullying and discrimination, including homophobia, biphobia and transphobia and how to respond to it; tips on bystander intervention; making schools more rainbow inclusive; and standing up for people. 

“We found that across the country, rainbow young people were having a difficult time in school and facing concerning levels of bullying and discrimination,” says Tabby. 

Common issues that came up were the use of discriminatory language and being asked invasive questions, a lack of safe toilets, uniforms and changing rooms, misgendering of trans and non-binary students, teachers not intervening or intervening ineffectively when they saw bullying and discrimination, and rainbow students not always feeling safe, represented or valued in classes – especially in subjects like PE and health. 

“Even schools that had rainbow groups reported having their posters ripped down, or staff preventing them from promoting their group in assemblies,” says Tabby.

Rainbow students and staff reported experiencing stress, mental health issues and lack of confidence. 

“We heard that some staff are challenging slurs and homophobic, biphobic and transphobic language. Rainbow students talked about how cool it was to see this. When staff don’t challenge bullying and discrimination, this tells students that it’s an okay thing to do,” says Tabby.

For more about InsideOUT’s professional development workshops, contact

Rainbow mental health and wellbeing

The 2019 Mental Health Monitor showed that, compared with the total population, rainbow people were 19 per cent less likely to report being satisfied with life overall and were 75 per cent more likely to report being socially excluded.

The effects of discrimination, prejudice and exclusion (as demonstrated by the higher rates of social exclusion found in the wellbeing analyses) contribute to poorer mental health outcomes for rainbow people. Rainbow participants reported higher rates of anxiety, depression, and psychological distress. 

Despite the higher rates of social exclusion, rainbow participants remained active contributors to their family, whānau, friends, and society.(external link)


The LGBTIQA+ guide(external link) was a response to calls from schools and Ministry regional offices to provide more guidance around supporting LGBTIQA+ issues. 

Schools have the authority, flexibility and scope to apply this guidance to their local context in response to the needs of their students and communities. The guide was developed in consultation with representatives of principals, teachers and the LGBTIQA+ community.

The guide is carefully positioned to support school leaders and teachers to plan with diversity and inclusion in mind, to understand and give visibility to LGBTIQA+ students, to examine gender roles and norms, but not to teach or promote a specific view. 

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 11:28 AM, 2 August 2019

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