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Research into Stereotypes

This teaching unit is supported by our field work in education with teachers in four countries (Bulgaria, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain). Despite the differences between them, we identified a number of common issues across European countries. These provide a good introduction to this unit.

We remain concerned at the continued production, reproduction, maintenance and reinforcement of gender roles among children and young people, based on heterosexist, sexist and even homophobic models:

Schools and families recognize that they are losing impact as a socialising force in the face of the increasing influence of new socialising agencies (video games, television, television series, movies, etc.), in which strongly conventionalised male and female roles provide models for young people and adolescents. These new agencies and images are more difficult to counter, or regulate.

Difficulties, fears or prejudices of families, deriving from their own educational experience, were identified by educators as barriers and as the basis for prejudice and fears about diversity when communicating with young people and adolescents.

Those who participated in this process warned of an increased overall aggressiveness - both quantitatively (more aggression, even among girls) and qualitatively (verbal, social, psychological, cyber-bullying etc). They are concerned about the continued prevalence and condoning of homophobic/transphobic attacks. They report on passive attitudes towards such aggression on the part of students, teachers and school management, as well as peer groups and parents’ associations. Each of these groups will deny or ignore the facts to avoid intervening, punishing or managing situations of aggression.

This pervasive aggressiveness is also accompanied by verbal bullying, in the form of homophobic/transphobic language, which is again seldom dealt with effectively by teachers in class.

In short, there is consensus amongst participants that the affective-sexual identity is not a priority in schools, and that it should be. Homosexuality is an invisible reality and this invisibility is being reinforced. Bisexuality and trans- identity are not even contemplated.

Despite this, many participants agreed that the situation is significantly better than a few decades ago. For example, family diversity is a reality in many European schools. Words like "tolerance", "respect" or "equality" are formal values that are acknowledged as politically correct and socially accepted. However many still miss the path towards a full experience of diversity.

On the other hand, the work of LGBT associations was recognised as providing spaces for dialogue, meetings, and establishing identities as well as promoting a general awareness and visibility of LGBT experience. Some of these associations have extensive experience in training and advising students, faculties and, increasingly, families.

The issues can also be usefully addressed in free time groups and non-formal education settings that support and educate the young. Such leisure-based shared spaces and times are particularly valuable for the exchange of experiences with peers from other backgrounds, ages, gender, origins, etc.

Many schools indicated that materials on these subjects are scarce or obsolete. They identified a need to create a variety of materials for wider audiences such as families, parents’ associations, child-minders, teachers and university students (future teachers), as well as students, young people and children of all ages.

In conclusion, we have worked together to create a practical guide for teachers to be used in schools as a resource that promotes integration and inclusion among participants; providing shared space to help find ways of understanding of each other and living together. We want to foster a climate of trust, identification and empathy to focus ultimately on communicating and educating about affective-sexual identity in a relaxed yet rigorous way.