Discourses of difference : a study of how secondary school teachers and administrators position sexual diversity in the context of school : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Education Administration at Massey University

Thumbnail Image
Open Access Location
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Massey University
The Author
This is a study of how New Zealand secondary school teachers and administrators (defined as senior managers and school trustees) position people and issues of sexual diversity in their schools. New Zealand and overseas studies have reported that gay, lesbian and bisexual young people and teachers experience damaging effects of heteronormative discursive practices that prevail in schools. While there are some successful overseas models for intervening in schools to make the environment safer for lesbian, gay and bisexual students and teachers, such as the Massachusetts Safe Schools Project (1993), no studies have investigated how New Zealand teachers and administrators think and feel about sexual diversities. Such information is important if change strategies in New Zealand schools are to be successful. This study uses a feminist poststructural framework to explore this issue through identifying and analysing the discourses that are constraining and / or enabling teachers and administrators to address the discriminatory practices in their schools that affect lesbian, gay and bisexual students and teachers. A survey questionnaire, with some closed but mostly open questions was used in ten secondary schools of differing types in mainly urban settings. Among the more open questions, participants were also asked to respond to a set of 'Scenarios' as a means of gathering data for a discourse analysis. The research identified that while liberal humanist discourses of individual rights were defining and limiting possibilities for professional interventions, 'othering' and minoritising discourses of homo/sexuality as essential difference were also leaving the privileged status of heterosexuality as unproblematised. A majority of the respondents perceived that gay, lesbian and bisexual students, but not teachers are adversely affected by heteronormative practices in their schools, and a majority believed their schools were not doing enough to address this issue. Increased visibility of sexual diversity in the curriculum was the most cited suggestion for action in their schools. Recommendations are made to capitalise on these findings and understandings so that sensible steps can be taken to intervene in the professional practices in schools to make school a safe and rewarding experience for all students.
High school teachers, High school principals, Gay high school students, Sexual harassment in education, Homophobia, New Zealand