Since 2010, Wear It Purple Day has celebrated the diversity of Australian students and their right to dignity and respect at school. We celebrate its values of inclusion, and grass roots efforts to support community education and non-profits. With this year’s theme of “start the conversation, keep it going” we thought we’d take the opportunity to highlight some of the challenges that students with intersex variations may face at school.
For too many intersex students there is no conversation. People born with innate variations in sex characteristics still face stigma and secrecy. Without the opportunity to learn about intersex variations in the school environment, there’s a decent chance that intersex students will be left unable to navigate or name the challenges that they are growing up with. They need appropriate and affirmative information about their bodies – information that respects a diversity of body characteristics, and the diversity of identities and terms used by people with intersex variations. This is one of the ways we can start to build agency in medical settings and start to fix the problem of coerced and unconsented medical intervention while we work towards legislation.
There is nothing shameful or complicated about intersex bodies. When students learn about about puberty and human biology, there is nothing too complicated or controversial about intersex variations that should prevent students from learning about the natural diversity of those around them. Intersex variations exist, and students with intersex variations exist. They need to understand their bodies, and be comprehended and accepted by peers. In this way we can start to build up support around intersex students and normalise their inclusion.
Students with intersex variations may face other challenges in the school environment. Visible differences in certain types of variation can sadly be a target of bullying. Developmental differences, including cognitive challenges and physical development, can be the source of isolation and overwhelming difficulty at school. Students who need to take medical leave can find it challenging to catch up on schoolwork. Meanwhile school sports can present a whole other set of challenges. All of these things contribute to a significant number of intersex students being unable to finish year 12.
When talking about the compassion needed to help LGBTQA+ students succeed and thrive we need to keep the conversation going for intersex students as well. In 2020, Wear It Purple chose to remove the ‘I’ from their remit. We don’t want to call this out. We understand that organisations should talk about what they know. At the same time, students with intersex variations need support, and they are faced with systemic forms of exclusion and incomprehension. We need institutions to step up, and we hope that this statement will help by giving you more tools to do so.
For further information about the challenges intersex students face in the school environment, read our education resource at https://ihra.org.au/education/
Find our page by and for youth at https://ihra.org.au/youth
We are also proud to support the Australian based YOUth&I project, empowering intersex youth to express themselves through art and creativity. For a free online copy of issue one, and news about issue two go to https://darlington.org.au/youthandi/
IHRA chair Dr Agli Zavros-Orr will run a free webinar on raising awareness of intersex in education settings on Monday 27 September. Find out more.