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LGBTIQ+ Inclusion – The Power of Conversation

Conversation is both powerful and simple. It allows us to share ideas. In the workplace, almost everything rests upon it – not just talking about work, but sharing workplace banter and building personable relationships.

I feel like part of living and thriving in this modern world is about how to have better conversations. 

I’ve worked in a lot of places – schools, universities, community organisations – and one of the easiest ways for me to determine my longevity in a workplace is for me to listen to the staffroom conversations.

“Well you’re there to work anyway, why does it matter? Just don’t talk about your personal life while you’re there.”

Whether people agree or not, people do bring their personal lives into work. I have lost count of the amount of wedding video snippets I’ve had to sit through at work meetings, or the conversations I’ve been privy to about people’s married lives.

Many of us don’t want to air that, but it would be nice to be able to say ‘my wife’ without fearing discrimination, or risking professional limitations. You can choose to share less, but it is hard to sit in the staffroom and be completely private when everyone is having rich, fun conversations about what they know and who they know.

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“But what about the anti-discrimination act? You can’t do that nowadays!” That is the usual response I hear when I express that we have far to go. 

While there may be protective laws, imagine how limited they are in short-term contracts. Your job is not secure and someone above you will decide if your employment becomes permanent. If they have a bias towards the LGBTIQ+ community and they know you identify, they can simply say you are no longer required.

This fear can lead some people to lower their participation in aspects of workplace life in case it accidentally leads to coming out. So – less banter, conversation, or after work drinks. It can be hard, especially because people like to get to know new employees.

This really limits the benefits of organic, collaborative relationship building.

Always having to watch what you say can also lead many people to experience stress and anxiety. The cumulative impact of this can lead to lower performance and a higher likelihood of moving on. This can be bad for business. High turnover is expensive and it looks bad.

The way some large organisations are addressing this is through LGBTIQ+ inclusion and diversity training. The idea behind this is to help workplace teams become more informed about gender and sexual diversity. This often includes describing lived experiences, terminology, and how to have more appropriate conversations with others. Most importantly, how to be an ally at work.

You’d be surprised at how much more comfortable it can feel when you see a rainbow lanyard or sticker sitting on somebody’s desk – you know that if you were to mention a same-sex partner or provide your preferred pronouns, you’d be safe.

Through doing this, the idea is to foster inclusive workplace cultures, where awkward conversations and assumptions will become less common. Sometime, it’s not the outright homophobia that people struggle with, but the low-level awkward conversations.

LGBTIQ+ inclusion programs address some of this by showing workplace teams how to use appropriate, inclusive language. It is useful when this rests upon a good working understanding of lived experiences in the community and a rich discussion on the various identities – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer – and how people may relate to them.

We can all benefit from learning more – even if we’re all over this inclusion thing. 

Trying to do less of ‘that’s so gay’, assuming someone has an opposite sex partner, or using an inappropriate pronoun once a preferred one has been expressed, can help everyone find their place.

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One year anniversary – why write a book?

It’s been a little over a year since I published my book and released it into the wider world.

Writing a book before the age of 30 was a pretty major life achievement for me. It was one of my bucket-list goals.

I never thought my first book would be a childhood sex education resource! But it was such a worthwhile undertaking.

I wanted my son’s story to be filled with pride and openness. Even if he never shares that part of his life with others, I wanted him to know where he came from.

After all – donor conception is nothing to be ashamed of. Nor is infertility, IVF conception, or having two mums. 

I wanted to write a book about my future child’s life and conception, even if it made people uncomfortable. I knew my child would deserve to know his story, whether people liked it or not. So I wrote.

The first draft was terrible. God-awful. Too many words, not enough story. Too much awkwardness.

So I went back to the drawing board and thought about what it was I was trying to do, and why? What would I want from a book like this, if I were purchasing it myself?

I wanted:

  • A narrative – to connect with a child at their level
  • A scientifically accurate explanation – no pet names or silliness around body parts and sex
  • Inclusivity – to see various reproductive situations represented, including insemination, and IVF
  • Cute illustrations…. of course

The thing is, I am not an illustrator – I just like writing. So I contacted Anil Tortop at Tadaa Book who illustrates in a range of styles, and once I had a draft I was happy with, we got started on bringing it to life.

I will spare you the experience of looking at any of my drafts, but understand that by the time the book went to publication, it was on version 18. Thank goodness for patient publishers.

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When I looked back and stared at my creation for the very first time, I realised that I had achieved what I needed to.

It represents my child’s experience. Children benefit when they see themselves or people like them in books and other forms of media. Knowing their life is important enough to be represented bridges that divide between child and world – through that, they know they are not alone. The research in this area is preliminary, but ask any teacher to give you an anecdotal experience and I almost guarantee you they will have more than one. Children can’t relate with what they can’t see.

It normalises the idea of IVF, donor conception, and living in a same-sex family. If you try to teach a child about sex education but their conception has to be explained as an add-end, it sends a message that their differences can’t be talked about, or that it makes people uncomfortable. If it is seen as ‘just another method’ or ‘just another way to bring children into loving families’, this creates a sense of normal. Which is great, because I feel our lives are pretty standard, even with all the differences.

It casts my wife as a main character in the story of our child’s life. I want my wife to experience equality in all ways as a parent and if she is not a main character in the story of our child’s conception, then she becomes less important – she is as capable of raising our son as I am and gets the same sense of joy and challenge from him as I do.

It works towards making us ‘just another Australian family.’ I know we’ve got a long way to go with this one, but casting our life stories on the periphery (which they have been for a long time), makes us seem vastly different to other families. The more we are seen on the bookshelf, the more conversations we can start and the more we will become ‘just another character in the story of Australian public life in 2019.’

When I introduce the fact that I am in a same-sex relationship in conversations with new people, that part of my identity can sometimes take over. So I am no longer the friend, the colleague, the parent, the new acquaintance. Once I’ve dropped ‘wife’ into the conversation, I then get to field silly questions like, ‘Who is the man? How did you make a child? When did you tell your parents you were gay? How’s that weather…. etc.’

My vision is that when I introduce this part of my life, it doesn’t become my persona.

Yeah, we have a long way to go, but when I look at how far we’ve come, I have great hope. In order to get there, we need to start more conversations, write more stories, and send it all into the world!

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Our first little family holiday!

Before we started our family, I absolutely lived for travel and also for my career. We are yet to venture overseas, but we did get passport photos for Master S this week, so that will be on the horizon this Christmas.

As for my career, my approach has changed as I am taking a break from the full-time teaching workforce. I now work from home as a writer. This gives me flexibility, but also some fairly unique opportunities. I enjoy it.

A few months ago, a professional in the area of fertility psychology contacted me to see if I wanted to share some of my own journey at a conference – to tell my story about why I wrote a book, both from an academic perspective and a personal one.

Clinical professionals benefit from hearing about lived experiences intertwined with interdisciplinary research, so I jumped at the chance to provide this.

So, we committed to the just-over-an-hour schlep to the Gold Coast, knowing we’d have a three-and-a-half-month in tow.

And we decided to make a weekend of it.

This is how it all went down….

The week before the conference was scheduled, I organised Granny-Care – my mother – to come over and help with Master S while I packed, ran errands, and organised our food for the weekend. Going anywhere with an infant is certainly an exercise in organisation!

I made list upon list upon list. I cooked and created snacks and meals, packed in an insulated bag. I realised that the car would be so full…….. and the bags would be heavy. But it was worth it, because we had a nice dinner when we stopped en-route for a breastfeed.

We arrived at the Gold Coast at about 8pm on the Friday night. It all went well. Master S even slept in a strange cot, in a strange room, in a strange place…..UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_21f2.jpg

When I arrived at the conference on Saturday, I was included in the whole event. I was able to spend time in conversation with fertility psychologists and other professionals in the field from around Australia. This included many rich conversations with others about resilience, early disclosure for donor-conceived children, and ideas around donor anonymity. I also had the privilege of hearing a presentation by a donor-conceived adult – it was fascinating to hear of her journey.

All of these conversations reinforced the importance of what I advocate for – early disclosure for donor-conceived children, with a range of resources to suit unique family needs and structures. It also enabled me to tell my family’s story of life, and I have so much pride in that.

On Sunday, we spent time as a family – my favourite part of the whole experience. 

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Before I had Master S, people loved to tell me about how my life would change so much. They seemed smug about it, how I would feel limited – how I may even fail to achieve my dreams. 

I have found the opposite is true.

I manage my time better because I’m completing tasks around a tiny human’s napping schedule – I have mastered the art of writing 100 words in 12 minutes (yeah… cat naps happen) and also the art of accepting that some days are more limited on productivity than others because once he’s awake, I am present with him.

The real ‘fire-cracker under my butt’ in using my time wisely is my baby boy.

I keep on going, because I want to contribute to the world he is going to inhabit. I want to be a role model for this child who is watching my every move in this world.

Most of all, I want to model pride, passion, and the pursuit of dreams.

I think that’s worth working for. Even if I get distracted a lot.

Anyway, play time is fun. 

Until next time…. I hope to tell you more about the journey of writing my book!

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You can’t be what you can’t see – why teachers shouldn’t live in the closet

When we first start to learn important life skills, our success hinges on watching someone else model the task before we try. Leading our own lives isn’t any different from mastering basic life skills; we all have the desire to form human connections that influence us and form our ways of being in the world. We know that young people look up to the world around them and so we try to steer them towards good role models to fight against the negative messages they will undoubtedly consume from the wider world.

Although there are positive role models everywhere, it is more meaningful when a child sees a person just like them in a position of success, in a place where they can connect with them. Young people adopt habits and attitudes by looking at people who share their gender, cultural background, or other life circumstances. When a child belongs to a group that is in the minority, knowing individuals who have succeeded in spite of stereotypes offers hope that their future can be bright. The most common place for a child to connect with a role model is at school.

This is why I find it so perplexing that being a gay teacher in Australia is still such a silent idea. To be fair, nobody is going to stop a gay person from attaining a Bachelor of Education, but it can be hard once you’re in the system.

One of the most significant “no” arguments that got a lot of airplay during the lead up to the plebiscite was that gay marriage would pave the way for talking about it in schools. My question is, why aren’t we talking about it? In any classroom, there will be students with this in their lives  – whether it is through having a gay relative, gay parents, or even being gay themselves. At some point throughout their life, they will likely meet a gay person or work with one. For some students, they may not yet realise that they are gay, but are grappling internally with feelings that they can’t explain. They might be looking for confirmation that they are completely normal and loved regardless.

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Thinking about this takes me back to 2004. My family had relocated to a regional city in Queensland, and the intent was to lead a quieter life while my father developed his business. I had always known I had those feelings and had never said anything because I wasn’t certain that I actually was gay, because I lacked life experience. In my family and friendship groups, nobody spoke about it. Popular culture at the time didn’t contain many visible role models, or at least none that I had been exposed to. YouTube and social media were in their infancy and so I was somewhat in the dark. Furthermore, the Christian education program at my school had explicitly stated that being gay was not an option if you were to lead an acceptable, moral life.

Towards the end of that year, I developed a close friendship with a girl that turned into a somewhat-relationship behind closed doors. We never spoke to anyone about it because  we knew there would be consequences.

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During year 12, my senior music teacher resigned and was replaced by a bright and talented teacher who played numerous instruments and rocked a shaved head like nobody’s business. She unabashedly wore jackets with gay patches stitched onto them, and considering where the world (particularly Bundaberg) was at in 2007, this was a bold move. Not only did she impart her amazing musical taste on all of us, but she spoke about the life she had built, complete with a career, mortgage, world travels, a dog, and a (nearly) wife. Suddenly, here was this person who was living proof that I could have the aspirational life I dreamed of with a wife by my side. It changed everything.

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Not long after I met this teacher, I came out to my parents. I wrote a song about a woman I loved and sang it on school assembly. I stopped caring what other people thought about my life and lived as my true, authentic self.

This is why the idea of silencing gay teachers is anathema to me. We need to help young people find their voice. It is challenging to do that if we must hide our wedding photos from plain sight. What visible role models will provide are two very important messages to our young people;

  1. You are not alone.
  2. Those of you who identify as gay have equal worth and you have just as much chance of fulfilling your dreams as anyone else. Here are people who have walked similar paths to you and succeeded. It is possible for you. 

I think every child’s diversity should be represented visibly in the schooling system, through teachers, coaches, parents, students and curriculum materials that acknowledge a variety of life narratives. Only then will we see change and open up a brighter future, not just for some students, but for every student. I think that’s worth standing up for, don’t you?