“School contributes to minorizing people who are already minoritized”: how to stop systemic LGBTphobia at school?

“Insults, throwing of projectiles, sexual harassment, and one day, beatings… I was so abused by the other students that I ended up not being able to get up in the morning.” These words are those of Inès*, a 16-year-old trans girl currently in second in a high school in the Var.

His mother, Valerie, confirms: “We lived through real hell when Inès was in college. My daughter suffered every possible humiliation from her peers. Despite my repeated cries for help, management did not protect her. She herself was steeped in transphobia.”

The young teenager is not an isolated case: more and more, the teaching body alerts on situations which it witnesses. These are not always the result of other students. Thomas*, a teacher in a REP college in Seine-Saint-Denis, says: “An administrative officer was summoned for having made sexist, LGBTIphobic and racist remarks to students.”

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“School contributes to undermining people who are already undermined”

Worried, the teaching assistants seized the management. However, it remains difficult to raise awareness of this violence when it occurs within an institution that promotes equal opportunities. This is what analyzes Yuna Visentin, teacher and author of the essay Another school is possible!published by Leduc Société in 2022: “In the name of neutrality, a conservative principle, we seek to remove inequalities from the classroom. With it, we do not build a fair and egalitarian space for speech, we take away from young people the possibility of naming the situations experienced, and of fighting the oppressions suffered. We try to get them used to the social order.”

Does this mean that the school is a privileged space for the reproduction of domination? “It’s not a sanctuary, it’s an embedded social institution. The State, to which it is linked, is not a neutral body, it adapts very well to capitalism, heteropatriarchy and colonialism. The knowledge transmitted at school, like all knowledge, is situated. When we look at the official educational content, at the overrepresentation of white cisgender men in the texts, it is very clear. The school contributes to undermining people who are already undermined”denounces Yuna Visentin.

Faced with this collective denial, sensitized education personnel are organizing. More and more educational initiatives are emerging to train teachers, management and students in the challenges of discrimination. Some schools have referents for this purpose.

This is Julie’s function, in a vocational high school in Vitry-sur-Seine, for four years: to coordinate the implementation of the educational policy in favor of equality between girls and boys at school. For his part, Charlie, an education assistant in secondary school/high school in Rennes, organizes thematic events.

“With the help of members of the educational team and students, we set up a week of awareness around sexism. The students organized an exhibition of drawings around women heroines of fiction, a selection of feminist books at the CDI, a broadcast of documentaries, a poster campaign based on the model of feminist collages, a minute of silence for the victims of feminicides… I had the feeling of being useful, it led to rich exchanges”details Charlie.

On the same model, Charlie organizes the following year a week on LGBTIphobia: “With this strong action, I was able to show them that queer adults also exist, and that students are not alone in their difficulties.”

“The school of the future, we must build it together”

Sometimes it is the faculty itself that is the source of misconduct: “My French teacher spent three years drowning me in racist remarks about my hair, my skin color and my family background”unfolds Gloria *, a young black girl who obtained her baccalaureate in 2022 in Limousin.

Kahina*, CPE in a rural high school in Brittany, has witnessed multiple racist violence throughout her career, to the point of starting a procedure still in progress to leave the National Education. She tells of colleagues who “had fun mispronouncing foreign-sounding names”at “imitate the accents of the parents”, a direction that “ordered girls to be sent to them with skirts that were too long”.

On the issue of racist discrimination, there is an increase in initiatives. Manel Ben Boubaker, history-geography teacher in a high school in Seine-Saint-Denis, talks about a “turning point” in 2016, following a “hardening of the application of the 2004 law on ostentatious signs at school, concerning almost all young Muslim women”.

In this context, she created with other colleagues the anti-racist commission of Sud Éducation 93. It was in the controversy that the group began its activity, “a first trade union training course in December 2017 for education staff entitled ‘Where are we with anti-racism at school?’”.

Manel Ben Boubaker reports that the process was “highly attacked by far-right political groups” and by the Ministry of National Education, which has “filed a complaint against [le] union twice, because of the organization of non-mixed workshops between racialized people, and because [l’équipe a] used [l’expression] ‘state racism’ in the description of [son] event”. The commission does not dismantle itself and continues its training courses and conferences.

What do all these struggles against racism, sexism and LGBTphobia have in common? They are designed for and with the students. A fundamental approach, according to Yuna Visentin: “We must build the school of the future together, drawing inspiration from self-management and anti-oppressive struggles.” But the teacher warns of the insufficiency of individual approaches: “You only do politics with luck. It is urgently necessary to train the professional to distinguish discrimination, and give him the means to fight against it.”

* The first names with an asterisk have been modified at the request of those concerned.

“School contributes to minorizing people who are already minoritized”: how to stop systemic LGBTphobia at school?