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LGBTQ youth activism and school: challenging sexuality and gender norms

Hayley McGlashan (Faculty of Education and Social Work, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand)
Katie Fitzpatrick (Faculty of Education and Social Work, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand)

Health Education

ISSN: 0965-4283

Article publication date: 7 August 2017



Previous research examining the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer (LGBTQ) youth in schools suggests that schools are not inclusive places for non-heterosexual students. Some scholars, however, suggest that a continued focus on how these young people are marginalised is itself a problem, and that research should also focus on strengths and what is working. The purpose of this paper is to examine the activities of a group of LGBTQ students in one school in Auckland, New Zealand.


The study employed a critical ethnographic approach in a diverse co-educational, public high school in Auckland, New Zealand. The researcher spent 3-5 days per week at the school throughout three terms (32 weeks) of the 2016 school year and participated, observed and interviewed students and teachers. Post-structural theory was used to analyse the ethnographic materials.


The study found that LGBTQ students actively challenged the heteronorms of their school. They met regularly to discuss issues, support each other and to plan activist initiatives. These initiatives, in turn, impacted the environment of the school and made LGBTQ students more visible. This visibility, however, also created tensions as students grappled with their identities and the public space of school.


Despite a wealth of research in education on the exclusion of young people at the intersection of gender, sexuality and other identity positions, there is very little research that reports on school-wide health promotion initiatives that both engage young people as leaders and participants in their schools, and work towards creating safe and empowering spaces for LGBTQ youth.



McGlashan, H. and Fitzpatrick, K. (2017), "LGBTQ youth activism and school: challenging sexuality and gender norms", Health Education, Vol. 117 No. 5, pp. 485-497.



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