30,000 sign petition to stop New Zealand schools teaching 'gender diversity'

More than 30,000 people have signed a Parliamentary petition urging the Ministry of Education to scrap references to gender diversity in the New Zealand teaching curriculum.

'Stop transgender teaching in New Zealand schools' was published on January 29, and has garnered 31,190 signatures as of Wednesday evening.

Its purpose is to persuade the House of Representatives to urge the Ministry of Education to "remove learning intentions for teaching gender diversity in the sexuality education guide".

The petition also demands the removal of gender diversity teaching resources on the Te Kete Ipurangi (TKI) website, which provides schools with education materials.

TKI currently provides multiple learning resources aimed at educating students about different gender identities, including 'Making schools safer for trans and gender diverse youth' and a video series about Rainbow Pasifika youth.

In 2015, the Ministry of Education developed guidelines for how schools should teach sexual education, and in 2017 the 'Inclusive Education Guide for supporting LGBTIQA+ students' was released.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins told Newshub while no changes have been made since 2015, "the Ministry of Education plans to work with the sector to update the guide this year to ensure it reflects further societal changes".

"I believe that teachers are already required to create a safe environment for all students regardless of race, religion, language, disability, and sexuality," the petition reads.

"They do not have a separate requirement to teach the content of minority groups in the curriculum... I believe that endorsing gender discordance as normal via public education and legal policies will confuse children and parents."

Helen Houghton, who lodged the petition, was not immediately available for comment when approached by Newshub.

Gender Minorities Aotearoa national coordinator Ahi Wi-Hongi told Newshub they don't imagine the petition will have much of an effect, as an MP would need to present it to Parliament for it to make it to the House. 

"I imagine it wouldn't be taken seriously. I would hope it wouldn't be."

They say 31,000 is a suspiciously high number of votes for a fairly niche issue in a small country, and wonder how many votes might have been sourced from overseas such as the UK, where the anti-transgender feminist movement has more of a foothold.

The recent self-identification debate has increased the profile of transgender issues in New Zealand. On Monday the Government bowed to pressure from lobby groups like Speak Up For Women and halted a proposed law that would make it easier for people to change their sex on their birth certificate.

Wi-Hongi says they have some sympathy for people who feel confused or threatened by the speed with which historically marginalised identities have become more visible.

"I think some people are quite sheltered in how they've lived their lives. They're not aware that there are people who are different from them. It must be quite terrifying to see things that have been established facts for their whole lives suddenly questioned.

"It's easier to think of trans people as small fringe freaky weirdos who don't deserve rights."

Wi-Hongi says the school resource petition is born out of fear, which in turn is born out of ignorance.

"There is a fear of sexual violence, which is very understandable. But we have to remember people had the same fears 30 years ago around homosexual law reform.

"People said all the same things about how gays were going to molest people in bathrooms or how there would be paedophiles teaching in schools.

"We look back now and say 'How could people have thought like that?' but it's happening again."

Research shows young trans people are at much higher risk of bullying, depression and self-harm than their cisgender peers. Wi-Hongi says it's crucial they feel understood by a school system that treats their identity as legitimate.

"The fact is that trans people have always existed, in schools, in the workplace. It's very unscientific to say trans people don't exist."

They say updates to the curriculum that teach 'gender diversity' is "just more accurate teaching of the facts".

"Back in the day in school we were all taught that there's male and there's female and how to put a condom on a banana. We need to think about trans students who are learning that they don't exist.

"How are they going to practise safe sex if they're taught they don't exist?"