Education Symposium: “A non-discriminating school, a genderless restroom”

Source: Mehmet Akın, “Ayrımcı olmayan bir okul, cinsiyetsiz tuvalet.” (“A non-discriminating school, a genderless restroom.”) Kaos GL, 28 September 2014,

Source: Kaos GL

Source: Kaos GL

The symposium titled “Fighting against Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Discrimination in the Field of Education” was held on September 27, 2014 at Bilgi University, Istanbul. One of the most commonly debated issues was the binary-gender restrooms in schools.

The symposium, which consisted of four sessions, was organized by Bilgi University Sociology and Education Studies [SEÇBİR]and by the Social Policies, Gender Identity, and Sexual Orientation Studies Association [SPoD] and was supported by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Foundation. The attendees discussed the ways in which heteronormativity, sexism, and discriminatory practices are being and ought to be fought against in the field of education. Examples were provided through an interdisciplinary approach. SEÇBİR and SPoD will establish a study group in the near future and organize the struggle against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in education.

The most significant issue that emerged through the sharing of experiences and of the problems that were encountered was school restrooms. These are segregated by gender, and as a result, create problems for LGBTI and more specifically trans individuals. While the audience contributed a variety of possible solution to this problem, Kaos GL Advisory Committee member Prof. Melek Göregenli of Ege University’s Psychology Department argued that there must be individual and genderless restrooms.

34% of LGBTI individuals experience negative reactions in school

During the first session and under the moderation of Kenan Çayır, interdisciplinary approaches to sexual orientation and gender identity were presented. Melek Göregenli spoke of the importance of visibility and said “One ought to work not only with the struggle against discrimination, but also towards the visibility of various identities. The increased visibility of difference will also bring equality.”

Volkan Yılmaz, from Bilgi University Civil Society Studies and SPoD, spoke of the problems LGBTI individuals encounter in education. Yılmaz, who provided examples from the survey that was administered through the partnership of SPoD and Bosphorus University, argued that LGBTI individuals are not perceived by the general public as normal citizens. The survey results mentioned by Yılmaz provided insights into the problems experienced by LGBTI individuals in education:

  • 34% of LGBTI individuals experienced negative reactions on the basis of their sexual orientation in primary and secondary school,
  • 4.8% of students dropped out due to their negative experiences,
  • 4.2% had to transfer to another school,
  • 2.2% received administrative punishment.

LGBTI people cannot come out in school

At the university level:

  • 13.6% of LGBTI students experienced negative reactions on the basis of their identity,
  • 2.1% dropped out due to [their negative experiences regarding] their being LGBTI,
  • 1.8% transferred to another school,
  • 0.7% received administrative punishment.

The rates of voluntary disclosure of their identity was:

  • 13% in primary and secondary school,
  • 33.7% in university.

According to the survey results, LGBTI individuals experience significant hardship not only in school but also in social life. Of the participants:
– 40% said they thought of suicide at least once because of [the negative reactions to] their being LGBTI.

According to Volkan Yılmaz, diversity in education needs to be protected, privacy rights of the students need to be guaranteed, social relations between heterosexual and LGBTI students should be encouraged, educators need to be educated on diversity and LGBTI [experiences], and educational spaces should be rendered genderless.

Additionally, during the session, Levent Şentürk of Osmangazi University Department of Architecture presented on discrimination in educational spaces.

Trans people have to attend school with clothes that do not belong to them

Under the moderation of Çiğdem Şimşek, Evren Emre Çakmak from Kaos GL, Anıl Kocaoğulları from LuBunya Bosphorus, and Egemen Öztürk from T-Club [T-Kulüp] shared their experiences regarding struggles against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity during the second session. Anıl Kocaoğulları informed the audience that, though they are actively engaging in activism in the social and academic fields in Bosphorus University, the positive developments that occured were not enough. Kocaoğulları reported that, though they have been struggling to have genderless and mixed gender restrooms, the administration transformed the existing mixed gender restrooms into segregated binary gender ones at the end.

Egemen Öztürk of T-Club said that trans students are pushed into silence in education. Öztürk specified that the practice of being forced to wear the clothing of the gender identity they do not identify with has damaged their psychological wellbeing. Öztürk said that it was impossible to play soccer with boys at school even though they could play soccer with boys at their neighborhood and that the heteronormative education at school seeped into the attitudes and behavior of the students. Öztürk added that they experienced difficulties in official dealings due to the enforcement of the ble-pink national ID laws and that they was not even able to take examinations as important as the YGS [Higher Education Examination – Undergraduate Placement Examination].

If the boy is playing with a Barbie, the teacher should be able to say “you play too”

During the third session, Damla Karaman from Eğitim-Sen’s [Education and Science Workers’ Union] LGBTI Commission, Elif from the Highschooler LGBTI Group, and Pınar Özer from LİSTAG [Families of LGBTT Group] presented on various anti-discimination struggle examples. Elif, who is a highschool student, said that the state is pressuring LGBTI people using state-issued books, restrooms, and teachers and that one ought to resist this system. Pınar Özer, who is the mother to a trans woman, spoke of the problems encountered by her child during highschooland university and said that her daughter had to go to the restroom only during classes because of the binary gender restrooms. According to Özer, if a boy is playing with a Barbie, the teacher should be able to tell the other boys that “you may play too.”

During the final forum under SEÇBİR’s Melisa Soran’s moderation, methods of activism against discrimination in education were discussed. SEÇBİR and SPoD will be establishing an education working group as a consequence of this symposium. Both institutions are inviting to SPoD people who would like to work on this topic or receive consultation to SPoD.