For the past few years, a Denison College Kelso High Campus teacher has been championing a weekly support group for students who identify as LGBTQI+.
Richard McFarlane, who has taught PD/Health/PE [and mathematics] at Kelso High since the early 2000s, saw the need for an avenue for students having issues with gender identity and understanding their emotions.
"A few years ago, there was an increase in students having issues with gender and sexuality, which led to a series of discussions with students on how Kelso High could provide better support for those who identify as LQBTQI+," Mr McFarlane said.
"It was through one of those conversations where I raised the idea of a support group, and a number of students were receptive of the idea, so we went from there."
The group meets on a weekly basis, and the idea has since spread to Kelso High's sister campus, Bathurst High.
"At any particular time, we'd get anywhere between 5 to 12 students turn up, and a good 20 to 25 students have attended the support group on and off over the last few years," Mr McFarlane said.
"We've set the group up as a safe place for students to talk about gender and sexuality, and the key purpose of the group is to help students understand what they're experiencing is normal."
"We talk about the use of names and pronouns [he, she, them, they] to ensure they're comfortable with how people address them, how their emotions are part of being human, but really, its a chance for students to simply have constructive conversations with each other."
From the perspective of an educator, Mr McFarlane said an understanding of LGBTQI+ culture is essential to enhancing the wellbeing of a secondary school environment.
"Teenage years are difficult enough for students at the best of times but for those who identify as LGBTQI+, the challenge is often greater," he said.
"We're a school with a strong focus on providing a comfortable environment for all students, and this was a gap in the provision of our wellbeing services that we're proud to be addressing."
"There's a lot for us as teachers to learn from these students and their experiences as well, as it'll only help us improve our approach to fostering a school environment where everyone can feel included."
In addition to his role as a PD/Health/PE teacher, Mr McFarlane has regularly served as a year advisor over the years.
Students involved in the LGBTQI+ support group were invited to contribute to the story, but respectfully declined.
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