A Rights Perspective on Parent Advocacy for Their Transgender Children in Aotearoa New Zealand School Settings

Howe, Janette Gay
Hanna, Kirsten
Nakhid, Camille
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Master of Human Rights
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Auckland University of Technology

The purpose of this dissertation was to explore parent advocacy for their transgender children in New Zealand Aotearoa secondary schools and to determine if any changes had taken places as a result of this advocacy. A rights perspective was brought to the research based on the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC) (1989). Literature examining the experiences of transgender children in schools, parent advocacy in schools for their transgender children, and an overview of children’s rights related to the issues of education and transgender children was used to inform the research. A case study design was employed in this research study with five participants partaking part in an online focus group. In addition, two of the five participants took part in an online semi-structured interview. Participants were parents recruited from a parent support Facebook page and had advocated for their transgender children in secondary schools in Aotearoa New Zealand. Reflexive thematic analysis was used to analyse the data. This study found that parents advocated for their transgender children in middle and secondary schools in New Zealand. The findings show that this advocacy is similar to that undertaken by parents in other international contexts. The participants perceived that some schools were under-prepared for transgender students and did not have appropriate bathroom facilities in place or processes to facilitate changes, such as names and pronouns on their systems; that teachers were sometimes unsupportive and misgendered their children; that establishing relationships was important to facilitate their child’s social transition; and that bullying, such as misgendering and harassment, was evident. Some of the outcomes observed in schools, such as new gender neutral toilets and including pronouns on school rolls, were thought, by parents, to be related to parent advocacy. Some of these changes appeared to be accommodating for the individual child rather than involving systemic change, such as special passes for bathrooms. A rights perspective suggests that the parents’ advocacy in the study was consistent with a children’s rights approach. The issues, that prompted their advocacy, were found to be violations of children’s rights as enshrined in UNCROC, suggesting that some schools are not upholding their obligations under UNCROC or the Human Rights Act 1993. This dissertation contributes to the literature on parents’ advocacy for their transgender children in New Zealand Aotearoa school settings. The study highlights the potential of parent advocacy using a children’s rights approach to bring about change in schools for all transgender children, but also highlights the existing cisnormative environments of schools in Aotearoa New Zealand and the work that is needed to ensure schools understand and enact their obligations under UNCROC.

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