In First, Israel Issues Guidelines to Schools for Dealing With LGBTQ Students

The guidelines, released by the Education Ministry after years of delay, will see teachers clarifying their students' pronouns, schools making rules banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity and other steps to make schools more inclusive for LGBTQ students

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Gender-neutral restrooms at the Open Democratic School in Jaffa.
Gender-neutral restrooms at the Open Democratic School in Jaffa.Credit: Daniel Bar-On

For the first time, Israel's Education Ministry has issued guidelines to schools regarding LGBTQ students and families. The document, released on Tuesday, requires schools to train teachers on the subject, to clarify with students which pronouns they use and to formulate rules to forbid discrimination on the basis of gender or sexual orientation.

Work on the guidelines began during Naftali Bennett's tenure as education minister in 2019, but was repeatedly delayed because of what ministry officials termed as technical issues.

In March, ministry officials told a Knesset panel that the document would be issued at the start of the current school year, but its release was again pushed off, this time due to the election. The bureau of Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton recently began to pick up the pace on the project, as they fear that it would be further delayed – or even shelved – under a different education minister.

The new guidelines, which were prepared in consultation with LGBTQ organizations and academics with expertise in the field, include explicit rules regarding how schools should approach issues concerning the LGBTQ community, as well as personal interactions with LGBTQ students.

On a systemic level, the guidelines call for schools to provide training for teachers on the subject, to establish rules that emphasize prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and to incorporate LGBTQ issues in social studies classes.

An LGBTQ pride event in Mitzpe Ramon, in January.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

On a personal level, school faculty are required to allow students to discuss their sexual orientations and uncertainties regarding them. The guidelines also refer to transgender students, and note that staff must clarify which pronouns each student uses – "Whether to refer to them as he/him, she/her, or with other pronouns."

The document gives each school freedom to decide on other issues pertaining to transgender students – for example, gendered restrooms, sleeping arrangements on school trips and gender-segregated sports – but it stresses that the student's needs, parents' opinions and the school's options should be taken into consideration.

“The educational system, as part of a broad professional and ethical worldview, has the professional duty to impart on everyone an egalitarian worldview, according to which every person has the right to live their life without fear of discrimination or rejection due to their gender identity or sexual orientation,” the document says.

Shasha-Biton said in a statement after the release of the document: “The education system must provide an equal, appropriate and inclusive response to all the students in it.”

Prime Minister Yair Lapid also welcomed the guidelines, saying they were “an extraordinary and important step like no other. Every child deserves to feel safe at school.”

LGBTQ organizations lauded the document's release. Mor Nahari, the director of the LGBTQ educational organization Hoshen, which helped develop the guidelines, told Haaretz that “We welcome and are excited about the publication of a ground-breaking document that protects students all over the country."

She added, "Every student deserves to feel loved, safe and equal within the education system. In a world where LGBTQ children face violence on school grounds and elsewhere, tolerance education within the school system is more important than ever.”

Linor Abergel, chairwoman of the Israel Transwomen organization, told Haaretz that “this is a major step forward for every child who feels that their sexual or gender identity is different from those around them. Gender identity needs to be accompanied by professional counseling and it is good that this is happening in school settings.”

Hila Peer, chair of the Aguda – Israel’s LGBTQ Task Force, said the document “is lifesaving. In a reality where the most common insult in schools is to call someone gay, and where schools are the places with the highest degree of violence against LGBTQ youth, the published guidelines create a defensive wall for students.” She expressed hope that the guidelines “will be thoroughly implemented and allow for a safer reality for LGBTQ youth in Israel.”

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