Children of same-sex couples often feel invisible in the classroom

Rainbow Families Network gathering hears how children feel they are made to lie about their family to avoid being bullied

Children of same-sex couples feel they are invisible in schools
Children of same-sex couples feel they are invisible in schools

Children of same-sex couples feel the need to lie about their family to avoid being bullied or excluded at school, a conference heard.

Mariza Farrugia, the outgoing coordinator of Rainbow Families Network, said children wanted their family structures to be acknowledged.

“Children feel they are ‘made’ to lie about their family to avoid being bullied, excluded and shamed. On Mother’s or Father’s Day, they are given few alternatives when choosing a significant parent when it came to making cards,” Farrugia said.

She was speaking at an event marking the first anniversary of the Rainbow Families Network, a joint initiative by the Malta Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society and the Malta Gay Rights Movement.

The network was set up to provide a safe space where LGBTIQ+ families could share their experiences in a secure environment away from mainstream prejudices.

To date, 36 parents and 30 children from different orientations found support in this network and one of the recurring issues that emerged during regular meeting was bullying, coupled with inadequate school practices that automatically marginalised them.

Children explained how at times teachers fail to address comments such as “you are so gay” or “you are a sissy”, making them feel less protected and exposed when they are bullied.

Children also observed that PSCD teachers do not include LGBTIQ+ families when giving examples of families in their lessons. Reading books and textbooks used at school also do not include a representation of LBGTIQ+ families.

Farrugia said parents of transgender teenagers reported that while most of their children had positive experiences in secondary school, their biggest concerns remained lack of information available to them and their children. They highlighted that a lack of information leads to bullying.

Transgender teens stated that not enough action was being taken by teachers and heads of schools to address bullying, leaving children helpless.

Experiences shared within the network also showed that transgender teens experienced issues with bathrooms and changing rooms for youth.

Rainbow Families Network Coordinator Colette Faurrgia Bennett said the network gave children and families a real opportunity to have their voices heard. 

“It is satisfying to see the network’s members gain confidence over the past year and become activists of change,” Farrugia Bennett said.

She said the network started offering training for educators and psychosocial professionals working in state, church and independent schools, to enable them to deal with today’s realities of diverse families.

Former president, Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca said Malta had been a trailblazer in legislative changes in this area but to achieve a truly inclusive society, non-violent dialogue processes were fundamental.

“I believe children raised by LBGTIQ+ people can better thrive if our society effectively upholds a culture of inclusion and justice. We need to engage in dialogue with everyone including with those who oppose change, even when their arguments may sound irrational and unreasonable,” she said.

Shadow minister for equal opportunities and civil liberties, Claudette Buttigieg, added that the biggest problem Malta has is implementing what has been put down on paper.

“Laws on paper and reality in schools and communities are very different – we can say we’re an advanced nation on paper, but unless things are implemented practically it means nothing,” Buttigieg said.

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