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Focus groups with parents on hate speech and gender identity issues in adolescents

Butterfly Effect_Focus group with parents

The Butterfly Effect project includes actions also towards parents, as key actors in the educational community, through focus groups to make them aware of the importance of recognizing, preventing and tackling hate incidents.

On 15th of May 2024 COSPE organized a focus group online with 19 participants, parents and teachers of the Gramsci-Keynes Secondary School in Prato (Tuscany). The facilitators were Rosa Feola and Nicoletta Landi, education and gender experts. In this school, workshops on hate speech and discrimination were held in several first and second classes, led by Rosa Feola. During those meetings, critical issues, resistance and stereotypes emerged from some students concerning homo-lesbian-bi-transphobia and tendency to minimise the effects on the victims, hiding behind the justification that it is just a joke. Due to this, the focus group was mainly focused on the topic of gender identity, with active exchange and questions from parents.

It emerged from the discussion and exchange of reflections that gender issues are sensitive and complex that cannot be ignored and addressed. Furthermore, questions about identity characterise adolescence. It is necessary to look at gender identity as a process, a continuum, and it is important to reflect on. It is relevant to be meaningful adults who listen to young people, create a welcoming context and assume educational responsibility. Listening is also significant to understand what the hate speech that young people may spread is based on. In particular, sexist and homophobic insults represent an accessible repertory to draw on.

The facilitator Nicoletta Landi showed the gender unicorn, a figure with some symbolic elements representing the different dimensions of gender (gender identity, biological sex, sexual orientation and gender expression), as a stimulus to reflect on these concepts, whose meanings are often confused by some teenagers and adults.

The questions asked by the parents mainly concerned their role, with operational issues such as how to make their son understand that homosexuality is not a danger. It is necessary to verbalise the questions and share them. A participant said she felt it was important firstly to educate adolescents to accept themselves, listening and understanding themselves, as well as educate on respect and empathy towards others.

Educational actions on these themes are also relevant for deconstructing stereotypes that can then settle, making people aware of the meanings of certain terms and the psychological consequences of hate speech and actions. At the end of the meeting, the participants filled an evaluation questionnaire, and the answers showed an overall positive evaluation of the event.

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