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Safe Schools and the Eastern Suburbs

By Madeleine Gray on October 20, 2016 in News

Teaching diversity in schools is the foundation for an inclusive society

Teaching diversity in schools is the foundation for an inclusive society

The topic of the Safe Schools Coalition has rarely been out of the media since the program’s inception. Despite the fact that its national implementation occurred in June 2014 under the Abbott government, Safe Schools’ continued existence has slowly but surely been harnessed by members of the Liberal Party’s most conservative factions as a symbol of the queer community’s malevolent desire to indoctrinate children into the ‘gay agenda’.

While Safe Schools’ supporters stress that the program’s aim is simply to educate Australian students about gender diversity and same-sex attraction, and to foster a national community of acceptance and support for LGBTQI people, Liberal politicians like Senator Cory Bernardi and NSW MP Damien Tudehope remain insistent that a more sinister underlying motive is at play.

The political debate going on in parliament – both state and federal – echoes a larger discord in national opinion. However, considering heterosexual sexual health is taught in all schools in PDHPE, those who oppose teaching homosexual health, for example, clearly cannot rely on the argument that sexuality should not be taught in schools. Their issue is with homosexuality, not sexuality.

As such, many high schools feel the need to placate more conservative parents by choosing not to join the Safe Schools Coalition, or not offering lessons on non-heterosexual matters.

Over the past month, The Beast has been contacting high schools in the Eastern Suburbs and asking them about how they support LGBTQI students. Tellingly, many schools simply chose not to respond. One school, when twice asked for specific instances of policies or programs that foster LGBTQI acceptance, would only confirm in the most vague way, emphasising a “general commitment to positive psychology”.

While none of the schools contacted told The Beast that they were signed up to the Safe Schools Coalition, some did respond in less vague terms, and gave explicit examples of ways in which they support queer students. Interestingly, the schools that did so were a mixture of secular and religious, with perhaps the most LGBTQI-supportive response coming from Catholic boys’ school, Waverley College.

“There is no place for harassment, bullying or discrimination of any kind: gender, sexuality, appearance, ethnicity or ability,” Ray Paxton, Head of Waverley College said.

Among other examples of fostering LGBTQI inclusivity, he explained that the Year Nine College Curriculum includes looking at “basic human rights, including the 1984 Sexual Discrimination Act, and discrimination laws in NSW including transgender discrimination” and the Year 10 curriculum involves “expressing and exploring personal sexuality”.

Co-educational Jewish day school Emanuel School told The Beast that it recently celebrated Diversity Day, and had a former school parent speak about his experience coming out later in life.

“By opening dialogue about the important issues of equality across gender, sexuality and religion, the school actively provides support and the opportunity for all students, regardless of their sexuality, to learn and grow in a supportive and caring environment,” an Emanuel School spokesperson added.

While these responses are heartening, it is disappointing that our inquiries were not met with greater engagement. The fact is that not all people are heterosexual, and some are not cisgender. Young people are bullied for difference, and difference in sexual preference and gender diversity is a particularly ripe site for bullying amongst the ill informed.