EDITOR’S NOTE: IF Professor Bill Loudon put any thoughts on paper about the Safe Schools program before delivering his verbal briefing to those members of the Coalition who cared enough to turn up, the greater public has yet to share his insights. What he told those in attendance did not meet with universal approval, however. Far from it. Predictably, objections from the conservative rump of Malcolm Turnbull’s government were immediately decried by Opposition Leader Bill Shorten as “knuckle-dragging right-wing Liberal senators inflicting their own narrow view of the world upon the kids and the teenagers and the schools of Australia.” In milder language, Christopher Pyne voiced an allied and equally supportive view of a program that, amongst its other lessons, steers kids to websites where they can learn a lot about some very queer business indeed.
As might be expected, the ABC and other outlets have reported the Coalition’s ongoing contretemps from the premise that Safe Schools is a bona fide “anti-bullying campaign”, rather than an unbalanced and over-enthusiastic welcome to the gay lifestyle. Anyone who opposes it, certainly as handed down from the de-gendered academic Olympus of LaTrobe University, can be nothing but a poofter-basher. On 774 Radio, the ABC’s Melbourne spigot, Nationals Senator George Christensen, who has led opposition to the program, read from a paper in which gay academic and activist Gary Dowsett saw gains in homosexual activists making common cause with pederasts. Dowsett, according to Christensen, is the academic godfather of all that became Safe Schools. His interviewer’s response went something like, ‘Well, that was only one of the papers he has written.’ After that it was back to playground discrimination and why do conservatives want it to continue?
Is opposition to Safe Schools solely the province of conservative troglodytes? Far from it, as an open letter to Bill Loudon from sex educator Liz Walker, of the Youth Wellbeing Project, leaves no doubt. Her organisation’s site is here, and visitors will know at a glance she is anything but a homophobe. Indeed, she endorses much of Safe Schools and avows that its goals are worthy. As noted in the edited extract below of Walker’s letter, she reckons it is flawed by both too much information and too little. Her letter to Loudon can be read in full here.
As you read on, consider this: If Safe Schools had been directed at promoting safety in, say, woodwork classes, would study units so obviously incomplete have been accepted for use? Perhaps, but only if a vocal lobby were as eager to promote lost fingers as is gay activism’s louder, loonier fringe to banish innocence. –– roger franklin
Dear Emeritus Professor Bill Louden,
As a relationship and sexuality educator, I am committed to ensuring all our resources and program materials related to sexuality are inclusive. There is no doubt that the Same Sex Attracted and Gender Diverse community (SSAGD) experience a disproportionately high level (75%) of abuse and discrimination (as outlined in the All of Us curriculum ) and it is essential that this is addressed. No one disputes the importance of creating understanding as a beneficial strategy to reduce bullying.
The All of Us materials used by Safe Schools Coalition provides a great deal of value for students who are questioning or identify as belonging to the LGBTI community. It is robust in its intent to specifically support these students, and no doubt many young people’s mental health outcomes will have been improved with its use.
Nevertheless, with additional consideration, the following queries present a respectful dialogue in areas that I believe need to be considered in order to provide holistic education, inclusive for all students from all perspectives.
- Whilst there is a considerable number of adolescents who will be attracted to a person of the same sex, by adult years this number drops considerably. Why is this not mentioned at all in the curriculum?
- Lesson 3 states that the average age of coming out is 16. Why isn’t it mentioned that over half of young people who think they may be same-sex attracted are going through a stage of experimentation and do not experience anything other than a crush that lasts for a short period of time?
- Many gender-questioning young people do not progress to transitioning and settle into same-sex or bisexual relationships. Why is this not mentioned in the curriculum?
- Lesson 2 asks children aged 11 – 13 to imagine themselves at a much older age. Whilst the older representatives in the videos offer good stories, is asking students to imagine they are much older than they are incongruent for this stage of development, particularly given the personal nature of the topic?
- In Lesson 4, “Nevo”, who identifies as transgender, shares that he is looking forward to a life with his girlfriend and wants to have kids, little versions of him running around. The loose notes around IVF, fostering and adoption do not seem to be clear about Nevo not having the biological capacity to father a child, nor about the complexities of birthing a child post-medical transition. Would this lack of explanation create confusion in this age bracket?
- The young people in the videos are very confident in owning their sexuality and stories, certain of their decisions and portraying a positive outcome. Why is there only limited focus on the turbulent nature of this period of life? Why no strong focus on the importance of seeking professional psychiatric support?
- The people used in the videos are all above the age of consent. Why is the legal age of sexual consent not mentioned anywhere in the curriculum?
- The continued preferred website for further information is minus18. Much of the content on this site is designed for adolescents in an older age bracket going through a different stage of development. Why aren’t 11- to 13-year-olds — many of whom may want knowledge and explanation of definitions, or are just wondering about experimenting, as opposed to support in coming out — directed to a site that is more appropriate for their age bracket, a site that shares stories inclusive of heterosexuality and young people experiencing same-sex crushes which pass over time?