Safe Schools is important, because LGBTQI students shouldn't need to justify their right to exist

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull Photo: Andrew Meares

On Tuesday, Malcolm Turnbull announced an inquiry into the Safe Schools Coalition, an initiative that endeavours to support same sex attracted, intersex and gender diverse students, staff and families. The initiative has come under increasing criticism from right wing LNP backbencher Cory Bernardi, that champ who compared gay sex to beastiality, purportedly because it intends to "indoctrinate kids with Marxist cultural relativism". Now, aside from his evident misunderstanding of Marxism, what about this surprises anyone following the bouncing ball of LNP policy?

When Malcolm Turnbull usurped Tony Abbott and become Prime Minister, the LGBTQI community rejoiced (well, those of us who don't care about asylum seekers and public health). So ebullient were the gays, especially those at Australian Marriage Equality, they positively gushed at the incoming Prime Minister. Finally, we had both a PM and a Leader of the Opposition who supported Equal Marriage! Change was afoot! Unleash the glitter cannons!

Except of course Turnbull upheld Abbott's policy of a plebiscite, rather than a conscience vote (you know, that constitutionally unnecessary $160million opinion poll). Conservative gays who'd sung old mate Turnbull's praises were mighty confused. Why did the good-looking articulate man in the leather jacket with the HEAPS GAY electorate want to make us sad? Does he not like our rainbows, our love and our parades?

Launch of Safe Schools Coalition ACT at Lyneham High School.

Launch of Safe Schools Coalition ACT at Lyneham High School. Photo: Jamila Toderas

 In reality,Turnbull's approach to LGBT issues mirrors his approach to all social issues. He is an economic rationalist who believes in market forces determining the outcome of social policy. This means while he may turn up to our fundraiser events, put his poster up at Mardi Gras Fair Day, and ostensibly acknowledge the inevitability of marriage equality becoming law, he also voted 'No' to Marriage Equality THREE TIMES. And while we're on the subject of his voting record, he has also leant his support to temporary protection visas, he has opposed implementing refugee and protection conventions. He has opposed unions.

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It should come as a surprise to no one that the Prime Minister is far more interested in placating the right-wing factions of his party than he is in Adam and Steve's imminent plans to wed. Likewise, it is utterly predictable that he would throw the rights of LGBTQI kids to enjoy a safe school environment and better mental health outcomes under the bus. Turnbull is trying to have his big gay cake and eat it too.


I grew up with lesbian mothers and I spent my school years educating others about diversity. It should not have been my job to justify my right to exist to my peers and teachers but without programs like Safe Schools, teachers had nowhere else to get their information. All Safe Schools does is even the playing field for kids who are different. It tells young people that whatever their sex, sexuality or gender, they have a right to a full and equal school experience; that they can to go to school with the expectation of simply learning about maths, history, science and art, without fear of discrimination.

The writer Maeve Marsden with her mums when she was younger.

The writer Maeve Marsden with her mums when she was younger. Photo: Supplied

I remember, after a particularly unpleasant bullying episode, using coded language to seek support from a teacher I thought might be gay. I didn't know who else to go to. I thought he might be my best ally, but considering the bullying had come courtesy of another teacher, my options were limited.

My parents worked so hard to make others in our school community feel comfortable around them. They set off the fireworks on fireworks night, they ran the (vegetarian) sausage sizzle, they turned up to every parent/teacher conference together and crossed out 'father' on the forms so we could list both their names. They were so damn nice to everyone. And yet, still, I grew up in an environment that was essentially hostile to my family and my own emerging sexuality.

As an adult, I have been to a Safe Schools Symposium and I saw nothing of the political indoctrination that conservatives like Bernardi claim is taking place. I saw teachers and students coming together to learn about tolerance, understanding, effective communication, respectful language and diversity.

Safe Schools hasn't been going long enough for a study which examines the impact of policies, strategies and actions on ...

Safe Schools hasn't been going long enough for a study which examines the impact of policies, strategies and actions on any group of people.

Had Safe Schools been around when I was at school the excellent teachers I grew to rely on – those who celebrated difference – would have had access to a program that helped them help me. And the teachers who didn't accept me or my family would have had access to professional development that helped them uphold their duties as my educator.

Safe Schools educates teachers that regardless of their own views or values, children's safety and wellbeing must come first. This idea – which is surely a core principle of education – is now under threat from Malcolm Turnbull and his Government. Frankly, in the era of the intervention in the Northern Territory and the torture of those seeking asylum being mandated by democratically elected officials - that they won't let LGBTQI kids get a modicum of support from their school comes as no great shock.

Today, I am left thinking about the conscience vote on marriage equality the gay community is clamouring for, and I'm wondering what value a 'yes' vote yields in the midst of so much unconscionable governing.

 

Maeve Marsden is a freelance writer, director, producer and performer known for creating feminist cabaret act, Lady Sings it Better. She tweets from @maevegobash. Support her work at patreon.com/ladysingsitbetter.