opinion

Briella transitioned to a girl at 5 and her primary school supported her the whole way.

A year ago a little five-year-old boy named Baylin began transitioning into a girl named Briella, fully supported by parents Kirra and Scott Carmichael. Thankfully Baylin was at a so-called Safe School, one which had adopted an inclusive program of tolerance and acceptance with a focus on sexuality and gender identity.

Despite being at a Safe School, Baylin initially found it difficult to fit in on the school yard. “The boys didn’t want to play with Briella,” her mum told Channel Seven’s Sunday Night program last night. “Because she was a bit different. The girls didn’t want to play with Briella because on the outside she looked like a boy.”

The school, located on the outskirts of Melbourne, facilitated Baylin’s transition into Briella at just five years of age and now she is a happy little girl with lots of friends, enjoying life as the person she was born to be. “All the kids were really excited for her to come to school,” Kirra said. “And Safe Schools said, ‘What would you do if you see Briella sitting by herself or feeling sad’, and the kids were like, ‘Oh, I’d go up and cuddle her and say that she can play with me’. Like it was honestly – I had to hold back the tears – it was so sweet.”

Briella before transitioning. Image: Sunday Night, Seven Network

Briella's parents say that son Baylin was always different and obsessed with "girl" things. They thought it was just a phase but dad Scott says they realised Baylin wanted to be a girl when he came home from work one day and found that Baylin had tried to pull his penis off.

"And yeah, that was probably the most heartbreaking think I've ever seen in my life."

"Baylin went on to tell me that she wanted it gone. 'I want it gone Mum'," recalled Kirra. "'I'm a girl, Mum'."

Kirra says Baylin stopped drinking at school to avoid having to go to the bathroom because she didn't want to use the boy's toilets.

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Kirra says she looks at photos of Briella pre-transition and she misses that little boy, "But he was a sad little kid." Watching Kirra's and Steve's eyes fill with tears at this point makes you realise how painful and difficult this process has been for them. They must feel so relieved to have a happy child. Isn't that want all parents want? Happy children?

Safe Schools began last year in Victoria as an anti-bullying program. It focused on awareness and acceptance of homosexual and transgender children, because they were the most likely targets for bullying. Although in my children's experience, kids become victims of bullying for many more reasons than that.

Briella after transitioning. Image: Sunday Night, Seven Network

Mum Cella White had four children at Briella's school when the Safe School program was introduced and was so outraged at the material being presented to her kids that she pulled them out of the school.

"I would call it unsafe, it's the Unsafe Schools Coalition Program," White told Sunday Night.

"So if you're a boy and you feel like a girl then you can use the girl's facilities and vice versa," she added, explaining that this fact disturbed her greatly because her youngest daughter has vision problems and White isn't comfortable with her being in a bathroom with children who were born boys. She says it's a matter of "safety", "dignity" and "privacy" and she's not homophobic.

"No, I'm not homophobic but I'm very phobic to Safe Schools," White said on Sunday Night. "My son was sitting in science class and the role monitor came in and handed a note to the science teacher. The science teacher read it out and it said, 'In 2016 you can wear the uniform of your choice'. So it was an injection of cross dressing."

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What is so wrong with a child choosing their sexuality, gender and dress?

We have nothing to lose by nurturing school communities to be more diverse and accepting and we have everything to gain. Schools need to reflect modern society because that is the society our children will need to be a part of when they are no longer under our daily influence, so shouldn't we teach them and prepare them now?

Shouldn't we be raising our children to accept the world they live in?

When White questioned the school about the Safe Schools program and the material it was presenting, she said she became even more uncomfortable. "The school told me that children are sexual beings. That didn't sit well with me because I don't agree with that statement." She became further disturbed by information contained on the website discussing penis-tucking, breast binding, hormone therapy. "You know, it's quite legitimate that a child can undergo some hormone therapy to stop puberty. That's too far. It's massively too far. It's out of control."

At the Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Dr. Kevin Donnelly told Sunday Night Safe Schools are threatening young, impressionable minds.

"If you're looking at primary school, a lot of children are uncertain. They're growing up and I feel their parents should be responsible for their education and if they're being taught this radical, Safe Schools program in primary school, I think it's more about indoctrination rather than education."

He feels that Safe Schools, instead of being an anti-bullying program, is actually a movement that is "pushing left-wing ideology".

Surely in an ideal situation all children would feel not only safe, but supported, at school, without the need for a program like Safe Schools. But seeing as it is needed, seeing as children of diverse sexuality and gender are still not accepted, thank goodness the Australian Government Department of Education and Training realised the need for it and rolled it out.

For Briella's mum Kirra, Safe Schools has been a blessing. She says Safe Schools has given her daughter friends. "She actually likes going to school. She's your normal, everyday, sassy little girl with attitude." She doesn't understand why some people don't support Briella's right to transition. "I don't understand why anyone is putting them down," she says. "This could be anyone's child."

Of the toilet issue, Kirra says it's a non-issue. Briella is a little girl and is therefore entitled to use the girl's facility. And if we have to give this shallow complaint any thought at all, I'd think that the girl's toilets are cubicles so nobody is going to see each other's private parts anyway. And for girls who identify as boys, they too can use cubicles in the boys toilets. "What is between her legs is her business," says mum Kirra. "Nobody else's."

Briella's Safe School supported and facilitated her transition. Image: Sunday Night
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Critics of Safe Schools say schools shouldn't be influencing a child at such a young age which makes any reasonable person hold their sides with laughter because schools - whether they have the Safe Schools program or not - have a PROFOUND influence on our children in every way possible.

So why not make that influence one of acceptance?

"The child's coming to you telling you how they feel. You're not going to the child telling them to be a different gender. You can't brainwash your child to be a different gender. I don't think that's possible," said Kirra.

"When your child comes to you and says, "I'm born in the wrong body', I don't crush my child every day and say, 'You were born this gender. No you can't live the gender you feel inside.' What kind of parent would do that."

She, like me, feels that Safe Schools is incredibly valuable. "They save lives, that's what they do."

Don't we all want to live in a world where sexuality, gender identity, ethnic diversity, religious expression and everything under the sun is understood, respected and accepted, with no young lives being lost due to a lack of acceptance?

That's the world I want to live in. That's the world I'm raising my children to live in. And that's why Safe Schools and Briella's story are so important. It's a gift when your child knows who they are and wants to live their life truthfully, openly and happily. As their parents it is our job and our desire to help them in any way we can so we have strong, happy, confident children.

But we need the community to support them too. We need schools to support them as well. We need the support of family, friends, religious leaders, community leaders and everyone else to ensure that the world, not just school, is a safe place in which diversity thrives.

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