“Changing the Safe Schools program benefits only the professional homophobes.”

Last Friday, the Federal government announced its changes to the Safe Schools program. The changes included limiting the program to secondary schools only, removing gender diversity role-playing activities and announcing that parents should have a right to withdraw their child from the classes. Toby Halligan writes for Mamamia about why this is such an issue for children in today’s society. 

I’ve had dozens of conversations with heterosexuals explaining and sometimes defending homosexuality. Some have been at dinner parties with older people, some with people my age, some with people who looked like they wanted to punch me in the face.

The strangest moment of dialogue occurred late at night in Canberra. A friend and I were eating fried chicken and chips when several quite large blokes my friend knew from school recognised him and began joking that he and I were “massive fags”. I’d had a bit much to drink so I challenged one of them on why that would be a problem.

There was a moment of stillness. I’ve learned to recognise that moment. It’s the moment where this chap was deciding whether he was going to hit me or talk to me.

Fortunately, probably because he knew my friend, he decided on the latter and we had a chat about being gay and why I thought it was alright. As we know from the statistics on homophobic violence these moments often end quite differently, with consequences for both parties.

Rear view of a redhead school boy raising his hand in the classroom
“If you’re the kind of parent who’s inclined to pull your child from such a class you’re exactly the kind of parent who’s probably raising a homophobe.” Image via iStock.

Of the changes to the Safe School programme, the most disappointing is allowing parents to withdraw their children entirely from classes dealing with gay and trans issues. If you’re the kind of parent who’s inclined to pull your child from such a class you’re exactly the kind of parent who’s probably raising a homophobe. It’s the kind of change drawn from the unsafe minds that have pursued this campaign.

The “gutting”, to quote the charming MP George Christensen, of the Safe Schools programme ought to be a profound disappointment for everybody except for professional homophobes. It’s not just that people like Christensen, or Corey Bernardi, or the Australian Christian Lobby, are unrepresentative of most Australians. It’s that their profiteers from the division they’re causing.

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Bernardi and Christensen win prestige, media attention, political points, and thus votes. The ACL gets media attention and fills its coffers with donations from frothing homophobes. The programme was originally launched in June of 2014 during Tony Abbott’s tenure as Prime Minister. But political opportunity beckoned after a couple of stories appeared in News Corp papers and the rest of the reaction has been entirely confected political theatre, a front in the culture war, fuelled by increasing division within the Coalition.

cory-bernardi-george-christiansan
“Christensen and Bernardi are both profiteers the division they’re causing.”

Because the core accusations are idiotic. It’s alleged that the programme seeks to groom kids. To recruit them into the gay lifestyle? Kids would totally ruin the “gay lifestyle”. Dealing with other people’s kids in cafes and on planes is tedious enough, but nothing would stuff up a nightclub like having a creche in the middle of it.

Have you ever tried to pull off your best dance moves while dodging toddlers? That’s of course presuming you think all gays are engaging in risky sex and drug fuelled parties. Most of us aren’t. Most of us have office jobs, and dogs, and mortgages, and kids and we watch Game of Thrones, or House of Cards, or Masterchef.

The truth is that the vision the ACL and others have of Australian families simply does not include gay or trans people. But the real world does. What’s radical about this debate is not the idea of explaining to kids how these things work, but the idea that explaining them would be a bad thing.

Why it’s time for same-sex marriage in Australia. Post continues after video.

The worst problem I’ve seen identified is that it might lead to kids experimenting with their sexuality. So what? Isn’t that exactly what teenagers do anyway?

Is it imagined that they’ll somehow be insulated forever from gay and trans people? They’re going to encounter them at some point, if not at school then in the workforce, at university, in public.

If you want an example of exactly how damaging homophobia can be to a career take Corey Bernardi. He was Deputy Manager of Opposition Business under Abbott before he was removed after comparing homosexuality to beastiality in 2012. That’s right, he was too homophobic for Tony. Yet we’re taking this man’s advice on how the nation’s children should be taught about sexuality?

Safe Schools won’t just make schools safe for gay and trans kids, it’ll better prepare all kids for the real world. Adulthood is a tad too late for an education on sexuality.

Those chaps who I spoke to about not calling people “fag”? A couple of years later they apparently decided to hang around outside a gay bar abusing gay people. As a consequence they were beaten up by a group of angry gay men. So tell me Corey, tell me George, who benefits from that?

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