Chris Bush is a Victorian teacher who knows what it’s like to grow up different to your classmates.
“As a very privileged sporty kid, I didn’t attract too much homophobia at high school, but I was certainly living a lie throughout my adolescence because I had no reference of what it meant to be gay, or to be gay and playing sport.
“At that time there were no role models like we’ve had in recent years coming out.”
So Bush got involved in the development of a program designed to help teens like himself.
Bush is a co-author of the Safe Schools Program, which helps LGBTI teens through the difficulties of school, but has attracted a lot of attention recently from far-right commentators critical of the program.
It’s becoming more political by the day and Bush says that’s a shame because the program is not about personal agendas or ill will, it’s simply what teens, and their teachers, are asking for.
“This hasn’t been forced into schools, it was requested by schools,” he told Mamamia.
“There’d been numerous principals and teachers asking the Safe Schools Coalition Victoria for a resource they could use to combat the homophobia and transphobia they’d seen in their schools, and they didn’t feel that they were armed with the right tools to challenge the bullying they were seeing.”
While the debate rages around the program, it’s important to remember that without it teens are six times more likely to self harm or attempt suicide at some point in their lives.
For Bush, who made a career move from advertising into teaching a few years ago, the development of Safe Schools is as professionally significant as it is personal.
Had something similar to the All Of Us material been around when he was at school, Bush says it would have showed him “that yes, gay people did exist and that they can be as happy and healthy as everybody else”.
Printed copies of all of Us. Image via Chris Bush.
“Right now, we have gay kids and trans kids who don’t think they exist; who simply have no reference of who they are and how they feel or other people like that,” says Bush.
“And implicitly, not having those references is telling these kids that they don’t exist and they’re not as good as someone who is heterosexual, and that’s why we do see these feelings lead to such self despair and self harm, because kids are being told that they don’t exist… and I guess it’s something that I don’t ever want to see happen to a young person, which is something that drives my involvement in being a teacher.”
The Australian Christian Lobby’s Lyle Shelton is one vocal opponent of the program, equating it with Minus18 – a youth resource that supports LGBTI teens but is not part of school curriculum.
Part of his criticism of Safe Schools has been based on the incorrect claim that the materials involved “coaching” children to bind their chests or try “penis tucking”.
But Bush says that’s flat out wrong.
“The content of the resource that is taught in schools has nothing to do with… chest binding and penis tucking,” Bush says.
“That information is in a resource called OMG I’m Trans, which is published by Minus18 as a specific trans resource.
“To say that it is part of All Of Us and part of the program that is bound to the Australian curriculum is false and misleading.”
Minus18 received 160,000 visits last year and has an annual growth rate of between 10 to 20 per cent, proving there is great demand for resources in that age group.
Bush says Minus18 and Safe Schools are important resources, and that he hopes that the program will help students have a less alienating adolescence than his.
“No matter what you teach your students hopefully you can impart some of your knowledge to help them through their adolescence and help them grow into strong confident young adults.”
WATCH: A guide to some LGBTI terminology.
Main image provided by Chris Bush.