(Petitions Discussion , Thursday 04 May 2017, Legislative Assembly NSW Parliament)
School is a vital part of development and the impact of discrimination, unfair treatment, abuse or bullying on young people at school can have lasting impacts.
Countless studies have shown that LGBTI students experience high levels of verbal and physical homophobic abuse at school. The Australian Human Rights Commission 2015 SOGII report, launched by federal Attorney General George Brandis, identified that young LGBTI people face unique challenges at school because of their sense of difference, LGBTI status and the attitudes of peers and families during a vulnerable and developmental phase.
It is no wonder that LGBTI people have the highest suicide and self-harm rates in Australia.While acceptance of LGBTI people is growing, programs are still needed to prevent violence, bullying and abuse.
The Safe Schools Coalition program works to reduce discrimination towards young people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex or same sex attracted. The program provides teachers with evidence-based materials developed to suit various age groups in line with the Australian Curriculum. It is voluntary and each school can select whichever material suits students’ needs. The program operates in government and non-government schools, including faith-based schools. Evidence shows that students benefit.
Claims that Safe Schools does not have parents’ consent, violates parents’ rights, contains inappropriate content and is forced on schools are false. It is unfortunate that scare campaigns playing on parents’ fears about their children’s safety have led the federal government to cease funding this important resource. The way the minister announced replacement of Safe Schools with a broad anti-bullying resource did not create confidence within LGBTI communities.
Doing it via tabloid media by a commentator who actively campaigned against safe schools looked a lot like the government was making a politically motivated decision at the expense of vulnerable LGBTI youth. Indeed with the lack of information released, many were left to think that the bullies had taken away an anti-bullying program.
As a result I know the government’s new program will be scrutinised by people across the parliament and the community. I do welcome the NSW Government’s commitment for a comprehensive anti-bullying resource, with an LGBTI specific component developed in consultation with advocacy groups. I have recommended groups include: ACON, the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, 2010 incorporating the gay and lesbian counselling service, the Gender Centre, Rainbow Families, and the Organisation Intersex International. The program will complement other initiatives such as gay-straight alliances and Wear it Purple in targeting discrimination of vulnerable young people.
I hope that the resource is a success and that materials get used across schools so that all students can benefit and that the community can move on and focus on what is in the best interests of children.
I call on this parliament, the federal parliament and the media to stop using the lives and wellbeing of LGBTI youth as a political football: as we are seeing today with this petition, which is based on nothing more than misinformation.To all the groups here today, let me say that Australia is at its best when we celebrate diversity, support those in need, and call for our fellow citizens to be treated equally and fairly. We are at our worst when we do the opposite.
See full debate here