Safe Schools warranted, says Gippsland advocate

A Gippsland advocate has criticised claims the Safe Schools Coalition is unsuitable for children, branding the remarks as “rubbish”.

Gippsland Rainbow Collective representative Jo Parker said the program was bringing a new level of acceptance to schools across the country.

The future of the taxpayer-funded program, aimed at helping lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and/or intersex students, is now in limbo following fierce criticism from Coalition backbenchers, who last week raised concerns about the curriculum’s content.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has since requested an investigation into the anti-bullying initiative.

But Ms Parker said the “ignorance” was exactly why the program was needed.

“To say (the project) makes a child gay is just pure ignorance – we are born this way,” Ms Parker said.

A lesbian mother of two boys, Ms Parker was tormented and teased in secondary school for being different.

It is something that has stuck with her through the years.

“I knew there was something different about me but I couldn’t put a word to it,” Ms Parker said.

“A program like this would have saved me so much mental grief.”

She described the Safe Schools program as “a thorough, well researched and very worthwhile program” that had huge positive impacts on the lives of students – LGBTI or otherwise.

Ms Parker believed the curriculum was suitable for high school students, while “knowledge of it in primary schools for teachers wouldn’t be a bad thing”.

“If it is affecting an individual there may be a place for it,” she said.

“No matter if you are LGBTI or a chubby kid or a red-headed kid or from a different ethnic group, bullying and harassment is very real and when you are in one of those minority groups… you need to feel you belong.

“It’s about understanding and acceptance, just like the understanding that someone wears a scarf or a burqa.”

The Safe Schools initiative is offered at Traralgon College junior campus and Trafalgar High School, along with 513 other schools across the country.

Ms Parker said removing the program would have a detrimental effect.

“Sometimes I think we are stepping forward (towards acceptance) and then we see this influx of drama,” Ms Parker said.

“If the program was given the flick I think we’d see a peak in mental health issues in kids and suicide.”

In a statement, Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham said homophobia should not be any more tolerated than racism, especially in the school environment.

“However, it is essential all material is age appropriate and that parents have confidence in any resources used in a school to support the right of all students, staff and families to feel safe at school,” the statement read.

Mr Birmingham will conduct the review, which will be reported to the Prime Minister in March.

Traralgon College junior campus and Trafalgar High School principals were unavailable for comment.

Kurnai College is also listed as a Safe Schools participant on the Safe Schools Coalition website but does not currently offer the program to its students.

Principal Anthony Rodaughan said while the curriculum was not in its classrooms, the school was supportive of any program that “assisted students of all backgrounds”.