I have read some of the stories being recounted in the media of teenagers being bullied and abused because of their sexuality. I would not wish such experiences upon anyone. It is because bullying is so detrimental to children (and adults too) that it is vital for schools to have in place effective and fair programs. In my view, Safe Schools is neither.
Despite what Bill Shorten and some others are claiming, it is possible to be concerned for these children and believe that Safe Schools is not the answer. It is possible to want these children supported and to see them flourishing, and have reason for believing that Safe Schools may cause more harm than good.
1. Bullying is real. Children are bullied in schools for all kinds of reasons, including race, religion, weight, social status, mental ability, and sexuality. Safe Schools doesn’t address any of these other forms of bullying and focuses solely on sexuality. This is not to ignore bullying on the basis of gender, but would it not be sensible to provide an overarching program that teaches children to respect and care for other people in all these areas? Indeed, many of our schools already run such programs, and to great success.
2. Session 2 of the program for year 7 and 8 students asks the question, ‘Imagine you are attracted to someone of the same sex…’ and students are then encouraged to pursue this path of possibility. Is this suitable for 11-13 year old children?
3. Why is an anti-bullying program providing links to websites where students can buy ‘sex equipment’, attend masochist training, and watch pornography? I understand that some of these links have been taken down, but why were they ever there in the first place, and who is to guarantee that they won’t reappear at a future date? These things may not be part of the formal curriculum, but they have nonetheless been added for students who wish to investigate further.
4. What materials and support is offered to students who experience same-sex attraction and do not wish to encourage or live out these desires? I am yet to find anything in all their website that will help these children.
5. Safe Schools teaches the false dichotomous view about peoples attitudes to gender differences: either you support and encourage all sexual variants, or you are a bigot and homophobe. This is simply not true, and to insist of such simplistic and erroneous positioning is intellectually and morally dishonest.
6. Heteronormativity is dismissed and alternative sexual expressions are encouraged. A child who believes heterosexuality is normal or desirable is labelled with heterosexism.
7. The material makes use of the Blooms Taxonomy, which is designed to make learning more than merely impartation of information and ideas, but to change behaviour and attitudes. In other words, Safe Schools is no mere anti-bullying program, it is carefully constructed to re-engineer how children think about gender and sex.
8. Why does the Safe Schools Coalition website cite statistics that lack scientific credibility?
These statistics are offered as assumed facts, however according to recent studies, the numbers are significantly lower than those suggested on the website.
I understand that gauging accurate numbers for sexuality and gender is near impossible given difficulties over definitions and categories, as well as social and cultural stigmas, and other reasons that may prevent some people from aligning with LGBTIQ. On top of that, other people find that with age and experience their self-understanding and lifestyle may change. Keeping all those variables in mind, the statistics presented by Safe Schools differs significantly to the major studies conducted around the world.
Safe Schools want us to believe that 10% of the population have same-sex attraction, whereas most scientific studies put the figure under 4% (and that includes bisexual people), and other research suggests even lower.
While the Safe Schools material states with confidence that 1.7% of people are intersex.
The American Psychological Association suggests the figure to be about 1 in 1,500, not the 1 in 60 which Safe Schools would have us accept as scientific fact.
And this research directly contests the 1.7% figure:
“Anne Fausto‐Sterling’s suggestion that the prevalence of intersex might be as high as 1.7% has attracted wide attention in both the scholarly press and the popular media…If the term intersex is to retain any meaning, the term should be restricted to those conditions in which chromosomal sex is inconsistent with phenotypic sex, or in which the phenotype is not classifiable as either male or female. Applying this more precise definition, the true prevalence of intersex is seen to be about 0.018%, almost 100 times lower than Fausto‐Sterling’s estimate of 1.7%.”
This kind of misrepresentation of facts and science straight away raises questions about the legitimacy of this program. It is analogous to a political party taking 10 polls, publishing the one that is favourable and deleting the 9 which are less supportive. Or it’s like coming home after a cricket match and telling everyone I scored 185 runs, when in fact it was 42.
Smaller numbers does not of course reduce the value of people who find themselves in these categories, nor does it excuse us from providing care and support for children struggling with identity questions.
9. Is it the role of the Government and schools to teach sexual ethics to children? It’s a question worth asking.
For a course designed to remove ‘stereotypes’, Safe Schools successfully stereotypes many people including some LBGTI people, by not giving legitimacy to people who for personal and sometimes religious reasons, do not believe in living out same-sex thoughts and feelings.
Surely there is a better way forward where we can encourage children to show respect and kindness, and to support children wrestling with identity issues, without pushing a course with questionable science, material, and that has already begun estranging children in our schools.