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Safe Schools: students could be bullied for beliefs

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The Safe Schools Program means students risk being bullied over their beliefs on marriage and family
Photo: Shutterstock

Last week, a petition signed by 17,000 members of the Chinese-Australian community was tabled in the NSW Legislative Assembly.

The petition, received from the Member for Epping, Damien Tudehope MP, asked the Legislative Assembly to “stop the implementation of the Safe Schools Coalition Program in NSW schools”, and further requested that “any future anti-bullying programs be run by the education department, be inclusive of all forms of bullying, and respectful of cultural and religious diversity”.

For those unfamiliar with the Safe Schools program, it describes itself as “a national network of organisations working with schools to create safer and more inclusive environments for same sex attracted, intersex and gender diverse students, staff and families”. Safe Schools, in collaboration with Minus18 (a youth-led organisation for LGBT youth) produced a number of resources, the most comprehensive of which is All of Us.

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Despite being touted as an anti-bullying initiative, the subtitle for All of Us is: “Understanding gender diversity, sexual diversity and intersex topics for Years 7 and 8″. The focus on the early years of high school means that the material is being presented to children as young as 11 years of age.

Safe Schools is in almost 550 schools and being presented to more than 400,000 students.

It is not in any of our Sydney Catholic schools, but may be being presented to your children or grandchildren if they attend a public school.

You might not even know that the material is being used at your child’s or grandchild’s school, because there is no requirement for parental consultation, notification or consent, and the New South Wales Department of Education and Training does not provide a list of the “Safe Schools” in this state.

A number of commentators claimed that the parents who signed the petition had done so on the basis of misinformation and NSW Greens MP Mehreen Faruqi labelled the petition a “scare tactic”.

But they are the ones who are misinformed. Even a cursory glance at the All of Us resource shows that the concerns of the parents are well-founded.

For starters, the Safe Schools resource does not seem to focus on bullying at all.

It instead promotes a confusing and complicated understanding of sexuality, teaching pre-teens that their sex (based on biology), gender (based on feelings) and sexual orientation (based on attraction) are equally-important parts of their identity, proposing 13 different “genders” with which they might like to identify.

And it’s not only the high school students who are being introduced to gender ideology. Even though the “official” resource is for Years 7 and 8, the Safe Schools website proposes the promotion of gender fluidity from kindergarten onwards. It features an article which encourages schools to have copies of The Gender Fairy in their school library.

The Gender Fairy is a picture book aimed at introducing the topic of gender fluidity to four-year-old children, and includes the line: “Only you know whether you are a boy or a girl.

No one can tell you.” The FAQ’s on the book’s website encourage the book to be used even when there is not a child who is gender-questioning in the school.
This is one of the concerns of the Chinese-Australian parents who signed the petition. They said that the promotion of gender fluidity is contrary to their cultural and belief system.

Another concern of the parents is the discrimination against children “who have a view of sexual relationships involving male and female as normative, due to their families’ cultural and religious belief system”.

This concern is real. In the “Challenging Stereotypes” activity contained in the Safe Schools program, a number of statements regarding gender and sexual identity are read out by the teacher. The students are then required to position themselves along an imaginary line indicating the extent to which they agree with the statement (from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree) and explain to the class why they have chosen their position.

Imagine the experience of a student who has been raised to consider male-female sexual relationships as normative. Imagine that student being required to defend this position to their classmates as part of an activity which is designed to challenge stereotypes. The irony of an anti-bullying program placing students in a position where they are likely to be bullied for their beliefs would be amusing if it wasn’t a real and present danger to our children.

The Australian-Chinese community have a right to be concerned, as do the rest of us. I commend them for bringing their concerns to Parliament, and look forward to the matter being debated later this month.

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