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Youth gender reforms for NSW

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The report includes the provision of an all-gender bathroom option in all NSW schools; more references to diverse gender and sexuality content in the PDHPE syllabus, including safe sex content; and a specific bullying policy to protect LGBTQIA+ students from abuse.. Photo: Iakov Filimonov
The report includes the provision of an all-gender bathroom option in all NSW schools; more references to diverse gender and sexuality content in the PDHPE syllabus, including safe sex content; and a specific bullying policy to protect LGBTQIA+ students from abuse.. Photo: Iakov Filimonov

The NSW Office of the Advocate for Children and Young People (ACYP) has recommended all-gender bathrooms for NSW schools and has implied that anti-discrimination law exemptions for NSW faith schools should be “reformed” in a new report to government.

The Voices of LGBTQIA+ Young People in NSW draws on focus groups held with 233 LGBTQIA+ young people in 2022, and a quantitative survey of around 1000 young people, 185 of whom identified as LGBTQIA+.

The report recommends that the NSW Government should “undertake legislative reform to ensure that NSW legislation protects LGBTQIA+ students’ rights regarding education and schooling”.

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“Schools should not be permitted to make decisions about a student’s position at the school or exclusion from it based on their gender identity or sexual orientation,” the report recommended.

While the report does not name the individual provisions directly, section 56 of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act and section 37 of the Sex Discrimination Act give religious bodies exemptions from anti-discrimination law where its doctrines are concerned.

When approached by The Catholic Weekly to confirm whether those were the provisions in need of reform, the Advocate, Zöe Robinson, said the report’s recommendations “are informed by what we heard from the young people who participated in consultations with ACYP”.

“Since claims started to be made about students being expelled on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation, there has been no evidence that this has occurred.”

“Recommendation three of the report has been made to ensure that the perspectives of LGBTQIA+ young people are considered in any legislative change that impacts them,” Ms Robinson said.

“Based on what we heard during these consultations, the findings have implications for legislation related to the expulsion, or refused enrolment application, of students based on their gender identity or sexual orientation.”

Mark Spencer, the Director of Public Policy at Christian Schools Australia, said that it was important to hear the voices of young people, but questioned whether the report was a suitable foundation for public policy.

“To take the unfiltered, unexamined, unverified claims of a tiny sample (233 young people when there are more than 1.2 million students in NSW schools) that has all the biases inherent in the methodology used to produce the document, as the basis of public policy recommendations is very well described as extraordinary,” Mr Spencer said.

“Let’s also be clear that since the politically motivated furore regarding exemptions in the Commonwealth’s Sex Discrimination Act 1984 were agitated in 2018, and claims started to be made about students being expelled from schools on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation, there has been no evidence that this has occurred.

“We have been very clear about that consistently over that time, no student has ever been expelled from a Christian school simply on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.”

The report recommends a suite of other policy changes, education programs, events, and changes to the school curriculum.

The report inlcudes the provision of an all-gender bathroom option in all NSW schools. Photo: CNS photo/Lucy Nicholson, Reuters
The report inlcudes the provision of an all-gender bathroom option in all NSW schools. Photo: CNS photo/Lucy Nicholson, Reuters

These include the provision of an all-gender bathroom option in all NSW schools; more references to diverse gender and sexuality content in the PDHPE syllabus, including safe sex content; and a specific bullying policy to protect LGBTQIA+ students from abuse.

It also recommends all NSW schools, including Catholic and other independent schools, train staff in LGBTQIA+ concepts and acceptance – part of which would be to encourage teachers to keep students’ gender and sexual identity disclosures confidential from parents.

“Within this training, staff should be encouraged to maintain confidentiality when a student chooses to disclose their sexuality or gender to teachers, wellbeing staff and school leaders,” the report said.

“This will protect students’ wellbeing in that it may not be safe for the student if the staff member were to mention their disclosed identity to parents or carers.”

While student disclosures should sometimes be kept confidential because of situations involving family or domestic violence, or other threats to a child’s safety, Mr Spencer said partnerships with parents were a hallmark of Christian schools.

“Suggestions that parents be excluded from being involved in the care of their children in any but the most extreme circumstances is massive overreach, likely to cause significant trauma for the children involved, and could rarely be described as being in the ’best interests of the child’,” he said.

“We understand that the safety and wellbeing of students is central for all who work in the education sector and would welcome ongoing dialogue about how we can work together to support schools to continue to support students.”

Ms Robinson told The Catholic Weekly that of the 37 focus groups conducted by her office, seven were held at non-government schools, including Independent and Catholic Schools.

Some participants from non-government schools also signed up individually.

“As Advocate I am eager to work with both the Catholic and Independent school sectors to promote the safety of all students and eliminate bullying against LGBTQIA+ students,” Ms Robinson told The Catholic Weekly.

“We understand that the safety and wellbeing of students is central for all who work in the education sector and would welcome ongoing dialogue about how we can work together to support schools to continue to support students.”

In September the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference released Created and Loved, a document to guide Catholic schools’ approach to gender and sexuality questions.

Spokespersons from Sydney Catholic Schools and Catholic Schools NSW said they were still considering the report’s contents and were unable to provide comment by The Catholic Weekly’s print deadline.

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