Last year I attended the Safe Schools national symposium in Sydney and heard Rebekah Robertson share the story of her daughter Georgie affirming her gender identity.
She spoke of the trauma Georgie experienced at one school and the immensely positive changes that came about when she transferred to a supportive and safe school environment. In Rebekah’s words “She went from being a gloriously average student to a high achieving leader.”
This was before the Safe Schools Coalition was rolled out nationally and there was little information for schools wanting to support LGBTI students.
As someone who has dedicated my life to protecting and backing our children, as a parent, a foster carer, child protection worker, founder of the CREATE Foundation and CEO of the Foundation for Young Australians, children’s safety is something I’m deeply passionate about.
Education is another. Without it, our young people will not be equipped to drive our economy forward. We simply cannot afford for anyone to be left behind.
Sadly, homophobic and transphobic bullying is pushing students out of school. There is evidence that as many as 21 per cent of young people have missed classes or days at school as a direct result of homophobia and 8 per cent dropped out of school all together. For transgender and gender diverse students the stats are even worse.
This is why the Foundation for Young Australians firmly backs the Safe Schools Coalition Australia in our role as national convenor.
It is a sad reality that in 2016 attempts to make our schools more inclusive and safe can be considered controversial. The fact is, that doing so is an issue of national importance.
In 2013 after a growing body of compelling evidence around the prevalence and impact of homophobic and transphobic bullying in Australian schools, the federal government decided to fund Safe Schools Coalition so the Victorian program could be rolled out nationally.
The program is a national alliance of schools, staff, students and families, who work together to create schools that welcoming and safe for the whole school community.
It is not run by activists, rather, it is informed by the work of academics and the experts on what works best in our classrooms, teachers.
The program isn’t one about sex education, it’s about ensuring the whole school community, students, parents and teachers, feel safe going to their school – and that includes same sex attracted, intersex and gender diverse young Australians.
The Safe Schools team works with school leaders and teachers so they have the tools and information to talk about gender diversity and sexuality in the classroom and ensure their schools aren’t set up in a way that might unintentionally discriminate against or disadvantage LGBTI people.
It’s about encouraging the school community not to use language that assumes everyone is heterosexual or that certain behaviours are inherently male or female. Pretty benign stuff.
They do this, because teachers have asked for this support. The take up of the program by close to 500 schools across Australia shows there is a need.
All young Australians deserve the opportunity to go to school and feel safe to learn without fear of bullying or prejudice because of who they are.
Last year I attended the launch of the All of Us resource. It was a proud moment for the teachers, academics and young people who had worked tirelessly to create this important and innovative educational resource and I felt lucky to be part of it.
Amidst the buzz and excitement at reaching the important milestone, one strong message came through from members of the LGBTI community who were no longer at school.
They wished that something like All of Us was around when they were, because it would have made going to school every day a lot easier. This is not a complicated issue. All young people deserve an education. Let’s use evidence based resources like All of Us, to ensure that they get one.