Too young to die: Why our children need the Safe Schools program

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November 27, 2016

I’m so cut up. Every time I see a photo of that 13-year-old boy. His young and innocent face. All I can think is ‘you didn’t make it. It’s not fair’. And I remember being a teenager, and I remember being suicidal. But I survived. And I am just so heartbroken that Tyrone didn’t. Because he has a name. And if he and his family knew how many people across the nation are heartbroken tonight. As I sit here with tears streaming down my face thinking ‘It’s not fair. You didn’t make it’.

Tyrone Unsworth was a year 7 student in Brisbane who took his own life after being relentlessly bullied for being gay. Not long before his suicide he had surgery after being physically attacked by a peer. We want to believe that this is an isolated incident, but it’s not. Those who know the trials of being gender diverse or gay keenly remember the hostility of the suburbs when growing up. We hope that the world has changed, but it hasn’t. It is a mistake to think that the LGBTIQ community does not suffer because of this discrimination and abuse.

Currently in Australia there is an attempt to address discrimination and protect LGBTIQ youth. The Safe Schools Program, introduced in 2014, is the result of the Safe Schools Coalition Australia (SSCA) and aims to create safe and inclusive schools for gay, intersex and gender diverse students. School principals decide whether to sign their schools up for the program, and they along with teachers decide what material from the program to use. Significantly, the program offers high quality research and resources to school staff to help them understand and effectively address the issues these students face.

There has been opposition to the Safe Schools program. The Australian Christian Lobby has a web page encouraging parents to write to their members of parliament to close the program. The views of the Lobby represent those of others in the Christian right. They claim the Safe Schools program is a ‘radical program’ that teaches children that heterosexuality is not the norm, and encourages them to explore sexual and gender diversity. They further claim that the program involves sexual concepts that are not age appropriate. The Lobby believe that the best approach to bullying is a broad-based program that addresses all forms of bullying. Its cry ‘Make our schools safe for all students’ has the insidious ring of an ‘All lives matter’ response to ‘Black lives matter’.  

The Australian Government, in response to complaints about the program, conducted an independent review in 2016. While the review outlined some shortcomings, overall it found little fault with content. The four official Guides of the program are appropriate for use in schools and fulfil the aims of the program. Some of the official posters are not appropriate for primary school because they contain concepts that children may not understand (such as ‘Discrimination Free Zone’). Some resources (that are not designed to be taught in class, but are available on request to individual students) need official guidance on how to be used. However, the key teaching and learning resource, All of Us, is “suitable, robust, age-appropriate, educationally sound and aligned with the Australian Curriculum” (Louden, 2016, p. 2). What is lacking, it seems, is advice about websites cited in the resources, and guidelines involving the consultation of parents, including guidance for parents of LGBTIQ children.

Despite these findings, the program continues to be undermined – and this is significant because it points to an important, but overlooked, reason why this program is so necessary.

We need the Safe Schools program because of the very institutions and parents who wish to stop it. The bullies are not just in the schools. The environments controlled by those who oppose the program are toxic and high risk environments for LGBTIQ children. When children receive messages from their pastors and parents that they are perverse, they stand little chance of escaping self-loathing and despair. We need Safe Schools to combat the very people who oppose Safe Schools. There are bullies in the schoolyard and these bullies are destroying lives. And these bullies get their values from the adults around them who support the oppression of the LGBTIQ community. These adults create the next generation of bigotry and abuse. Our LGBTIQ children are not safe. We need Safe Schools to let them know that there is nothing wrong with them. That they are fine as they are. That they are wonderful.  That they deserve a good life with equality before the law and in society at large. Until we start enforcing safe environments for these children the destruction of lives will continue.

In the end, words can’t speak what the heart feels most. You didn’t make it Tyrone. You should have made it. It gets better. 

Reference:

Louden, B. (2016). Reveiw of the Appropriateness and Efficacy of the Safe Schools Coalition Australia Program Resources. Retrieved from https://docs.education.gov.au/system/files/doc/other/review_of_appropriateness_and_efficacy_of_the_ssca_program_resources_0.pdf 26 November, 2016

 

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