AEU Forum for Victorian LGBTIQ Students and Staff – Midsumma Festival
The Naughty Rude Show was lucky enough to score an invitation to a recent forum hosted by the Australian Education Forum on gender equality and promoting safer, more inclusive schools. The forum was super interesting and started in the morning with a panel session with speakers from the Australian Education Union (AEU), Gender Help for Parents and Minus 18 as well as staffed information stalls promoting the cause of these mentioned organisations, so people could ask further questions.
The Panel spoke about some of the achievements their respective organisations were making and what needs to be done next to make schools safer and more equitable. All the panel speakers said Victoria’s legislation was by far the most advanced and progressive within Australia, so I agreed with the speakers that the other states need to play catch up.
There was however a troubling piece of Victorian legislation revealed that effectively allows religious schools to discriminate against kids who identify as gender diverse, as this is not recognised in their religious texts and ethos in which the schools follow. I find this law blatantly discriminatory and as quite a large proportion of children attend catholic or religious schools, they may be mistreated or bullied and even suspended potentially and this is still legally acceptable. This legislation needs to be reviewed as soon as possible, and will allow important organisaitons such as the Safe Schools Coalition to be more involved in these schools to promote awareness and education of gender diversity.
I was fortunate to interview the CEO of the AEU, Meredith Peace who was very passionate about promoting safe and equal schools through working with the Safer Schools Coalition and having strong policies to support queer and gender diverse staff. She believes the union needs to be a play a strong role in these issues as education in a broader sense creates a more tolerant and friendly society. She wants all her teachers to feel the union can support them when they come with a gender diversity issue or incident or bullying in a school, and take the stand that bullying is unacceptable.
The panel spoke at lengths about the work and role of the Safe Schools Coalition Australia (SSCA). The SSCA is a government funded national coalition of organisations and schools helping creative more welcoming environments for same sex attracted and gender diverse students. They offer free resources to help staff and students deliver positive changes within their school. Resources include guides to hold same sex formals, posters showing acceptance of people identifying as queer or gender diverse, how to make uniform policies gender diverse friendly, stories about people coming out and resources for non gender diverse people to support their friends and family that are (gender diverse).
Minus 18, Australia’s Largest Youth Led Organisation for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans* Youth also promotes great resources videos showing us it is cool and normal to come out as gay and how students are fighting against homophobia. What is really empowering is when students are taking ownership and not letting teachers take all the initiative. The ‘Wear it Purple’ event was started by high school students sick of situations and people being labelled ‘gay’ and the associated bullying and discrimination in their schools. So they created a poster where people put their name on a sticker pledging they will no longer use the word gay casually and in a derogatory sense. The students found rates of bullying decreased and the student community was actually closer after this initiative. Other student led initiatives include cute little booklets summarising issues for queer and gender diverse kids, and several students who created queer friendly support groups at their schools for kids just to hang out and get access to resources in a friendly and supportive environment.
Gender Help for Parents was created Australian Parents who found it difficult to find information and support to help their children struggling with understanding their gender identity. The website includes information how to seek online support by emailing or contacting the Facebook Page to be put in touch with private chat groups which operate on mutually agreed upon confidentiality said to protect the families involved. The web page is very useful and helpful, and I feel it is great they have made this page confidential to protect the identity and safety of the involved families who could be subject to hate crimes and threats. Parents of children who are unsure of or want to change their gender likely would have felt extremely isolated and confused at some point, and this resource is a great step to assist normalising their process and easing their worries.
I spoke to a mother from Gender Help for Parents who told me a harrowing story about how her transgender child was in a Christian school (whom before enrolment were accepting of the child’s gender status) and taken to secret sessions with the school chaplain without her consent and knowledge and discussed the child’s ‘gender issues.’ When the mother found out through another parent she questioned the school about what took place in the meetings, which they could not confirm, and also could not confirm whether she (the child) was potentially brainwashed or miseducated about her gender status. So eventually the mother withdrew the child from the school and enrolled them in a more supportive school. In my view another reason we need to scrap the religious discrimination act exemption. It is really disturbing these meetings occurred within the school and clear, transparent answers about what took place could not be given to the parent.
Another information stall I visited was the Health Teacher’s Fund, which I honestly had never heard of before and they are essentially a health insurance fund, but with a difference! They were the first fund in Australia to recognise same sex relationships the same as heterosexual ones, meaning same sex couples are not being financially discriminated against (as many policies are biased in favour of couples versus singles). Whilst health insurance funds should not be seen as the policy makers within society it shows great initiative that they were at the forum and represents a great leap forward that teachers who might be looking after or supporting kids with gender identity issues know their health and wellbeing will be looked after.
I really feel SSCA is the banner organisation tying up all the smaller organisations and ensuring action is taken on promoting gender diversity in schools. Given research shows thousands of young people experience homophobic and transphobic behaviour and discrimination and that over 40% of unsupported transgender kids attempt suicide – it is critical more support is given to schools. Increased government funding of this important coalition would be a welcome start.
An overwhelming theme was that to promote diversity requires everyone from individuals, to organisations to businesses to push forward with their agendas. As I believe change comes from those who do not give up, believe in their cause and send the right messages to policy makers. So a final reminder from this fantastic forum is to keep on marching people towards safer and more equitable schools!!
Review by Simon Chitre