Rainbow pencilsSexual health and LGBTI youth mental health experts have decried a lack of specific anti-bullying and HIV information in the draft national curriculum on health and physical education.

Advocacy groups such as the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby (GLRL) say they see little evidence their feedback on LGBTI issues made during the consultation process has been taken into account by the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), and in fact the relevant areas of the document have been watered down since the first draft.

The second and current draft of the curriculum includes some very broad information about same-sex attracted and sex and gender diverse young people but does not mention HIV or any other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Under the heading ‘Same sex attracted and gender diverse students’, the draft states:

“Same sex attracted and gender diverse young people are becoming increasingly visible in Australian schools. The Australian Curriculum: Health and Physical Education is designed to allow schools flexibility to meet the needs of these young people, particularly in the health context of relationships and sexuality.”

NSW GLRL Policy Officer Jed Horner expressed a concern schools could interpret this as making discussions of sex, sexuality and gender diversity optional, and ignore the topics completely. In addition, he criticised the fact homophobic or other LGBTI-specific bullying is not named in the draft, which includes a generic section on “diversity”.

“If you want to address a problem you’ve got to name it rather than talk around it, which is what they’re doing now,” said Horner, saying this was backed up by years of hard evidence from public health research.

While the NSW GLRL and other groups have made further submissions on the current draft, Horner is not optimistic they will have an impact.

ACARA said a reference to homophobia in the first draft had been removed following feedback that all forms of discrimination should be rolled under one heading. ACARA told Fairfax Media they rejected criticism of the draft, and thought it had “struck the right balance”.

Comments on the draft by conservative lobby organisation the Australian Family Association indicated they are pushing for sexual health education to be “optional as an extracurricular activity”.

In response to the comments, Horner said the disappointing second draft could indicate ACARA has been scared away from more substantive changes coming out of the consultation by the influence of religious groups.

Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) Acting Executive Director Linda Forbes told the Star Observer she was disappointed ACARA had not taken this opportunity to use the national curriculum to increase awareness of HIV particularly for young gay men.

However, Forbes remained optimistic, saying the recent passage of the Sex Discrimination Amendment bill could be used as a legal tool to fight for further revisions to the curriculum outside of ACARA’s consultation process.

“The legal framework is there…arguably this is a failure to put that sort of legal construct into practical reality,” Forbes said.

“We’ll stay on it. If for now ACARA says nothing’s going to change then that’s the current curriculum, but we will still lobby to have it changed—it’s not over for us.”

Forbes said AFAO is already discussing the possibility of further changes with Federal Education Minister Bill Shorten and Federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek.

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