SCHOOLS across the country will be supported to tackle homophobic and transphobic bullying with the launch of a national Safe Schools Coalition.
Launched at a symposium in Melbourne last Friday, the initiative pioneered in Victoria will first expand into NSW and South Australia as the first stage of an Australia-wide rollout.
A number of high-profile politicians and public figures helped launch the program, including South Australia Labor Senator Penny Wong, Victorian Liberal Senator Scott Ryan, Aussie Rules footballer Jason Ball and Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson.
Caleb Nichols-Mansell was one of many young people who shared their experiences with bullying. The 18-year-old described some horrific memories of his time at two different high schools.
“Lunch and recess were horrible and I actually dreaded the free time I had. Food and profanities were thrown across the schoolyard,” he said.
“No actions were taken by teachers, grade leaders or the principal despite my numerous complaints of having sandwiches, yoghurt, fruit and other food thrown at me, threats of getting bashed and insults. I couldn’t take it anymore and my only option was to stop going to school, I didn’t feel safe and I wasn’t comfortable.”
Nichols-Mansell said a lack of information about sexuality and gender diversity was a barrier to ending the kind of bullying he had experienced.
While funding for the program’s national rollout was a commitment under the previous federal government, it has received the support of the current government.
As Parliamentary Secretary to Education Minister, Senator Ryan argued that the government couldn’t make policy to “force or regulate true acceptance” but said programs like this could at least change behaviour.
“When we reflect on how far social attitudes have evolved in a few short decades, I think that gives us a sense of optimism that expectations around appropriate behaviour will indeed lead to different attitudes over time,” he said.
Coordinated by the Foundation for Young Australians, membership of the Safe Schools Coalition will open this month.
Safe Schools Coalition Victoria was the target of some criticism last month when Mount Clear College in Ballarat, a member school in the coalition, tried to prevent 17-year-old Kiana Brewett from attending a debutante ball with her same-sex partner.
The decision was eventually reversed following the involvement of media and Victorian Education Minister Martin Dixon.