TRANS advocates and allies have criticised Channel 7’s Sunday Night program for its recent coverage of the Safe Schools debate, saying that it provided a damaging platform for bigots.
On last night’s show, Kirra Carmichael and her trans daughter Briella were interviewed about how the Safe Schools program had positively impacted their lives.
“When your child comes to you and says I’m born in the wrong body am I meant to crush my child every day and say no you can’t live the gender you feel inside – what kind of parent would do that?
“They don’t go too far, they save lives.”
However, the program then featured noted homophobe Kevin Donnelly who had previously called LGBT people unnatural, along with mother-of-four Cella White who inaccurately said young kids were being exposed to highly sexualised content through the program.
“I just have a strong belief in biology, that sex and gender are binary, and I think anything else confuses children,” White said.
“I don’t understand [Safe Schools] confusing children at such a young age, they’re all trying to develop healthily.”
The program also dead-named Briella – referring to her name pre-transition – via voiceover multiple times.
The show comes after a recent petition signed by 5,000 people was presented to Victorian MPs in opposition to Safe Schools, based on many false claims.
Author of trans children’s book Introducing Teddy, Jessica Walton, was also featured in the program and said it wasn’t portrayed in the way she was led to believe it would be when asked for the interview.
“Sometimes the Australian media has this obsession with presenting a balanced view – every time an LGBTI person speaks about their identity, they need an anti-LGBTI bigot,” she said.
“I was really disappointed that they included extreme anti-LGBTI bigots like Cella and Kevin, and gave them a platform to misrepresent Safe Schools.
“The story of Briella and her family was wonderful and they didn’t need to surround it with bigotry.”
Trans advocate Jo Hirst said it was damaging to portray the story as a valid debate, and even more so to give increased airtime to those against Safe Schools.
“The Sunday Night program using our children as tabloid fodder to boost their ratings is at best irresponsible and at worst extremely dangerous,” she said.
“They had hounded me to part of the program and I said no unless they could assure me it would be positive, and they couldn’t.
“It’s a very dangerous thing to do for ratings, as there were so many inaccuracies – the only reason Safe Schools go to primary schools is when there’s a trans child so they can help work out policies to support the child.
“The program misled the audience to believe there was sex education at that level but no.”
Hirst added that Cella White used to troll her on Facebook and send her horrible transphobic messages on Twitter before she deleted her account, and that Kevin Donnelly was wrongly portrayed.
“There have been guidelines set up by medical and health professionals about how to support gender diverse children,” she said.
“The airing of opinions by someone like Kevin as though he’s one of these professionals is misleading.”
Fellow trans advocate Leanne Donnelly said she didn’t watch the program after finding the promotion for the episode frightening.
“As the parent of a transgender kid I perceived a tone that indicated the program was anti-Safe Schools and anti-respect for trans kids,” she said.
“Channel 7’s slant and twist and use of uneducated commentators may have scared other families from coming forward in the future.
“If others saw only the promo and not the program, their glimpse of Safe Schools could be negative when in fact Safe Schools is a wonderful appropriate resource.”
Trans person Ti Butler said it was disappointing to hear the misinformation about Safe Schools presented by not only those interviewed, but by the presenter as well.
“I’d love to know where the allegation that Safe Schools includes a ‘policy of sexual openness’ came from – it seems that line was a direct attempt to infer children are being abused, and it was used not by a guest but by the reporter, presented as fact,” they said.
“Parents against the Safe Schools program have probably never met or known anyone who is LGBTI are just scared of something they have no awareness of.
“Seeing a program like Safe Schools exist means the world to me.
“When I was at school I didn’t have the words to explain who I was, and I was terrified to tell anybody for fear of how they might react.
“Safe Schools means kids going through what I went through don’t have to live in feat of the very person they are.”
In Australia 545 schools are currently registered for the Safe Schools program.