Media reports attacking a Marrickville childcare centre for using anti-homophobia teaching materials have been labelled disgraceful and hysterical by parents and politicians.
Marrickville mayor Sam Byrne described the media’s coverage of the issue as a horrendous beat-up, while lesbian mum and children’s book author Vicki Harding said it had been hysterical and misinformed.
The Daily Telegraph ran stories over three days this week detailing the fact Tillman Park Children’s Centre in Tempe, run by Marrickville Council, educates children about gay, lesbian and transgender parents. The story was also picked up by commercial TV news programs.
An editorial column in Saturday’s Telegraph stated Marrickville Council is guilty of virtual child abuse in treating a community-funded centre as a venue for gay education.
Tillman Park sounds more like a cult than a childcare centre. Its funding should be cut off, the editorial continued.
On Monday the paper ran a front-page story with the headline Gaycare revolt: Family fury at teaching of toddlers. It quoted a woman named Bobbie Davies, whose three-year-old daughter is due to start at the centre and who did not want her children exposed to issues about sex.
However, Marrickville council could find no person by that name on any waiting list for its childcare centres, Byrne told Sydney Star Observer.
We don’t believe she is on our waiting list to go into our childcare centres, the mayor said.
The media was desperate to try and find parents who were concerned about these materials and they struggled to find anyone at all.
Byrne said he was looking into making a complaint to the Australian Press Council over the coverage.
Marrickville Council childcare centres have a policy of teaching children about diversity and discrimination, including issues about same-sex parents. All the material used is approved by the NSW Department of Education.
Parents were informed of this policy and were required to sign a form saying they’d read the policy before enrolling their children, Byrne said.
Sharyn Casey, a lesbian mum who has a child at Tillman Park, said all the parents at the centre were 100 percent supportive of the council’s childcare centres.
The TV crews turned up yesterday and stood out the front of the centre interviewing every parent who walked in and they couldn’t find one person who had anything negative to say. It was wonderful, Casey told the Star.
Harding, whose Learn to Include children’s books about same-sex parents were called into question by the media, said she had been shocked by the attacks.
It’s been hysterical and misinformed, Harding, who wrote the books with her daughter Brenna, told the Star.
I thought at first it was that they hear the word -˜gay’ or -˜lesbian’ and instantly think of sex and that that’s inappropriate. But I’m not even sure that’s what’s going on.
Some people are just very threatened about children learning about these relationships.
State Labor MP Penny Sharpe, also a lesbian mum, described the furore as a storm in a teacup.
I think the books don’t teach about sex or sex education. They are very lovely stories written by a girl and her mum about same-sex families and they represent diversity in our community, Sharpe said.
State education minister and member for Marrickville, Carmel Tebbutt, said teaching children about diversity and tolerance is an important part of their development.
However, these sorts of matters should always be handled in consultation with parents, she said in a statement via her spokesperson.
Meantime, premier Morris Iemma spoke out against teaching children about gays and lesbians, saying they shouldn’t be dragged into gender politics. His spokesperson told the Star Iemma had no plans to ban the anti-homophobia materials from childcare centres.
Joining Iemma in speaking out against the anti-homophobia lessons were, from federal politics, health minister Tony Abbott, education minister Julie Bishop and community services minister Mal Brough. From state politics were Liberal leader Peter Debnam and National Party leader Andrew Stoner.
The Tillman Park Children’s Centre made news after its staff spoke of their progressive social justice teaching program at a conference on homophobia in education last Friday.