Students and teachers from Burwood Girls High are encouraging schools nationwide to introduce Gay Straight Alliance groups, in an effort to combat homophobia and bullying.

Burwood Girls High became one of the first schools in Australia to launch a GSA group a year and a half ago, and is now seeking assistance from ACON and the Department of Education to establish a national network of GSAs.

The initiative is a successful and cost-effective way to promote tolerance in schools, the group’s overseer, teacher Madison Shakespeare said.

The Department of Education and Training have a fantastic anti-homophobia policy but actually trying to make that policy come into real life can be really difficult, she explained to Sydney Star Observer. The group has made AIDS blankets, raised money for charities and erected a rainbow flag in their school hall.

We have a policy that students do not have to identify in terms of their sexual preference -” it’s more a support network for anyone who wants to come and contribute. It’s really important students feel able to identify and have an alliance that is a safe alliance that is accepting. In the wider school community it also removes a lot of the stigma. To have people be able to speak openly about lesbianism, or bisexuality, it really dispels myths.

ACON has provided resources for students and has applied for funding to help the project through the Federal Attorney-General Department’s Proceeds of Crime Fund.

If successful, money will also be allocated to other ACON projects, including a national anti-homophobia campaign targeted at young people.

We have applied for funding to set up a network of student-led networks, similar to the USA’s Gay Straight Alliance network. If we are successful, we hope to link these groups in with each other via a website, an e-network and a series of social training events, ACON spokeswoman Nancy de Castro said.

Peer education is the number one tool we have for combating homophobia. Peer opinion plays a huge role in shaping attitudes towards GLBT people.

Early education is about stopping homophobic violence before it starts. We also know schools are one of the most dangerous places for GLBT young people. So if we can secure funding to link up existing groups and encourage new groups to form, the possibilities are endless.

No timeline has been provided as to when funding might be awarded.

The NSW Department of Education said, Student-led initiatives that affirm diversity, counter discrimination and promote equity are encouraged… [T]he decision to set up an alliance group to support same-sex attracted young people is up to schools and their communities.

info: Find out how to establish a GSA at your school, call Madison Shakespeare on 0411 969 036.

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