A new anti-homophobia program announced may not make it to the classroom, the NSW Greens have warned.
The program, Proud Schools, announced as a trial in 12 NSW high school by Education Minister Verity Firth today, is worth $250,000.
The program will include teacher training and workshops with students and parents. A committee comprising government and non-government agencies will monitor the program and report back to Ms Firth’s office.
Greens MP and spokesperson for sexuality and gender issues Cate Faehrmann congratulated the NSW Government on the trial, but warned “a few lone moral crusaders at Macquarie Street” could scuttle the program before it gets off the ground.
“This is excellent news – after caving in to the fear mongering of far-right moral crusaders in 2005, the Government should now be congratulated for acting on homophobia in schools,” Faehrmann said.
“The latest research shows homophobic bullying in schools is rampant, and affects the entire community, not just those who are gay, lesbian or gender diverse.
“Unfortunately, the same far-right fringe interests who have blocked action on this issue for so long, are still very influential at Macquarie Street.
“The government must secure multi-party support before the extreme conservatives of NSW politics sabotage the program.
“There is a very real risk that this desperately needed program won’t make it into all schools simply because of the last-century thinking of a few lone moral crusaders at Macquarie Street.”
Research released last year showed verbal and physical abuse against same-sex attracted (SSA) youth was on the increase.
The Writing Themselves In 3 — the third national report of sexuality, health and well being of SSA and gender questioning young people — showed a marked jump in homophobic violence in Australian schools, with strong links to higher levels of self-harm and suicide in abused youth.
La Trobe university lead researcher Dr Lynne Hillier said since the last report in 2005, the most recent survey of 3134 young people showed a significant jump in homophobic abuse in schools.
“[Homophobic] violence isn’t going down in schools … really there’s evidence of young people reporting more homophobic violence,” Dr Hillier told the Star Observer.
“What we learned is … young people in schools they deemed homophobic were more likely to have self-harmed and they were more likely to have attempted suicide.
“So the idea of a school being supportive and young people feeling safe and in a supportive school … is incredibly important in all of this.”
Being a teenager can be hard enough, but it can be particularly difficult if a young person is same-sex attracted.
Firth said the aim of the program was “to build on the culture of understanding and respect in NSW schools”.
“Ignorance and intolerance can lead to bullying and abuse, with many same-sex attracted young people feeling a sense of shame, fear and isolation,” she said.
“We don’t tolerate bullying or abuse in our public schools for any reason. That’s why the Proud Schools program aims to replace ignorance with understanding, intolerance with acceptance, and shame with pride.
“Proud Schools recognises that for this change to take place whole school communities will need to work together, with parents and teachers playing a key role in identifying and addressing homophobic attitudes.”
ACON president Mark Orr welcomed the announcement.
“We welcome this pilot program as an important initiative not only tackling homophobia and transphobia in schools, but promoting the mental health and well-being of same-sex attracted or gender questioning young people, providing safe and inclusive learning environments and helping young people value and celebrate diversity within society,” he said.