THE NSW component of the national rollout of the Safe Schools program was launched in State Parliament yesterday.
The initiative is being administered by the Foundation for Young Australians and being rolled out by Family Planning NSW, with the help of ACON and the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby.
The news comes just weeks after the national rollout was announced during a symposium in Melbourne.
NSW is the first state to rollout the Safe Schools initiative since it was pioneered it Victoria, which sees schools who sign on to it receive training, resources and advice to help create a school environment free from homophobic and transphobic bullying.
A number of public figures were present to help launch the NSW arm of Safe Schools in Sydney yesterday, including Australian Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson, Sydney state independent MP Alex Greenwich, Coogee state Liberal MP Bruce Notley-Smith, NSW upper house Labor MP Penny Sharpe, NSW upper house Nationals MP Trevor Khan and NSW upper house Greens MP Mehreen Faruqi.
Laura Blundell, 18, spoke at the launch of her own personal experience of coming out in high school.
Currently on her gap year since she graduated from Manly Selective last year, Laura said she changed schools at the start of year 10 because an inadvertent coming out experience, whereby she asked a friend to discreetly ask about the sexuality of a girl she liked, made things difficult.
“In the next few hours, not only did my crush know, but so did my entire school group,” Laura said.
“Lunchtimes became incredibly awkward. I felt like I had some sort of contagious disease, some people stopped talking to me while others didn’t associate with me at all.”
Laura, who was a sporty “tomboy” as a child, went on to say that despite the newfound diversity of her new school from year 10 onwards, she still wanted to afresh and maintain a “straight” image — so much so that she found a boyfriend and started wearing make-up.
“I became so obsessed with maintaining this image that I began to feel really conflicted about who I was,” she said, recalling how this led her to having an eating disorder, eventually making her stop playing sport.
Laura said she knew she had to address her feelings and sexuality, and after looking up information on the internet, she eventually came out to her friends and her mum in year 12.
“That year at school was phenomenal for me,” she said.
“I had finally found friends that had given me a voice and celebrated who I was and by the end of the year, I had gotten myself a girlfriend.
“My second school, while having a very tolerant and accepting environment, still refused to set up a legitimate LGBT group… due to one of the teachers viewing that ‘homophobia doesn’t exist as an issue’ here.”
Laura said that because she felt like her sexuality was never something she could talk about when she was in high school, she couldn’t imagine how helpful it would’ve been to have had something like the Safe Schools Coalition initiatives implemented in her school.
“When you are trying to figure out who you are, there is nothing worse than feeling like you can’t ask for support, or that being who you are means having to be thrown in the spotlight as someone who is different, or just not normal,” she said.
Alex Greenwich said the introduction of the Safe Schools initiative in NSW will benefit all students and make life a lot better for LGBTI students, and encouraged schools across the state to get on board with it.
“Every student should be safe at school, and this program works to prevent bullying and encourage school communities that support a safe environment for all students, including same sex attracted, intersex and gender diverse young people,” he said.
“Young people take the skills and attitudes they develop at school into their futures. Every student should learn that they are okay and don’t deserve abuse or mistreatment.
“In Parliament I will also push for sex education programs to be updated to include safe same-sex sex education, it is not enough to know about the mechanics of straight sex. All students need to know about relationships, safe sex and the diversity of sexual experience.”
Was your school inclusive and supportive of its LGBTI students, or were you a victim of direct homophobia and bullying? Take this quick survey to help schools improve the support they provide. It’s quick, free, anonymous and open to all: https://www.esurveycreator.com/s/547d319