Homophobic bullying in the schoolyard could be reduced thanks to an educational comic about school students with gay and lesbian family members, community educators believe.

Funded by the NSW government and aimed at Year 7 students, the comic features a school student with two mums and a classmate with a football-playing gay brother.

Publisher Streetwize Communications last month sent 22,000 copies of its anti-homophobia comic What’s The Difference? to public and independent schools across NSW.

The resource is aimed at Year 7 students because it was at this age insulting comments such as -˜that’s so gay’ are rife, Streetwize Communications project manager Jackie Ruddock told Sydney Star Observer.

A nationwide survey of same-sex-attracted young people last year found most respondents who reported violence had experienced it at school.

What’s The Difference? follows school student Suzie who falls victim to homophobic taunts because she has two mothers. A new classmate, Michael, reveals he has a gay brother and helps Suzie stand up to the bullies.

On the face of it the comic is about young people being bullied in schools, but it is also about a lot more, such as homophobia is not okay in schools, Ruddock said.

What’s The Difference? also challenges the assumption that everyone is straight.

Streetwize Communications has produced comics about gay issues for older students, but What’s The Difference? is its first publication that deals with anti-gay bullying.

The publisher won funding from the NSW Attorney-General’s Department for the project. The Department of Education also helped develop the comic but, as with all externally produced texts, it has not formally endorsed What’s The Difference? How the comic is used is the decision of individual schools.

Streetwize Communications also consulted NSW school students before publishing What’s The Difference?

To date the response has been good, Ruddock said.

She could not say how many schools had used the comic so far, but we have had a number of schools requesting class sets.

Streetwize Communications put together What’s The Difference? after being approached by Vicki Harding, author of the Learn to Include primary school books that deal with gay and lesbian families.

So far it has avoided the controversy that Harding’s books attracted last year, when the NSW National Party called for them to be removed from NSW primary schools because they were inappropriate for younger children.

We can’t rule out controversy, but we believe that homophobia and heterosexism must be addressed, Ruddock said.

And, as with racism and sexism, it is more than appropriate to begin discussing such issues within educational settings -“ for everyone’s wellbeing and benefit.

Vicki Harding called on teachers to use What’s The Difference? widely.

I just hope that schools use it and that it’s given to the students who could benefit from it the most, she told the Star.

It’s targeted at Year 7 students, and we know bullying starts around that age, and it can get worse over the next couple of years of high school, so it’s important I think to work on it early in high school.

Streetwize will present the comic at a conference next month of the NSW Anti-Homophobia Interagency, which examines homophobia in NSW schools.

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