The NSW Education Department (DET) was yesterday accused of failing gay students and actively blocking support material with overzealous internet filters.

DET director-general Michael Coutts-Trotter opened yesterday’s That’s So Gay conference, organised by the NSW Anti-Homophobia Interagency, by saying public schools needed to go further to protect the wellbeing of same-sex attracted students than anti-discrimination laws required, and the principles of public education demanded inclusion, acceptance and affirmation.

But Coutts-Trotter did not stay to hear a student tell the conference that education authorities had failed to live up to the ideals of those policies.

One girl turned to truancy to escape the abuse at school and developed a problem with drugs, Smiths Hills High School student Daniel Swaine said.

It’s silly to say because more young people are OK with the idea of gay marriage that homophobia is over.

His claims echo the findings of the 2005 Writing Themselves In Again report from La Trobe University that found 44 percent of same-sex attracted youth experienced verbal abuse, 16 percent experienced physical abuse, and 74 percent of that abuse occurred at school.

Swaine said it would help struggling young people to learn about the history of the gay and lesbian community so there was a validation of identity and sense of community.

Several school and TAFE teachers said the department’s internet filter blocked students struggling with newfound homosexuality from accessing the material they needed in the environment most familiar to them.

Whenever you type in -˜gay’, or -˜gay youth support services’ to a search engine, it comes back with -˜this is unauthorised’. What kind of message does that send? Juvenile justice school deputy principal Daryl Hood asked.

Another TAFE teacher said she couldn’t access a speech by NSW Governor Marie Bashir on accepting diversity in sexual orientation.

ACON CEO Stevie Clayton said too many same-sex attracted students were abused at school making it important they and their teachers could access help and support while at school.

In this day and age it is most likely that they will look for that help on the internet. So it is dangerous to deny them that access and even ludicrous when you consider that they can access social networking and questionable sites from the same computers, Clayton said.

Late last year the Department’s chief information officer Stephen Wilson boasted of a new white-list filter, which would block anything that hadn’t been pre-approved by the Department.

High Court Justice Michael Kirby told a pre-conference gathering he had not experienced homophobic bullying during his years in public education, but students today told him they did, and had written to the Department wanting to know why.

These students had been educated in public schools and they had suffered oppression, they had suffered physical violence and certainly verbal violence that their teachers had not stood in to protect them, Kirby said via video message.

Sexual education classes, something that didn’t exist in my day, didn’t speak to them. There was no mention of human sexuality variations, specifically homosexuality. Therefore they didn’t exist and it didn’t express anything for their particular needs.

A spokesman for the Department of Education and Training said discrimination and harassment were not tolerated in public schools and its policies required principals to act against such behaviour.

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