Gay and lesbian issues are taught all year round to the children at Tillman Park Children’s Centre in Tempe, because it’s in a child’s early years they begin to develop their views on social issues.

It was messages like this from Tillman Park childcare worker Miriam Giugni that sparked a national media frenzy (see story page 1). But her words received the highest praise and loudest applause from delegates at the conference That’s So Gay: addressing homophobia in education settings in Sydney on Friday.

About 200 people -“ mostly teachers -“ attended the conference, and heard experts discussing strategies to combat homophobia among students and educators in early childhood, primary school, high school and tertiary education.

Homophobia has been recognised as a major problem in Australian schools. La Trobe University’s national study of same-sex-attracted youth in 2004, Writing Themselves In Again, found 38 percent of respondents received unfair treatment on the basis of their sexuality. Out of those who reported verbal and physical abuse, 74 percent experienced it at school.

Giugni said Tillman Park taught children about differences in culture and family structure and explored issues of racism, sexism and homophobia. As well as talking to the children about Greek families, Vietnamese families and single parent families, they also discussed families with same-sex parents.

Giugni said she challenged children if they laughed about gay or lesbian families and asked why it was funny. She said there were learning resources that reflect gay and lesbian families on hand at all times.

Dr Kerry Robinson, senior lecturer in education at the University of Western Sydney, said children needed to be taught not to say things like that’s so gay, as it reinforced the negativity of the word gay.

Michelle Standish, head teacher at Barrenjoey High, explained that her school implemented an anti-homophobia program that involved educating all the teachers, then the Student Representative Council and then the whole school body about the issue.

The conference was organised by the NSW Anti-Homophobia Interagency, made up of representatives from the Department of Education and Training, Attorney General’s Department, Teacher’s Federation, Twenty10 and ACON, among others.

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