MEMBERS of Victoria’s LGBTI community have raised concerns over the state government’s recent decision to overhaul the Safe Schools program and take it over within its education department.
More than 60 per cent of public schools have already signed up to the anti-bullying and LGBTI discrimination program since its inception, a program co-founded by La Trobe University’s Roz Ward, who has been the subject of immense scrutiny this year.
In a statement by Minister for Education James Merlino, he stated that Safe Schools saved lives.
“Bringing it into the Department of Education means LGBTI students in government schools will be better supported,” he said.
“Broadening our reference group to include student, parent, and principal representatives, anti-bullying and education experts will further strengthen the program as it is expanded into government secondary schools.”
While the government has said this decision will ensure the program expands into all public secondary schools by the end of 2018, members of the LGBTI community aren’t as confident.
Rainbow Families spokesperson Felicity Marlowe said she’d like to meet with Merlino to ensure the community’s questions are answered.
“There are a lot of unanswered questions, and the community needs to be confident that the government will act appropriately,” she said.
“If we get a meeting, we’d want [Merlino] to assure us there will be a direct number for families to contact in the Safe Schools department, and teams to manage requests by families and students in a timely manner.”
Marlowe added that permanent funding for the program would satiate members of the community as well.
“We want to know this isn’t going to be a two to three year contract, so that there’s no opportunity for the program to disappear,” she said.
Chief Executive of the Youth Affairs Council Victoria (YACVic), Georgie Ferrari, said the government’s decision was made without consulting any of the existing Safe Schools staff.
“This decision has been made without consulting Safe Schools staff or management, who will now lose their jobs,” she said.
“We’re concerned this decision will greatly compromise the program and the outcomes for same-sex attracted and gender diverse young people.
“We’re very concerned that the department of education doesn’t have the appropriate expertise to effectively deliver this program.”
The National Union of Students (NUS) LGBTI Department has also stated it will stand with the Safe Schools program and its staff, saying that Ward has come under repeated homophobic attacks by the press and politicians this year.
National LGBTI Officer of NUS Chris di Pasquale criticised the government’s decision.
“This government says it’s progressive, that it stands with LGBTI kids, and that it stands against bigotry,” he said.
“But it’s caved into right-wing pressure from The Australian and the far right of the Liberal Party.
“The Andrews Government threw Safe Schools under the bus and the LGBTI kids it claims to care about along with it.”
The government will take over the program in early 2017.