A REFRESHED guide to LGBTI diversity has been distributed to Victorian schools as part of the Safe Schools program.

The new guide highlights some of the challenges LGBTI students face, including 61 per cent experiencing verbal homophobic abuse and 18 per cent reporting physical abuse.

Students report consequences from anti-LGBTI bullying such as poor concentration, missing classes or having to change schools, according to the guide. One in 10 students did not use the toilets at school due to bullying.

“All students have the right to feel safe and welcome at school, and it is a sad reality that LGBTI young people are more likely to be bullied at school than elsewhere and this has a major impact on their education,” said James Merlino, Minister for Education.

“Creating an inclusive and safe environment for LGBTI students, and all students, is vital to tackling bullying, discrimination and harassment at schools. Students can’t focus on their learning if they’re feeling harassed or bullied.

“There is no one-size-fits-all approach for schools to participate in Safe Schools. As part of the new strengthened program, schools will determine how they will meet the program requirements based on their local communities and needs.”

The new Safe Schools guide covers subjects including respecting diversity, meeting legal requirements and creating a safe space for LGBTI students. It calls for schools to support student-led action and to take steps such as challenging discriminatory language.

“The reality is that there are trans students in all of our schools and they are entitled to a safe and inclusive education, just like every other child,” said Jo Hirst, trans advocate and author of The Gender Fairy.

“We know from research that if well supported at home and at school, trans children will thrive socially and academically, and have positive mental health outcomes. Unfortunately, we also know the devastating statistics for those children who are not supported.”

Micah Scott, CEO of Minus18, said, “We welcome the Safe Schools rollout to all schools across Victoria. The recommendations are fantastic, and the continued work of Safe Schools is critical for the safety and inclusion of LGBTI students and families.

“At this stage though, the implementation of the program is completely up to school leadership, and core components such as LGBTI professional development for school staff, are opt-in.

“This means that a school may make a public commitment to support LGBTI students, but may not necessarily implement much of the program on the ground, likely resulting in unsupportive schools and staff who need professional development the most opting not to implement it.

“This is a great first step, but what we need to see now is a plan to ensuring schools making this public commitment are actually held to it and that every single teacher in Victoria is provided with training on how to support LGBTI students and families.”

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