Minister for Equality Martin Foley has committed to the Safe Schools anti-bullying program for Victoria.

Earlier this month, Safe Schools seemed under threat in Victoria as the Liberals promised to scrap the program if elected, and Labor would not definitively commit to renew its funding.

Speaking on JOY 94.9’s Saturday Magazine, Foley defended the future of the program, saying it is “safe” and will be taken “to a whole new level” by Labor.

He said the government will work with LGBTI communities and parents of LGBTI children to further improve the program.

“Particularly trans kids, who have been really, really under the hammer in recent times, used almost as political fodder during the marriage equality debate,” he added.

Foley said the use of trans children as political footballs by conservatives had been “disappointing” and involved “deliberate misrepresentation” of Safe Schools.

“Safe Schools is a resource that families and LGBTI kids in schools called for,” he explained.

“It allows schools the ability to engage in a way in which schools are safe for LGBTI kids and their families to be who they are and participate.

“The deliberate misrepresentation of the program has been shameful, and we know it’s not going to go away.

“I would ask those people to think about what this deliberate wedge politics means for that questioning kid in the school in their community.”

Safe Schools is currently being used in 321 Victorian public secondary schools, with 83 remaining to adopt it.

Foley said that a number of primary schools and non-government schools, including religious schools, have also chosen to use the program.

“[Safe Schools] filled a gap identified by parents and by young LGBTI people themselves,” said Foley.

He clarified that Safe Schools is like any other program, and funding cannot strictly be renewed until the upcoming new budgetary process time.

“The work is already being done, internally within government, and consultations with community through our education advisory committee that’s in place for our LGBTI policy,” he said.

“Having embedded Safe Schools into the education department, we are going through the normal government processes of reviewing and supporting, and I am very confident of taking the whole program of support for LGBTI kids to a whole new level.”

Asked directly if the future of Safe Schools was guaranteed, Foley answered positively.

“I can give a guarantee that my good friend the Deputy Premier and Minister for Education, the biggest champion of making sure that LGBTI kids are safe in their schools and their communities… will see Safe Schools, and the culture behind Safe Schools, embedded in our schools for all time,” he said.

Foley said improvements are still needed to the program because LGBTI children continue to suffer from bullying, disengagement, and poorer mental health outcomes.

“Based on the learnings of where we’ve gone, [we will] make the program even more effective,” he said.

“Every kid deserves the right to the best possible education, and LGBTI kids are disproportionately excluded from that.”

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