I WAS seven years old when my primary school teacher invited a small group of performers to teach our class about Aboriginal culture. With our faces painted in messy spirals of earthy-toned spots, we learnt how to play (albeit badly) the didgeridoo and listened keenly to a number of ancient dreamtime stories, re-enacted with theatrical gusto.

Before witnessing the performance that day, I had little understanding of why some Australians were brown and others white. I didn’t care why or how the Aboriginal community had struggled in the face of such horrendous adversity, and I knew virtually nothing of the vibrant culture they continued to celebrate despite it.

It was only through shifting our youthful perspectives that my classmates and I were able to learn the fundamentals of tolerance, diversity and respect — that not everyone is pressed through the same cookie-cutter at birth, and that’s perfectly okay.

In the face of recent controversy surrounding the Safe Schools program, a vocal minority would have you believe that children are dangerously susceptible to such immersive methods of education. But here’s the thing: I didn’t return home that afternoon in 1998 confused about my culture or mistakenly believing I was Indigenous. I simply returned home with a little more currency in my cultural piggy-bank, with a mind bursting full of questions — none of which endangered my sense of self, but rather informed it.

Opponents of the Safe Schools program argue with cowardly conviction that a proactive education on sexuality and gender would manipulate their children’s ability to form a healthy identity. “What if my son comes home wearing a dress and two-inch heels?” they would say. “What if my daughter shaves her head, starts shooting up hormones, and saving for a gap-year mastectomy?”

Come to think of it, perhaps these parents and politicians are more intimidated by the heady prospect of being morally, emotionally, intellectually outgrown by their offspring. After all, no respectable far-right wing conservative wants to be called-out on their social ignorance by the precious fruit of their loins. Can you imagine Miranda Devine having a sensitively stimulating inter-generational conversation on trans issues over her family dinner of human hearts seasoned with common decency?

With this in mind, can we please give the kids some well-earned fucking credit? Their minds aren’t store-bought sponges that fervently soak up information, immediately altering shape, size and form. They’re more like empty encyclopaedias — hundreds upon hundreds of empty-lined pages waiting to be filled with history, stories, words and ideas that can be thoughtfully adjusted, referenced, dwelled-upon, or simply ignored.

It’s perhaps worth reminding those who are concerned about Safe Schools that while young minds are a product of their environments — sexuality isn’t. That while tolerance and love can be taught — gender identification cannot be. There is nothing to be lost. There is so much to be gained.

Context. Empathy. Understanding. Knowledge. Empowerment. Above all else, these are the invaluable take-aways of an early education. We owe it to our children to fill their pages with facts — not opinions, not politics, not propaganda — that gently guide their unique perspectives and open their minds to the myriad cultures and subcultures that makeup our diverse society.

It’s our obligation to provide them with the tools necessary to build their own moral compasses, enabling them to express and discover themselves without fear of judgement, prejudice or exclusion.

While I’ll forever be grateful to have received a mindful education on different cultures from an early age, I also wish that I could’ve participated in the Safe Schools Program when I was at school. Maybe then I could’ve avoided the ongoing pain and cruelty that came with feeling and being seen as different by so many, for so long.

HOMOS ON HIATUS are creative duo Samuel Leighton-Dore and Bradley Tennant. Their blog celebrates homo-heroes and inclusive ideas. You can find them at HomosOnHiatus.com or on Instagram: @HomosOnHiatus. You can also follow Samuel on Twitter:@SamLeightonDore

To read Samuel Leighton-Dore’s previous columns for Star Observer, click here.

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**This article was first published in the April edition of the Star Observer, which is available now. Click here to find out where you can grab a copy in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and select regional/coastal areas.

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