A FEW days ago, the Australian Christian Lobby took sharp aim at the federally-funded Safe Schools Coalition Australia initiative. In an open letter to the Prime Minister, bizarre claims alleged that the initiative is at best “thinly disguised propaganda to normalise homosexual behaviour” and calls for funding to be discontinued immediately.

On one hand, it struck me as absurd that the ACL would target a program that has unequivocally demonstrated its success towards combating gender and sexuality-based bullying within schools and indeed, in making schools for all young people safer. The open letter yields evidence from an almost-decade old study conducted in Toronto, to mount the argument that bullying experienced by LGBTI young Australians isn’t a priority area of need within schools.

This is simply not true, given data from Australian studies as recent as 2010 that highlight 61 per cent of LGBTI young people report verbal abuse because of homophobia – not to mention, the recurring trends from national health agencies that show a significantly increased risk of mental illness and attempted suicide among these young people, particularly during school years. It is these very core challenges that the Safe School Coalition is seeking to redress through its internationally-recognised education programs, so why is the ACL so vehemently opposed to such important progress?

In Victoria alone, the coalition has galvanised the membership of 162 schools – some even of Christian and Jewish identities, recognising that schools of all faiths or no faith are prepared to take the necessary steps to ensure safety and well-being of their students. Safe Schools has also received bipartisan support across all major political parties since its inception.

As unfortunate as the status quo may be, there is indeed a very real and specific need to the work engaged in by the Safe Schools Coalition within our schools. Whether it is through empowering students to fight bullying through student action groups or supporting schools to make systemic changes in policy, this is work that has been critical to strengthening the wellbeing of thousands of young people around the country.

But there is also a much deeper issue at hand here. We are living in an age where we are seeing slow but important change taking place globally within the Christian faith on attitudes towards gender and sexuality. Even the conservative Catholic Church has long departed from its archaic conception of homosexual individuals as “intrinsically disordered” to recognising that variations in sexual orientation are indeed, part and parcel of human behaviour, reflecting a more contemporary understanding of sexuality. While the Catholic Church’s response on challenges experienced by the LGBTI community remains largely problematic, it is important to encourage the steps being taken by the church to better understand sexuality in line with an ever-evolving society.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the full suite of change that has swept the enormously-diverse Christian community at large over the past few years, as it has sought to grapple with issues of sexuality and human behaviour with religious doctrine.

Far more pertinently, we live in a time where the vast majority of Australians, most of them of Christian faith, only continue to strengthen their support for the full freedoms entitled to their LGBTI peers – especially the right for people to feel safe and free from bullying, and to feel valued as people of worth in our community.

The ACL’s actions in calling for the abolition of Safe Schools is not only deeply harmful for the well-being of same-sex attracted and gender diverse young people everywhere, but it also reflects an understanding of sexuality that is not shared by the majority of Christians living in Australia – the very people whose interests and beliefs the ACL seeks to represent.

As a community, it is absolutely necessary to reject the notion espoused by the ACL through this campaign: that being same-sex attracted or gender diverse is somehow “abnormal”. It simply could not be further from the truth.

Minto Felix is a mental health campaigner, and is deeply passionate about the wellbeing of all young Australians. He is also a board member at Minus18, Australia’s largest organisation for LGBT young people. Follow him on Twitter: @mintofelix

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