Apparently a program to stop homophobic bullying in schools is a bad thing. Who would have thought?

Thankfully, not everyone shares the views of Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen who has penned a particularly repellent piece for the Australian Family Association (AFA) claiming anti-homophobic bullying program Safe Schools Coalition Victoria (SSCV) is ‘coercing’ schools to accept homosexuality as a normal part of life. Because that wouldn’t be right, would it?

I’m sure this might come as a shock to Rabbi Cowen but not everyone is beholden to beliefs formed thousands of years ago. Or, quelle horreur, believes in God, or what such a deity might have to say about who people fall in love with.

His diatribe is not entirely surprising — a glance at the AFA’s list of patrons sees the charming Margaret Court at the top.

It seems Cowen is terrified that students learning to treat same-sex attracted students with dignity and respect will lead them down a one-way road to G.A.Y.

Cowen claims the program forces children to prematurely identify and confirm their sexual orientation, thus forcing unwanted gayness upon them. What nonsense. What he fails to address is the real harm same-sex attracted young people face at the hands of playground bullies.

It’s no coincidence that 2010 La Trobe University research suggests up to 80 percent of homophobic abuse experienced by young people occurs in schools.

Further, that 61 percent of same-sex attracted or gender-questioning young people in Australia experience verbal homophobic abuse, 18 percent experience physical homophobic abuse, and 26 percent other forms of homophobia. Suicide rates among same-sex attracted young people are said to be three times higher — and up to six times higher in rural and regional areas — than their straight counterparts.

The SSCV program doesn’t trick people into becoming same-sex attracted. What it does is create a safe environment for those young people struggling with their identity because they are told they are an abomination, not equal, unnatural.

A great deal of this is coming from religion itself.

Rabbi Cowen is allowed to believe what he likes about homosexuality and what his faith has to say about it. But his moral compass is his own. If his piece proves anything, it’s the importance of separating state and religion when addressing programs like these.

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