Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria (GLHV) has welcomed a move by the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Government to tackle homophobia in schools.

GLHV director, Associate Professor Anne Mitchell told the Star Observer ACT moves to train school counsellors and arrange an all-schools anti-homophobia conference on the International Day Against Homophobia (May 17) are a step forward.

“I think what’s been a critical thing is everybody’s seen you can do this and the world doesn’t blow up,” Mitchell said.

“There’s been this real reluctance for education departments to take it on, even though there’s been a lot of pressure from activists.

“As soon as one place has done it, I think it’s made a hell of a difference to people feeling it’s a safe enough initiative to be involved with.”

Victoria has led the way with anti-homophobia in schools initiatives. Last year it established the Safe Schools Coalition Victoria (SSCV), developed by Rainbow Network Victoria and the Foundation for Young Australians.

Although only 22 Victorian schools are SSCV members, more than 600 students, teachers and school staff have received training on challenging homophobia. A resource booklet, Supporting Sexual Diversity in Schools: A Guide, has been delivered to every school in the state.

Last month openly gay ACT education minister Andrew Barr announced the ACT Government would develop initiatives in ACT schools to tackle homophobia following the release of Writing Themselves In 3 (WTi3), a study published last year by LaTrobe University on the health and wellbeing of young same-sex attracted and gender questioning (SSAGQ) people.

The report showed 75 percent of SSAGQ young people had experienced some sort of abuse; 61 percent reported verbal homophobic abuse; 18 percent reported homophobically-motivated physical abuse; 69 percent reported other types of homophobia, including cyber bullying, graffiti, social exclusion and humiliation.

Alarmingly, 80 percent of the verbal and physical abuse reported occurred at school.

Mitchell said although many GLBT people understand the difficulties young people face in schools, research such as WTi3 has been able to push the issue further.

The SSCV was granted $80,000 for one year by the Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, funding which runs out in June.

Mitchell said there has been early contact with the department to discuss ongoing funding arrangements for the initiative.

The Baillieu Government has promised to allocate $4 million to initiatives to prevent suicide and self-harm in same-sex attracted young people.

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