Currently boasting 117 members, the Safe Schools Coalition Victoria (SSCV) recently celebrated three years since it began with just six schools back in 2010 working to create safe and supportive environments for same-sex attracted, intersex and gender diverse young people.
Despite the program’s enormous success it hasn’t been without community opposition. Alongside attacks from conservative religious groups such as the Australian Christian Lobby and Melbourne-based Salt Shakers, SSCV Project Officer Joel Radcliffe told the Star Observer about some challenging conversations he’d had with students at member schools.
He recalled a conversation with a young Muslim student who was struggling to reconcile SSCV’s messages of affirming diversity and creating safe spaces with her faith.
“I just gave her time to talk it through. She said, ‘It’s part of my faith that I can’t really advocate for these people, but it’s also part of faith to respect everyone and I understand that there’s lot of different people at this school, and I would never say anything to make anyone feel unsafe or disrespected,’” Radcliffe said.
“I thought that was an incredibly mature response—she was probably in year 9—and I thought I didn’t need to do anything more than that. And that’s always our approach when we meet any faith-based resistance, we say, we’re not here to tell you what to believe, but we always focus on duty of care and health and well being.”
Radcliffe said along with the expanding membership base, some of his proudest moments came from working with transgender young people.
“We’ve had students, who have been allowed and supported through gender transition at school tell us the day they started being referred to as a she and being called by their desired name was the best day of their life,” he said.
“I think that’s some really important work.”