PROGRESS in implementing a policy addressing issues for Queensland LGBTI students has stalled between a PFLAG-led action group and the state education department, according to the group’s secretary.
Tackling LGBTI bullying along with a focus on inclusive departmental guidelines has been the subject of discussions between the two parties since last year, but the secretary of the Safe Queensland Schools for LGBTIQ Students action group Janet Berry has been “extremely frustrated” with the government’s response.
According to Berry, the Safe Queensland Schools for LGBTIQ Students group was “unofficially” told by the DETE that the policy was taken down last August due to complaints and “political backlash”.
“It is incomprehensible that votes come before the welfare and safety of young people,” Berry told the Star Observer.
“The DETE policy statement Same Sex Attracted and Gender Diverse Students at School was removed from the DETE website a year ago. As far as we know there has been no consultation on the content of this document during the past 12 months.
“The action group has offered on many occasions to work with DETE to develop an accurate and comprehensive policy to guide principals, schools and teachers in their care for LGBTIQ students.”
The DETE has denied that the policy was removed due to complaints about its LGBTI content.
“The draft… policy statement was removed from the departmental website last year to enable further review and consultation,” a spokesperson told the Star Observer.
Berry said that so far, no revised policy has been indicated and any mention of it has not been forthcoming from the government.
“In a recent letter the action group received from the Premier’s office [dated July 2] there is no mention of the policy statement being released again soon,” Berry said.
However, the DETE has said a revised document was “soon to be released”.
In lieu of a general policy addressing LGBTI students, the DETE has opted to provide advice on inclusion and other issues directly to school principals.
“Principals deal with a wide range of complex issues related to same-sex attracted and gender-diverse students. There is no one-size-fits-all approach,” its spokesperson said.
“That’s why the department provides individual advice and support to principals as they request it.”
Berry argued that a departmental policy would provide a prepared framework for schools to work and learn from.
“The action group fully appreciates that school principals are in the best position to assist all students in the individual school environment,” Berry said.
“The DETE statement admits that principals deal with a wide range of complex issues related to same-sex attracted and gender-diverse students.
“In that case the provision of upfront guidance and information in the form of a policy statement will assist in the management of these issues as they arise as well as providing guidance for the development of school policies and programs to prevent further issues.”
Meanwhile, the action group has encountered another roadblock in Queensland with regards to roll out of the Safe Schools Coalition Australia (SSCA).
Despite the recent implementation of the program across Victoria and NSW this year — and support from the new Liberal Tasmanian government — the DETE, while being aware of and acknowledging the SSCA, said it will “not mandate, endorse, or approve programs or resources”.
“Individual school principals select resources for their school in consultation with their school community,” the spokesperson said.
“It is up to individual state and non-state schools to determine if they wish to engage in this program.”
Berry said the DETE was not supporting a program they have already signed up to.
“The DETE statement says that the department does not mandate, endorse or approve programs or resources,” she said.
“The Queensland government has signed up to the National Safe Schools Framework along with all states and territories and hosts the Bullying No Way website on behalf of all the states and territories. The SSCA program is linked to the framework.”
The action group has urged the DETE to continue working with them about implementing a policy statement and SCCA, highlighting a recent La Trobe University study that showed a greater risk of homophobic abuse, self harm, substance abuse and suicide can result from a lack of policy and departmental support.
“The action group asks the Queensland government to acknowledge their commitment to the National Safe Schools Framework and its offshoot SSCA, promote the SSCA to schools, principals and teachers and assist in its delivery to Queensland,” Berry said.
“[We ask they] demonstrate their commitment by publishing a policy statement to guide schools, principals and teachers in helping LGBTIQ students [and putting] the lives of young people before politics.”