A SERIES of community rallies will take place in major cities around Australia this week in protest of the federal government’s plans to downsize the Safe Schools program.

On National Day of Action Aginst Bullying last Friday, federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham released the results of a review of the program and announced a raft of proposed changes so as to effectively downsize it.

Birmingham also confirmed in a press conference that Safe Schools would not receive any federal funding beyond 2017.

The Safe Schools program was designed by the Safe Schools Coalition (SSC) with the aim to protect LGBTI school students from bullying and to educate teachers and school staff about LGBTI issues.

The SSC has confirmed they will continue to work with the federal government despite its program’s uncertain future, while both the Victorian and ACT governments have committed to continue to fund an unchanged program in their state schools with their own budgets.

Critics have highlighted that Birmingham’s position on Safe Schools contradicted the results of the review, conducted by University of Western Australia’s Professor Bill Louden, which supported the Safe Schools Program in its current form.

One of these critics was the Australian Human Rights Commission, which welcomed Louden’s independent review of the Safe Schools program but had some concerns about the government’s proposed changes to it.

“We would support measures to improve and enhance the resources, and to ensure the age-appropriateness of materials for children and young people,” National Children’s Commissioner Megan Mitchell said.

“However, there does need to be careful consideration of the impact of the Government’s proposed parental consent measures on children struggling with sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

“While we recognise the rights of parents to be informed and engaged in their child’s education, it is important to ensure children who have not yet ‘come out’ to their family can still access the program and its resources.”

Professor Gillian Triggs, the president of the human rights commission, agreed.

“Australia has made binding commitments to children and young people under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, including that all children, irrespective of their actual or perceived sexual orientation, have the right to a safe and healthy childhood free from discrimination,” she said.

“The Safe Schools Coalition is helping Australia to meet its obligations, by reducing homophobic and transphobic behaviour, and increasing support for children and young people who identify as LGBTI.

“The Review of the Appropriateness and Efficacy of the Safe Schools Coalition Australia Program Resources has validated this work, finding that all of the official resources are consistent with the intent and objectives of the program.

“Schools should enable teachers, students and parents to access appropriate resources, and offer staff professional development opportunities to support LGBTI students.”

Rainbow Families, a national network of families with same-sex parents, also released a statement criticising last Friday’s announcement.

“We are very disappointed by the decisions made by the Federal Government in relation to the Safe Schools program,” the organisation said.

“All children have the right to feel safe and supported in schools, and to be free from harassment and bullying.

“Safe Schools is an important and valuable program, providing much needed support and resources designed to create safe and inclusive school environments for same sex attracted, intersex and gender diverse students.”

The review into Safe Schools was ordered by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull after he caved into pressure from far-right Coalition backbenchers Cory Bernardi and George Christensen, along with The Australian newspaper and the Australian Christian Lobby — all of whom led a campaign claiming Safe Schools was not appropriate for school students.

The first snap action rally in support of Safe Schools will be held in Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth tonight, followed by Sydney, Adelaide and Geelong on Wednesday night.

Brisbane | King George Square | 5.30pm | March 21
Melbourne | State Library to Flinders Street Station | 6pm | March 21
Perth | Murray Street Mall | 9pm | March 21
Sydney | Sydney Town Hall | 5.30pm | March 23
Adelaide | Parliament House | 6pm | March 23
Geelong | Deakin University | 1.30pm | March 23
Ballarat | Bridge Mall | 12noon | April 2

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