Members of the LGBTI community in Tasmania told personal stories of classroom discrimination at an anti-Safe Schools meeting convened by Kevin Andrews.

Andrews and Catholic Archbishop Julian Porteous spoke of the supposed dangers of Safe Schools at the meeting, which was held at Hobart Town Hall.

Of the crowd of around 35 attendees, 10 were LGBTI community members and allies there to challenge reactionary dogma about the program.

“I attended the lecture because I believe respectfully engaging in debate is essential to our democracy,” said Sam Hogarth, who attended a Catholic high school until two years ago.

“It was clear Mr Andrews misunderstands the purpose of Safe Schools and is trying to discredit it by wrongly associating it with Marxism.”

“Many of the comments and questions came from young LGBTI people and their family members, including the mother of a transgender child, who wanted to know what the Catholic education system is doing to support and include LGBTI people,” said attendee Olivia Hogarth.

“Their personal stories were very compelling. Unfortunately, there were no satisfactory responses from the speakers.”

Ben Dudman movingly spoke about his struggles as a gay student at a Catholic high school.

“I said I understand they oppose Safe Schools, but I also asked what support are we going to give to LGBTI young people instead?

“I talked about my personal experience. While I appreciated my Catholic education very much, it became a struggle when I felt I had no support from my school and community.

“I prayed constantly throughout the day to be straight, but I realised I wasn’t going to change because sexuality isn’t a choice,” Dudman said.

“The response from the speakers at the meeting was that pastoral care was needed, but I don’t believe this is enough. There needs to be education for teachers and students about how schools can be fully inclusive of LGBTI young people.”

The group held a vigil prior to the event, distributing information about LGBTI inclusion in schools and displaying pro-LGBTI signs.

The Tasmanian government last year launched a program providing resources and funding for LGBTI student support and teacher training, however there is no equivalent program in the state’s Catholic schools.

Australia’s southernmost state now allows LGBTI people to apply to have historical gay convictions expunged following the passage of what has been hailed as the best legislation of its kind in Australia.

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