DOWNPOUR did not deter hundreds of LGBTI activists, young people, their families and allies from converging in Melbourne CBD yesterday to rally in support of the Safe Schools Coalition and its program for Australian schools.

The rally was staged in response to the Federal Government’s decision to review the program, after far right Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi called for the program to be scrapped.

Other politicians had also weighed in the program, with former Prime Minister Tony Abbott referring to it as a form of “social engineering” and backbench Coalition MP George Christensen likening it to “paedophile grooming”.

However, according to The Guardian since the furore over the program began last month 32 new schools have reportedly signed up to Safe Schools.

The rally saw speakers take to the stage protesting the opposition to the program, before marching to Bourke St where the sidewalk had been chalked in rainbow colours.

One notable moment came when Equality Minister Martin Foley reasserted the state government’s commitment to ensuring all state government schools sign up to the Safe Schools program by 2018.

Minus18 chief executive Micah Scott said the rally highlighted how many supporters of the program there really were amid the opposing voices.

“I think the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) and conservative politicians have had a very strong voice over the past month, and today sends a really strong message,” he told the Star Observer.

“Obviously we’re striving for an Australia where we don’t need programs that support LGBTI young people but sadly that’s not today.

“LGBTI young people are disproportionately represented in homelessness, mental health issues, and poor academic performance, and because of that we really need programs like Safe Schools.”

Two recent petitions in support of Safe Schools garnered more than 70,000 signatures, in contrast to a petition Bernardi created in opposition that attracted only 9,499 signatures.

Activist Starlady was also at the rally, who said the Safe Schools program created a necessary space for sexual and gender diverse youth.

“It creates a space for young LGBTI people to feel safe, and I think we have to create those spaces so that we have the opportunity to thrive,” she told the Star Observer.

“But when you’re dealing with trauma from physical or verbal abuse it really holds you back.

“How many years have so many of us spent trying to heal from that trauma? I want to see young people that have safe spaces so they can offer everything they have to society.”

Beyond Blue ambassador Jason Ball also spoke at the rally, highlighting the worrying rate of mental health issues facing young LGBTI people.

“They experience significant rates of bullying and harassment which lead to terrible outcomes for their mental health and wellbeing,” he told the Star Observer.

“They’re at a higher rate of attempting suicide, so this is a program that is quite literally saving lives and needs to be defended.

“Instead of showing leadership, and instead of taking a stand, our PM Malcolm Turnbull has been silent.”

The rally was hosted by Equal Love who regularly stage rallies in support of marriage equality.

Crowd gathers for the Safe Schools rally at the State Library in Melbourne CBD yesterday. (PHOTO: Michael Barnett, via Facebook)

Crowd gathers for the Safe Schools rally at the State Library in Melbourne CBD yesterday. (PHOTO: Michael Barnett, via Facebook)

Campaign manager Anthony Wallace said he was appalled the PM had allowed the program to be reviewed.

“The kids that are going through Safe Schools program right now are the pioneers, they are the next generation,” he told the Star Observer.

“Kids that are accepted in school by their peers and in their homes suffer no higher mental illness than kids that are heterosexual or healthy and live normal lives, and it’s saving lives.

“Let these kids be who they want to be in a free and accepting society.”

The results of the government’s review of Safe Schools is due to be released today.

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