Increased funding would see the program rolled out to all government schools across the state, a drastic expansion of the current opt-in model. Private and independent schools would also be encouraged to participate.
Run by La Trobe University’s Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria, Safe Schools Coalition Victoria (SSCV) currently offers training and support around the needs of same-sex attracted and sex and gender diverse (SSASGD) young people to 119 member schools in Victoria with just two staff members delivering the program.
State Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews said the announcement is about recognising the vulnerability of SSASGD young people in schools.
“Young people expressing their identity are too often subject to stress, fear and harassment at school. Every Victorian student is entitled to feel safe in the schoolyard—they have a right to be who they are and they have a right to belong,” he said.
Although the specifics of the program’s expansion have yet to be determined, Victorian Labor are committing just over $1 million over four years to SSCV, on top of government funding the program already receives.
SSCV co-founder and coordinator Roz Ward welcomed the announcement, and told the Star Observer funding would likely support additional staff to deliver the training.
“I think it would be something that would allow us to increase our capacity with staff, because at the moment there’s two of us. That’s not many for 120 schools,” Ward said.
She also acknowledged the challenge of rolling out the program to schools that may not have engaged with SSASGD students at all.
“I think maybe what elements are and are not compulsory would be something open for further discussion. I think really the main thing is that it’s a commitment to making sure that government schools are aware of what their requirements already are,” Ward said.
“There’s a recognition that perhaps some government schools maybe don’t even realise what their obligations are and there is support available. So it’s about trying to close that gap.”
Ward also stressed that despite the Opposition offering increased funding, SSCV has bipartisan support within Victoria.
The Opposition Leader’s adviser on LGBTI equality Martin Foley told the Star Observer concerns over potential resistance to a state-wide roll-out of the program shouldn’t stop it from happening.
“We think it’s a sufficiently mainstream issue now with widespread and deep enough community support to overcome any pockets of resistance. We’ve consulted in regions, inner suburbs, outer suburbs, we’re not aware of overt resistance, and I stress overt, to the idea,” Foley said.
“Yes, there’s always going to be covert resistance…but it’s time to affirm this as standard. We don’t cop racism in any school, why should we cop homophobia or transphobia in any school?”
The announcement continues a focus on LGBTI issues by both the Victorian Government and the Opposition in the lead up to the election scheduled for 29 November, with both parties making major announcements during Melbourne’s Midsumma festival.
Last month Premier Denis Napthine announced legislation to allow people with historical gay sex convictions for crimes no longer considered illegal to have those convictions expunged.