SALVATION Army Victoria has withdrawn its support for the Safe Schools program less than two weeks after controversially announcing that it would be throwing its support behind the program.

The Safe Schools program is an anti-bullying program which focuses on supporting LGBTI students, their teachers and families. It is currently being taught in more than 500 schools across the country.

The Salvation Army is one of the world’s biggest Christian welfare organisations and the announcement that it would support the Safe Schools program surprised many people given the Australian branch’s chequered history with LGBTI issues.

At the time of the public support, Salvation Army Victoria chairman Geoff Webb said it was aware of the controversies around the program but after the organisation’s review of the program “none of the negative claims made about the program actively reflect anything in the official ­materials reviewed”.

The Salvation Army recently issued a statement backing down from its support of the program saying it wanted to work with State and Federal governments on implementing general anti-bullying programs.

“After reviewing the material and the approaches by different states, we have come to the conclusion that even though we continue to support the implementation of anti-bullying programs in schools (especially in the area of LGBTIQ bullying which is completely unacceptable and damaging to the lives and education opportunities of young people) that we can’t unconditionally endorse the current program across the nation,” Dr Bruce Redman, the Salvation Army’s national media representative told Star Observer.

“We are now more fully aware of the many variables nationally in the areas of opt-in / opt-out, parental involvement and delivery of the material.”

Redman said the organisation’s work to create a general anti-bullying program for schools was still a work in progress and referred to the Salvation Army’s official statement on the issue:

“The national position released last week reflects the outcomes of further reflection on responding to all students in ‘at risk’ groups, taking into account a broader national approach to Safe Schools,” the statement said.

“We are always exploring how we can best care and acknowledge the significant risk for those students in the LGBTIQ community. Bullying of children in a school situation is never acceptable and has a significant effect on their learning, their social development and their emotional well-being.

“As with the development of any national position, the release guides us not only in our approach to Safe Schools, but also how we continue to engage with others to work for the best outcomes of those ‘at risk’ students.

“There is an opportunity for government and all stakeholders to move toward a solution that addresses the needs of all ‘at risk’ groups, yet we cannot overlook the specific needs related to LGBTIQ where the risk is higher. The priority of caring for students demands our attention.”

Sydney Morning Herald columnist Andrew P Street wrote an open letter to the Salvation Army, in which he said he would no longer donate to the organisation after they backflipped on their support for Safe Schools.

“To argue that an anti-bullying programme is inadequate because it helps the people disproportionately affected by bullying is a bizarre and inconsistent argument, and looks awfully like discrimination against people based on their sexuality and sexual identity,” Street wrote in the letter.

“I urge you to reconsider your position, but in the meantime I will be putting my resources toward organisations that do not put conditions on which children are worthy of love, respect, and protection.”



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