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Gays and Parents Both Have Rights


School should be a safe space for everyone to develop and learn. No ifs. No buts.

Yesterday a media storm developed around the decision of Burwood Girls High School deciding to celebrate ‘Wear it Purple’ day and screening the film ‘Gayby Baby’.

The two are quite distinct issues.

Wear it Purple day is designed by school aged young people predominantly for school aged young people.

Wearing purple is a way for some students to send a message to gay and lesbian students that school is a safe environment for them whether they’re open about their sexuality, or not.

Is it political? Only to the extent that sending a message that schools should be a bully and harassment-free zone is. The purpose is to make sure schools can be a safe place for everyone to learn and develop their full potential – regardless of who they are.

Wearing a colour one day a year probably seems trite. But for the students privately dealing with issues around their sexual orientation or gender identity it is a beacon of hope. Without a word being mentioned it sends a clear message that there are people who support you.

And it is necessary.

La Trobe University has completed three reports on the experiences of young people dealing with issues around sexual orientation or gender identity. The reports are called ‘Writing Themselves In’.

The title of the report highlights the problem. Young people who happen to be gay or lesbian are largely invisible. They’re not covered by traditional surveys. They’ve often not disclosed their situation even to their friends and families because they’re paralysed by fear.

That was born out of the results of the survey. It found 61 per cent of lesbian and gay young people experienced verbal abuse, and 18 per cent suffered physical abuse. The data shows that 80 per cent of this abuse occurred in school. It is not acceptable for young people to be unsafe in this way.

If it is a failure of a school’s leadership to foster a safe space for the kids in school so they can have the chances as everyone else then you are using a pretty absurd benchmark.

Wearing it Purple day isn’t unique. There are other days like ‘Close the Gap’ to focus young Australians minds on the issues around Indigenous disadvantage and ‘Harmony Day’ that promotes racial tolerance.

The other issue is whether the school should show the film. Ultimately it is up to the school. It is not unreasonable that the school show it after hours. That’s a curriculum decision. And students and parents should have a right to choose that their children not participate.

The film seeks to detail the lives of children who grow up in same-sex families. The kids aren’t gay. Their parents are. But sadly other people judge the kids based on who their parents are. That isn’t fair.

The point of the film is to help educate everyone on the experiences of those kids and, yes, to get other kids to think about the human consequences of their behaviour if they treat other kids differently. Educating others to be respectful and decent shouldn’t be controversial.

According to yesterday’s news report a de-identified parent known as Daniel said he was concerned the film was “pushing my view and my daughter’s view (of traditional heterosexual parents) into a minority”.

As Piers Ackerman wrote in his column yesterday the statistics show that is unlikely. Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows 99.9 per cent of Australian families are made up of heterosexual parents.

Regardless, we should all take the fear of Daniel seriously. It is real. His feeling of fear and potential isolation is not unique. It is the same fear and isolation experienced by many gay and lesbian kids in Australian schools 365 days of the year.

It’s clear that all Burwood Girls High School has sought to do is to give those kids and the children of same-sex couples one day of reprieve from that fear so they feel safe and belong.

That is something we should all support all year round, not just on one day.

Published in Daily Telegraph