I wish that I was past being surprised by how low we continue to sink in Australia; and surely after today I can’t be shocked anymore. But the news that broke while I was at school in a class with 28 students today, about the proposed alternative to Safe Schools – “minus the ideology” hit me like a punch to the gut. Firstly, I have always rejected and continue to reject the idea that any of the 80 odd students I’ve worked closely with over the past year weren’t ready to tackle the content which we are told they are “too young” for. Any 7 year old in a classroom can tell you that all kinds of families are valid; whether they have one parent, two heterosexual parents, only grandparents, foster parents, two mums, two dads, or any other configuration. They know that every kid wants to have fun, have friends and be happy. Diversity is celebrated in schools today. What’s so hard to get? There’s no risk here – it’s the pearl clutching and moral panic over the supposed “rise” of LGBT people demanding things they don’t desrve like EQUALITY that is the danger to Australia’s young people. The kind of society that targets marginalised, at risk groups and makes them a scapegoat is the greatest danger I can imagine and as a teacher is a society I actively oppose in my classroom.
The sparkly new Celebrity Endorsed (c) Safe Schools alternative is a compromise, and some may argue that a compromise is what is called for. But a compromise with the terms dictated exclusively by the ACL who lead the witch hunt against the program? I don’t think that’s a compromise worth having. And frankly, I don’t think a compromise is acceptable at all. There are some things that aren’t worth compromising on, and the happiness and quality of life of vulnerable people – vulnerable CHILDREN – is paramount to me.
When Ben Grubb, Missy Higgins, Troye Sivan, Joel Creasey et al. propose that rather than reaching for acceptance, we should settle for the tolerance of LGBT people in the community, this doesn’t just stall progress, it actively undoes it. Tolerance calls to mind cohabitation without integration; it is reminiscent of ‘separate but equal’ ideologies. Toleration necessarily implies a level of unhappiness – I don’t like it but I’ll tolerate it for not wanting to make a fuss; I’ll tolerate my neighbours loud music because it’s too early to complain; I’ll tolerate my housemate watching fishing shows because I made her watch hours of Pretty Little Liars.
Tolerance was my all girls high school saying “You can use a classroom for a LGBT group but only outside of school hours, and you’re not affiliated with the school”. I’m not satisfied with the LGBT community being tolerated – I want – I demand acceptance, equality, support.
Ben Grubb would rather be tolerated than accepted and fine, that’s his prerogative. I’ll happily tolerate him so long as he stays out of my newsfeed in future. But to speak on behalf of the thousands of LGBT children who are voiceless because of their age; victim to the whims of adults and policy makers who apparently view them as pawns to be traded away for power; is frankly cruel. Has anybody asked any of the students they purport to care about, what they want? As adults, our job in the school is to make students feel safe, comfortable, and supported so they can learn and become the people they carry the potential to be. Crippled by fear – either as students questioning their sexuality/gender, or as students being raised in ignorance to hate without understanding why – children don’t get the opportunity to become these people.
None of the adult LGBT figures who have co-signed the petition being sent straight to the inbox of good ol’ Malc are at risk of being ‘tolerated’ in their community – they are all white, conventionally attractive, and most importantly ADULT. They are celebrity, beloved. They are being held up as the bright future our youth can aspire to. They have nothing to lose, even if Safe Schools was to fold tomorrow. To them, it could be reduced to nothing more than a cause to back and if it were lost, to wax lyrical and mourn the loss. But to children? To the students who stand so much to lose, this program can be life or death.
I know that people don’t understand the Safe Schools programs; that there are those who genuinely are afraid and lash out in hatred at what they call indoctrination, Marxist propaganda. I am wracking my brain to view them with sympathy, but I’m blinded by my fear that the children I teach might grow up to be as hateful; or become those students who have nowhere to turn. I’m not naive, I know that Safe Schools has always had its detractors and probably always will but we have to look long range. The program we had held potential for a more accepting, harmonious, happy society in the long term; and what we need now is the nearest approximation. Today, I have felt betrayed, hurt, shocked. My heart breaks all over again for the children who are victim of adults playing for power. What these children – all children but especially these children – need is to know they are loved and accepted unequivocally. Tolerance is not enough.