Culture

Malcolm Turnbull Caves To Cory Bernardi, Plans Inquiry Into Anti-Homophobia School Program

Putting the feelings of conservatives ahead of the mental health of LGBTI kids? Gross, Malcolm.

Over the last few weeks, there have been disquieting rumblings from conservative politicians and media outlets around the Safe Schools Coalition, a government-approved program aiming to combat homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools by teaching kids about sexual and gender identity. Kickstarted by the former Labor government in 2013 and formally introduced by the Abbott government a year later, the Safe Schools program has been adopted by nearly 500 schools across the country.

But despite having the backing of dozens of teacher and education bodies, mental health organisations and advocacy groups, the future of the program is under threat. Earlier this month the front page of the Australian warned against a “taxpayer-funded gay manual in schools”, giving Australian Christian Lobby spokesperson Wendy Francis a platform to warn of the dangers of indoctrinating children with homosexual propaganda.

Conservative Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi has been on the warpath against the program as well, compiling a petition calling on the government to axe funding for what he termed “a social engineering agenda”.

“It’s not about gender, it’s not about sexuality. It makes everyone fall into line with a political agenda,” Bernardi told the ABC. “Our schools should be places of learning, not indoctrination.”

Now it looks like Bernardi may be getting his way. Earlier today Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced an investigation into the program, with Education Minister Simon Birmingham writing to his state and territory counterparts to request parents be consulted before their children are exposed to the program.

The move has been welcomed by the Australian Christian Lobby, but the backlash against Turnbull and the government already appears to dwarf any positive feedback the ACL or Bernardi can provide. With ‘Safe Schools’ trending on Twitter and the Safe Schools Coalition itself releasing a fightin’-words press release shortly after the announcement was made, the reaction from LGBTI rights groups, the Opposition and others has been overwhelmingly negative.

Adding insult to injury, the announcement comes in the same week a group of young transgender people travelled to Parliament House to meet with politicians and lobby for policies that address the high rates of mental illness, bullying and suicide among young trans-people — precisely the problems Safe Schools works so hard to overcome.

It’s not the first time Turnbull’s seemingly abandoned his progressive views on LGBTI issues to placate the conservative elements in his party. Shortly after ascending to the Prime Ministership in September, Turnbull backed down from his long-held preference for a free Parliamentary vote on marriage equality — a move that has seen him come under heavy criticism from marriage equality supporters ever since.

Now it looks as though, forced to choose between LGBTI rights on one hand and keeping the conservatives in his party happy on the other, Turnbull’s caved again.