Culture

Young LGBTQIA+ People Are Sharing Their Personal Stories To Fight The Government On Safe Schools

"Collectively, we can end Cory Bernadi."

[Update, March 19]: Yesterday, after an independent report concluded there were no major problems with the program, Safe Schools was “gutted” by the federal government. Significant portions of the curriculum have been axed and students will now have to gain parental permission before participating at all — a serious problem for those from conservative or intolerant families. There have also been reports that the program will be defunded completely from next year.

Here’s a quick reminder of the people the government just turned their backs on:

Over the past few weeks, the Safe Schools Coalition — a program which teaches Australian kids about sexuality and gender identity — has come under harsh scrutiny from our nation’s politicians.

Though the initiative was previously endorsed by the federal government and is already running in around 500 schools, the Prime Minister last week caved to conservative backlash. After it was deemed a “taxpayer-funded gay manual” in The Australian and faced intense opposition from the Australian Christian Lobby and Senator Cory Bernardi, Malcolm Turnbull announced a full review. Because of this, we’ve recently had to endure the sight of politicians like Nationals MP George Christensen publicly linking the program to fetishism and likening it to “grooming work that a sexual predator might undertake”.

Now the people who aren’t middle-aged straight men are having their say. Over the past three days, dozens of young LGBTQIA+ Australians have been flooding Tumblr and Instagram with stories of their upbringing, coming out, and varying degrees of struggle.

Meet #SafeSchoolsStoryProject:

Created by a group of “dedicated writers, editors, videographers, and photographers”, the project aims to share the real faces of the Safe Schools Coalition beneath the recent spin. “We want to hear your stories!” a post on the website reads. “Collectively we can end Cory Bernadi.”

“This began for me long before Cory Bernardi decided to go after the Safe Schools Coalition, but I was prompted to act last week after hearing George Christensen speak in Parliament,” one of the creators, Ruth Horsfall, told Junkee. “I was just so devastated that there was no real condemnation of such a grossly inflammatory comment, especially from our allegedly ‘socially progressive’ PM.”

“Our goal is to ultimately reach people who might be on the fence about this issue — people who for whatever reason don’t necessarily understand queer issues, and the importance of a program like Safe Schools. Our national dialogues are dominated by old, white, straight, cis men — both in parliament and mainstream media — meaning it is near impossible for LGBTQIA+ voices to even get a look in, let alone the chance to advocate based on their personal experiences.”

“I’m just so tired of opening the paper each day and having to read about the identities of people I love get shit on by people who have every single privilege made available to them in life and instead of helping people, they carry around malice and bitterness that ensures they uphold archaic institutions that literally kill people.”

One of the project’s other founders, Cecilia Devlin, shares this view. “We were feeling really fucking angry about the ‘investigation’ into the Safe Schools Coalition and the subsequent coverage of the issue,” she said. “Seeing the blatant, ugly propaganda splashed all over the internet, a lot of which coming from the ACL, was crushing.” 

“Our goal is to take the microphone back [but] it’s also a way for us to come together as a community, not only to fight against discrimination and ignorance, but to create a safe space where our voices and experiences can be heard loud and clear. I have not met a single queer person who has not experienced bullying or prejudice or abuse or hardship or doubt.”

As most of those currently in need of the Safe Schools program are not necessarily in a position to speak out about it, the people featured in the project are predominantly in their twenties — those who feel they would have benefited from the program had it been running when they were in school.

There’s Cece, who went to an all-girls Catholic school and “watched so many struggle to navigate their sexuality”. “If Safe Schools operated when I was younger, I’m convinced many girls would have felt more able to figure out who they were and what kind of sex they wanted to be having, without so much fear,” she writes. “It would have meant lower rates of bullying, depression, self harm and suicide.”

Then Zayn, a 20-year-old queer transgender person who was never bullied at school because they never came out at all. “I’d seen more bullying of queer people in my school than I saw actual openly queer people … If at 19, an internet connection gave me access to the support I needed to come out, then I can only imagine what being presented with [Safe Schools] at 14 could have done for myself and those around me.”

Also occasional Junkee writer Ana, who didn’t even think about her own sexuality until much later in life. “I was so busy being bullied by teachers and students for being a brown NESB migrant kid, that there wasn’t any time to work on figuring out the queer part of myself.”

Ironically, these stories are almost identical to those featured in the original syllabus material — which is great! The more people that see this kind of thing the better. But, as a rule, if the internet’s proving a better tool to teach kids than a proposed education system, the government’s doing a pretty shitty job.

You can participate in the project by sending a 250-word message, your name/a pseudonym, and a picture (if you want) to [email protected]. Read more stories here.