New Celebrity-Endorsed Safe Schools Alternative Is Facing Some Mega Backlash
An open letter, signed by Troye Sivan and Missy Higgins, among others, wants a new campaign that teaches “tolerance.”
It’s no secret that the Safe Schools Coalition has been met with roadblocks at every conceivable point. What began in Victoria in 2010 as an exciting, progressive, hate-free education program teaching equality and acceptance for LGBTQI school students soon became utilised by the conservative right as a symbol for the ‘gay agenda.’
Liberal MP Damien Tudehope has been particularly vocal about his abhorrence for the program, referring to it as a far-left, Marxist “Trojan horse” in the education system, in an op-ed he wrote for ‘Catholic Weekly’ in February this year. (Other zingers from this article include, “Gender theory is the latest trend in modern education. Once on the fringes of academic life, this radical theory is now being mainstreamed” and “For Safe Schools, there is only one acceptable point of view, where gender is fluid and sexuality should be explored at a young age.” Check it out here if you want to laugh and be depressed at the same time).
The homophobic vitriol spouted by such politicians has had its effect. In 2016, the program was overhauled by the Turnbull government: it was restricted to secondary schools, parents now had to sign consent forms if their children were to be taught it, and all links to external websites on the Safe Schools webpage were to be removed.
Now, the NSW state government has announced that it will stop funding the program by mid-year, and will instead opt for a “replacement, anti-bullying strategy” to be introduced by Term Three. The Tasmanian government says it will act similarly, implementing an anti-bullying program in the place of Safe Schools at the cost of $3 million over the next three years. Meanwhile, Victoria wants to keep it, the Western Australia government was elected on a platform that would not dismiss it, and Queensland apparently has no plans to discontinue it.
As such, vocal Safe Schools advocate and out, gay pop star Troye Sivan, has joined forces with a sizeable cluster of other Australian celebrities, including singer Missy Higgins and actor Guy Pearce, in writing an open letter and petition to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Education Minister Simon Birmigham, to urge that a new, national, anti-bullying, anti-violence program be implemented in Australian schools, to teach students to “tolerate and respect” LGBTQI people.
While almost all of what Sivan says is simply irrefutable (e.g. LGBTQI Australian youths are more likely to commit suicide; The majority of male to male bullying is homophobic and those bullies will often go on to become perpetrators of domestic violence; we can't do nothing), some critics have condemned the choice to use the word “tolerance” over “acceptance,” or some other word that is less conciliatory.
GetUp communications director Sally Rugg has described the letter as “some Kendell Jenner bullshit,” while Patrick Lenton at Junkee has called it “a particularly cowardly slap in the face to both portions of the LGBTIQ community and to the activists who have campaigned for Safe Schools in the first place.´
It seems obvious that the choice to use the word ‘tolerance’ was an attempt to placate more conservative citizens, and to be fair to Sivan and the other signatories involved, it is sometimes really easy after a lot of disappointment and rejection from mainstream politics to just think “Maybe if we just ask for a little less, they’ll say yes.” But that approach, though tempting, is simply not enough. In fact, it’s actually detrimental.
LGBTQI people are not asking for tolerance; they are asking for an education program that teaches equality and acceptance for all.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary says that to tolerate means “to put up with.” We shouldn’t tolerate any policy that espouses that. LGBTQI kids deserve better, and that's what we need to work towards.