Safe Schools - for same sex attracted studentsRoz Ward reports on a place where every teacher can teach and every student can learn…

We all know that being same sex attracted and being out at school can be a pretty scary prospect. If you’re young and queer it is still hard to tell what the reaction of your friends might be, let alone your teachers.

Research in Australia has consistently shown that schools are one of the least safe places for young people who are same sex attracted. Two national surveys into the health and wellbeing of same sex attracted young people have shown that at least half have been subject to verbal or physical abuse, and that school was the place where most of the abuse took place.

Paula, a 14 year old lesbian told how homophobia affected her at school;

“Just people calling me names and saying I was gross and a freak and calling me gay or dyke. And people have drawn or wrote [sic] things on pieces of paper and left them in my locker. And there’s things written on toilet walls and rumors about me”

Paula, and many other same sex attracted young people found that they had little or no support from their teachers or schools. But others did have more positive stories to tell about how they found teachers to talk to, and how they had managed to find safe supportive spaces within their school.

Even more positive are the 8 schools in Victoria where students or staff have set up groups for same sex attracted students and their friends/allies to meet and work together challenge homophobia. These ‘Gay-Straight Alliance’ groups exist in state schools, independent schools, and Catholic schools, and are a great step forward.

However, levels on homophobic abuse actually increased between 1998 and 2005, particularly in schools (Hillier et al. 2005). Homophobia is also proven to lead to higher rates of self harm and increased drug and alcohol use. All young people are subject to intense pressures as they negotiate their sexual feelings, attractions and identities, particularly if you are not heterosexual. Dropping out of school or underperforming academically is a common result.

The Victorian Minister of Education, Bronwyn Pike, has recognised that supporting sexual diversity improves school performance and the Department of Education have just funded, for the first time ever in Australia, a new ‘Safe Schools Coalition Victoria’. Based on successful models in the US, the coalition will work with schools to train staff in better supporting same sex attracted students, teachers, and parents as a whole school community.

The project is being led by Rainbow Network Victoria in partnership with the Foundation for Young Australians providing training, resources, consultancy and support for schools, teachers, and students who want to be more proactive in tackling homophobia and transphobia. This is a fantastic opportunity to change the culture in our schools and make sure that homophobia is always challenged and same sex attracted students are always supported.

Contact Roz Ward on (03) 9285 5131 or email [email protected] or look at the website to find out more.