The news that the Safe Schools program will be discontinued after the Federal Government pulled its funding comes as a blow to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex [LGBTI] community, who understand its value to young people.
They understand what it means to young LGBTI children coming to terms with their diverse sexuality or gender, they understand what it means to teachers struggling to find the best way to support kids in their classrooms who are subjected to demeaning bullying; and they understand what it means to us as a society that the program represented a move towards a more progressive and respectful Australia.
I pay tribute to the many people who work so hard to bring greater respect and acceptance to our schools.
I acknowledge the many researchers, educators, activists, students and parents who continue to make our schools safer for everyone.
Bullying and intimidation by anyone, anywhere and for any reason is utterly unacceptable. We must act to stamp out the harassment of young people in schools regardless of whether it is on the basis of appearance, race, religion, disability, class, sexuality or gender. Our classrooms and playgrounds should be where our kids feel safest. They should be positive and nurturing environments in which kids can learn and thrive and develop the social skills that make for harmonious and respectful communities. We know that the reality is far from that.
I will strip back the politics of this debate and refer to the experts.
A 2015 University of South Australia study revealed that 20 per cent of school-aged children regularly experience bullying.
The Centre for Adolescent Health says that kids who experience bullying are three times more likely to have depression.
The Australian Human Rights Commission notes that 74 per cent of the bullying experienced by young LGBTIQ kids occurred at school and 89 per cent of that was in high schools.
The organisation beyondblue notes that LGBTI people, youth in particular, have the highest rates of suicidal thoughts and 50 per cent of gender diverse people will attempt to commit suicide in their lifetime.
A young LGBTI person is 14 times more likely to commit suicide. That is the enormity of the problem that faces us.
The facts are clear and it is time for the politics to end.
We cannot let kids who have diverse sexuality or gender be punching bags. We need a program for our schools that is developed in full consultation with key LGBTIQ, health, education and advocacy groups.
That program must specifically support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex or queer kids and their families.
We must work together to send a clear message that no student should ever be intimidated or bullied at school because of who they are or who they love.