The great and awful Safe School debate might have tapered off (for now), but it was a deeply hurtful moment in our country that has lasting consequences. On one side, you had people arguing for teachers to be helped in supporting their bullied and deeply unhappy LGBTIQ students, and on the other, you had some of the most powerful people in this country deciding that young queer kids were a bit icky.
Well, one of the most prominent people who spoke out against Safe Schools has now apologised for her deeply hurtful stance.
Catherine McGregor, a transgender advocate and former Australian of the Year, last year became a prominent anti-Safe Schools voice after publicly coming out against it.
“I am transgender. And I oppose Safe Schools,” she wrote for the Daily Telegraph in 2016, parlaying that into television appearances and being applauded by the deeply homophobic Marriage Alliance.
Today, she’s stepped back from her views, saying she was wrong to oppose Safe Schools so fiercely and become “ammunition” for people like News Corp columnist Miranda Devine and Australian Christian Lobby head Lyle Shelton.
“In light of the harm I did to many and the friendships that I lost, I deeply regret my actions,” she wrote for Fairfax today. “I wish to apologise to all those I harmed or disappointed. I made a mistake and threw the baby out with the bath water. Fame and public attention came rapidly to me when my transition became news. I lacked the maturity and depth to handle it with the grace and aplomb that those to whom I became a beacon deserved.
“Trans kids are still doing it tough. Mainly because of cruel religious fanatics and their enablers like Devine. The ignorance and hate directed against them is killing them. I hope I am now a better person with more insight and empathy, though I would still query some aspects of that original Safe Schools syllabus, as does even [Victoria premiere] Daniel Andrews.”
She attributed her change of heart to a friendship developed with a trans actor who appears in the play Still Point Turning, a Sydney Theatre Company production about McGregor’s life.
“One young trans man told me how much he resented me for my stance on Safe Schools in 2016 and for my life as a soldier. He found me incomprehensible. A fascist at best. And a tool of the Australian Christian Lobby in its vile war on trans people at worst.”
She explains that her opposition to Safe Schools as being blinded by founder Roz Ward, whom McGregor says she opposes due to Ward having “denigrated the Australian Defence Force” and her affiliation with socialist organisation Socialist Alternative.
“To my discredit, I allowed my resentment of that fanatic to taint my attitude to the merits of the program. I was too rash in dismissing it.”
Several times she expressed disdain for conversations around on Safe Schools on Twitter (“It could easily have escalated into the pointless dialogue of the deaf that dominates Twitter. Hate uncluttered by reason”), and at one point, described the LGBTIQ community as being “fragmented and riven by petty hatreds”.
But overall, her piece is being well received on Twitter.
It’s pretty rare for someone to stand up and say they were wrong about issues around queerness, and even rarer to get one unprompted.
You can read the full apology here.