If an anti-bullying program seems like an odd locus for the culture wars, that’s because it really fucking is. The Safe Schools program, which aimed to combat the atrocious and highly disproportionate rates of self-harm and suicide among LGBTIQ youth, has been a fierce point of contention between Australia‘s progressives and conservatives, with the former believing it’s important to address what is a very real issue among kids and the latter under the impression that the program brainwashes kids into becoming trans.
It’s a battle in the culture war that the conservatives seem to be winning. The Turnbull Government announced that they would no longer continue funding the program at a federal level and, while Queensland and WA have announced they will continue funding it, the NSW and Tasmanian governments have said that they will not.
The people against Safe Schools believed that the program was too ‘ideological’ – as an example, former Liberal senator Cory Bernardi described the program as “indoctrination“:
“It’s not about gender, it’s not about sexuality. It makes everyone fall into line with a political agenda. Our schools should be places of learning, not indoctrination.”
The ideology they are referring to is the horrible, dreadful belief that not only a) do trans, non-binary, gay, lesbian, intersex, bisexual and otherwise queer people exist but also b) that that’s normal and fine.
Obviously, they don’t object to the attempt to address bullying, what they objected to is that kids were being taught that the things they were being bullied for were actually healthy and very OK. What they’re asking for instead of Safe Schools is an anti-bullying program that treats the symptoms of homophobic and transphobic bullying while completely ignores the cause.
In an effort to fight these criticisms, some high-profile Aussies helped launch a petition to Malcolm Turnbull to have a new, less “politicised” anti-bullying program put in Safe Schools’ place. In an effort to make it easier to swallow for those that clutched at their pearls over the program’s current incarnation, they are suggesting that the program teaches “tolerance” over acceptance.
While this seems pretty benign in itself, unfortunately it becomes a bit shit in the completely backwards and fucked dialogue about the status of LGBTIQ people in Australia.
Australia’s conservative culture warriors (in this case primarily represented by Lyle Shelton of the ACL, ‘Daily Telegraph‘ columnist Miranda Devine and far-right politicians like Cory Bernardi, George Christensen and Eric Abetz) have been objecting to the program on the grounds that the acceptance of LGBTIQ youth is inherently political, something that this petition plays right into.
If we suggest that being gay or trans is somehow a political choice, then what’s the alternative that we’re also entertaining? That these kids should be told that they are bad and wrong for feeling this way? We know that gender dysphoria is a real, medically documented condition. We know that homosexuality is real. We know that bisexuality is real (I can tell you right now, I definitely know that it is real).
Supporting the idea of these things as political constructs only reinforces the far-right narrative that maybe these things are all made up and might just go away if we teach kids to be ashamed of them. Does this sound paranoid? Well, the ACL’s Lyle Shelton has already jumped on it, co-opting it into his own campaign to have Safe Schools axed:
“Concerns with ‘Safe Schools’ has always centred on the gender fluid ideology it teaches children and it is great to see it being recognised that this is a problem. […] The Premiers of Victoria and Western Australia and the Chief Minister of the ACT should take note of the calls for a non-ideological anti-bullying program and drop their plans to persist with ‘Safe Schools’.”
Although Ben Grubb and the others behind the petition said no such thing about “gender fluid ideology” specifically, it’s being read by Safe Schools opponents as an admission that there is something contentious about being trans, which is, frankly, bullshit.
We don’t need a program that reinforces the bigoted attitudes of those who want to deny queer youth their personhood. A program that accepts the conservative contention that the gender identity or sexuality of a young queer person is not legitimate might still address the symptoms but only works to reinforce the cause of the issue, namely a lack of societal acceptance.
There’s nothing political or ideological or contentious about being LGBTIQ. We are here, we exist, and it’s up to the government to stop pretending that we don’t.