Letter to Christopher Pyne re LGBTI Exclusion from National Health & Physical Education Curriculum

With the election of the Abbott Liberal/National Government on September 7 2013, Christopher Pyne has been appointed the new Commonwealth Minister for Education.

I have written the below letter to Minister Pyne about the exclusion of LGBTI students and issues (as well as sexual health and HIV) from the draft national Health & Physical Education curriculum. It is my third letter on this subject to the third Commonwealth Education Minister over the past 6 months (with previous letters to Minister Peter Garrett and Minister Bill Shorten).

Given there is little evidence these problems have been addressed by ACARA so far, here’s hoping for third time lucky.

The Hon Christopher Pyne MP

Minister for Education

PO Box 6022

House of Representatives

Parliament House

CANBERRA ACT 2600

Sunday 29 September 2013

Dear Minister

LGBTI INCLUSION IN NATIONAL HEALTH AND PHYSICAL EDUCATION CURRICULUM

Congratulations on your recent appointment as the Commonwealth Minister for Education. As you are aware, in this role you are now the Minister responsible for overseeing the development of the national Health and Physical Education (HPE) curriculum.

A draft national HPE curriculum was released by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) in December 2012. Public consultation on this document closed in April 2013. A redrafted HPE curriculum was released for limited public consultation in July, although submissions on that document have now also closed. This means that final drafting is currently taking place by ACARA, leading to potential agreement between the Commonwealth and the States and Territories in the final three months of 2013.

Unfortunately, the draft HPE curriculum as released by ACARA (and even the redraft released in July) does not guarantee an inclusive and relevant education for all Australian students, because it neglects to address the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) students.

For example, throughout the entire 80-plus page original document the words lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex did not appear even once. The redraft still did not include the words lesbian, gay or bisexual, and, while it did include the terms transgender and intersex (once each), it erroneously included both under the definition gender diverse (intersex is a biological characteristic and not a gender identity). It is impossible for a HPE curriculum to deal with the health needs of these students without being able to name them.

Unfortunately, an introductory paragraph from the original document which at least acknowledged that ‘same-sex attracted and gender diverse students’ (which in any event does not include intersex) exist in all schools across Australia has been amended such that this statement has been omitted. That same paragraph states that the curriculum is designed to allow schools ‘flexibility’ to meet the needs of same-sex attracted and gender diverse students, rather than mandating that all schools must provide an inclusive education. This falls short of the basic requirement that every student, in every classroom, has the right to a comprehensive health education, irrespective of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

There are two other significant problems with the draft HPE curriculum as released. While it now at least refers to both reproductive and sexual health, it fails to provide any detail of how this topic is intended to be taught, and omits any mention of safer sex and/or detailed instruction on condom usage and other vital sexual health messages. In short, it does not include sufficient detail for the health needs of the next generation.

The second additional problem is that the entire document (both original and redraft) does not use the term HIV, or AIDS, once. While new treatments have significantly improved the health outcomes of people living with HIV, an HIV diagnosis remains a serious thing. I think it is irresponsible not to specifically mention this virus, together with the ways that it can be prevented, in a HPE curriculum. The 2012 NSW notifications data released in July 2013, which showed a 24% increase in HIV diagnoses, reinforces the need for HIV education to be included in the curriculum. Please find attached a copy of my submission to the original ACARA public consultation process, which outlines my concerns in these, and other, areas in greater detail.

Most importantly, please find attached a copy of a Change.org petition which I initiated on this topic addressed to one of your predecessors as Commonwealth Minister for Education, the Hon Peter Garrett MP, and his state and territory counterparts. Given these issues were not addressed in the redraft, the burden of rectifying these glaring omissions from the HPE curriculum now falls upon you as the new Commonwealth Minister for Education, as well as your state and territory colleagues.

This petition – calling for the HPE curriculum to be LGBTI inclusive, include sexual health and include HIV – was incredibly well-received, and secured more the 6,000 signatures in just over 3 weeks. This shows the depth of the community’s concerns that LGBTI students are included in the school curriculum, and ensuring that the content is relevant to them.

I would strongly encourage you to also read the reasons which people provided explaining why they signed this petition. They include descriptions of harm that people experienced because they had not received an inclusive education themselves when they were at school. Future students should not experience the same silence and stigma that these people suffered.

The reasons which people provided for signing the petition also demonstrate that this is an issue which matters to people from right across the community – young and old, LGBTI and their family and friends, and general members of the community who understand that all students have a right to be included.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter, my submission to ACARA and the Change.org petition and comments which are attached. Thank you for considering this issue.

Yours sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

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