Every Student. Every School. Submission on Draft NSW Personal Development, Health and Physical Education (PDHPE) K-10 Syllabus

There's no place for discrimination in the classroom-6

The NSW Education Standards Authority is currently undertaking public consultations about its draft Personal Development, Health and Physical Education (PDHPE) K-10 Syllabus.

Unfortunately, as you will see below in my submission, the Syllabus as drafted does not include LGBTI students, or content that is relevant to their needs.

Written submissions are due by Friday 5 May 2017. To find out more about the consultation process, and how you can write your own submission to support an inclusive PDHPE Syllabus, go here.

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Dominique Sidaros

Senior Curriculum Officer, PDHPE

NSW Education Standards Authority

GPO Box 5300

Sydney NSW 2001

dominique.sidaros@nesa.nsw.edu.au

 

Wednesday 3 May 2017

 

Dear Ms Sidaros

 

Submission on Draft NSW PDHPE K-10 Syllabus

 

Thank you for the opportunity to provide a submission about the draft NSW Personal Development, Health and Physical Education (PDHPE) K-10 Syllabus.

 

This is a personal submission, reflecting my interest in this issue as an advocate for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community, and builds on my previous submissions to the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) regarding its development of the national Health & Physical Education (HPE) curriculum.

 

This submission is guided by one principle above all else:

 

Any student, in any school, could be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI). Therefore, the Government has a responsibility to ensure that every student, in every school, is taught a Personal Development, Health and Physical Education (PDHPE) Syllabus that is inclusive of LGBTI students, and features content that is relevant to their needs.

 

This principle applies irrespective of the type of school involved, whether that is government, religious or otherwise independent. Importantly, the best interests of these LGBTI young people also take precedence over the views of other groups, including parents, parliamentarians, religious groups or the media.

 

Unfortunately, the NSW PDHPE K-10 Syllabus as drafted manifestly does not meet the needs of LGBTI students. It is not inclusive of students of diverse sexual orientations and/or gender identities, does not promote the acceptance of all students no matter who they are, and fails to provide adequate sexual health education for students who are not cisgender and/or heterosexual.

 

Disappointingly, some of the few occasions where the draft PDHPE Syllabus does attempt to include relevant content have been made optional (because it follows the words ‘for example’ or ‘eg’), with individual schools and teachers free to teach, or not teach, this content, depending on their own view and not the best interests of the students.

 

In this submission I will make a number of recommendations to improve the PDHPE K-10 Syllabus by making it explicitly inclusive of LGBTI students, and ensuring that they receive information that is relevant to their needs. These recommendations will be organised around the following five main areas:

 

  • Terminology
  • Inclusive Information
  • Acceptance & Anti-Bullying
  • Sexual Health Education
  • Life Skills

 

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Terminology

 

The problems with the draft PDHPE K-10 begin with the terminology that is used, and not used, throughout the document, and particularly in the Glossary on pages 132 to 139.

 

For example, the document includes the words lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer exactly once each – all in the same dot point on page 97, in Stage 5:

 

“analyse how societal norms, stereotypes and expectations influence the way young people think, behave and act in relation to their own and others’ health, safety and wellbeing eg Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer (LGBTIQ) health, people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds.”

 

That’s it. These terms are not used at any other point in the Syllabus, nor are they defined in the Glossary. Worse, because the words above immediately follow the use of ‘eg’, whether LGBTIQ health is mentioned in even this cursory way is entirely dependent on the views of the teacher and/or school involved.

 

As a result, the PDHPE Syllabus as drafted could mean many, if not the majority of, NSW students complete Year 10 having never heard the words lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex used in this Syllabus, let alone having them appropriately explained. This omission is negligent, and will be detrimental to the health of future generations of young people.

 

Recommendation 1: The Glossary must include definitions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex.

 

The almost complete absence of the words lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex from the Syllabus is compounded by the, in most cases, exclusionary definitions provided for the terms that are included in the Glossary.

 

This includes the definition of ‘sexuality’ on page 138:

 

“A central aspect of being human throughout life. It is influenced by an interaction of biological, psychological, social, economic, political, cultural, ethical, legal, historical, religious and spiritual factors. It is experienced and expressed in thoughts, feelings, desires, beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviours, practices, roles and relationships.”

 

In some respects, this is an incredibly ‘inclusive’ definition, acknowledging the wide range of factors that can contribute to an individual’s ‘sexuality’. On the other hand, it is so vague that it doesn’t actually include differences in sexual orientation, from heterosexual (which is not included in the Syllabus either) to bisexual and homosexual or same-sex attracted.

 

To remedy this, an additional definition should be added for ‘sexual orientation’, one that explicitly includes the words heterosexual, lesbian, gay and bisexual (and, for the latter three, is linked to the newly-added definitions of these terms).

 

Recommendation 2: The Glossary should include a definition of ‘sexual orientation’, with links to the terms lesbian, gay and bisexual.

 

In contrast to the omission of sexual orientation, the Glossary does actually include a definition for the term ‘gender identity’ on page 135:

 

“Refers to a person’s sense of being masculine or feminine, both or neither, and how they identify. Gender identity does not necessarily relate to the sex assigned at birth.”

 

There are some positive elements of this definition, including recognition that gender identity can differ from the sex assigned at birth. However, it could also benefit from including additional detail, such as making explicit reference to ‘non-binary’ gender identities (beyond the acknowledgement of “both or neither” in the current definition) although this should be done in close consultation with trans groups.

 

Recommendation 3: The Glossary definition of ‘gender identity’ should be expanded, including use of the term ‘non-binary’ and linking to the term transgender. These changes should be made in consultation with trans groups.

 

The final term in the Glossary that requires updating is ‘diversity’ on page 133:

 

“Differences that exist within a group including age, sex, gender, gender expression, sexuality, ethnicity, ability, body shape and composition, culture, religion, learning styles, socioeconomic background, values and experience. Appreciating, understanding and respecting diversity impacts on an individual’s sense of self and their relations to others. Diversity can be acknowledged through shared activities that may involve building knowledge and awareness.”

 

It should be noted that this is the only time in the entire document that the phrase ‘gender expression’ is used – and it is not defined, meaning it does not automatically include transgender students. Similarly, the use of the word ‘sexuality’ here is based on the existing definition that, as we have seen above, does not actually include lesbian, gay or bisexual students. Finally, the exclusion of the word intersex – and the failure to define ‘sex’, here or elsewhere – means students with intersex variations are not necessarily included either.

 

In short, the current definition of ‘diversity’ in the Glossary appears to be ironic, given it does not include students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex.

 

Recommendation 4: The Glossary definition of diversity should be amended to include references to differences in sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex variations.

 

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Inclusive Information

 

The adoption of the above recommendations would be an important first step towards an inclusive PDHPE K-10 Syllabus. However, they will not have a significant impact unless the content of the Syllabus itself, and specifically the material that must be taught in its respective Stages, is also updated.

 

This means ensuring that the following concepts are introduced, and explained, at appropriate points in the Syllabus:

 

  1. Sexual orientation

 

The concept of sexual orientation, including differences in sexual orientation and the existence of lesbian, gay and bisexual people, should be introduced by stage 3 of the Syllabus (at the latest). Equally importantly, it must not be ‘optional’ to teach the fact that people can be any of heterosexual, lesbian, gay or bisexual, and that each sexual orientation should be accepted.

 

On a practical level, there are several places in the draft Syllabus where this could be achieved, including:

 

  • In Stage 3, on page 66, where it says “examine how identities and behaviours are influenced by people, places and the media, for example: – distinguish different types of relationships and their diversity”, the ‘for example’ should be removed. The words ‘including relationships between people of different sexes, and of the same sex’ should be added after ‘their diversity’.
  • In Stage 3, also on page 66, where it says “investigate resources and strategies to manage change and transition, for example: – understand that individuals experience change associated with puberty at different times, intensity and with different responses eg menstruation, body change emotional change, sexuality”, both the ‘for example’ and ‘eg’ should be removed. The term ‘sexual orientation’ should also be added after sexuality (acknowledging the different between these two concepts, as described above).
  • In Stage 4, on page 78, after it says “investigate the impact of transition and change on identities: – examine the impact of physical, social and emotional change during adolescence on gender, cultural and sexual identity” add a new point ‘- examine and discuss different sexual orientations, including heterosexual, lesbian, gay and bisexual’.
  • In Stage 4, also on page 78, the point “describe how rights and responsibilities contribute to respectful relationships: – recognise types and variety of relationships” should be amended along similar lines to the first dot point above in relation to Stage 3, page 66.
  • In Stage 4, on page 85, where it says “plan and use health practices, behaviours and resources to enhance the health, safety, wellbeing and physical activity participation of their communities: – design and implement health promotion activities targeting preventive health practices relevant to young people and those with diverse backgrounds or circumstances eg diversity of culture, gender or sexuality”, the word ‘eg’ should be removed, and the term ‘sexual orientation’ should replace ‘sexuality’.
  • In Stage 5, on page 92, where it says “evaluate factors that impact on the identities of individuals and groups including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples: – examine how diversity and gender are represented in the media and communities, and investigate the influence these representations have on identities” the term ‘sexual orientation’ should be added after gender (to read ‘diversity, gender and sexual orientation’).

 

  1. Gender identity

 

The concept of gender identity should be introduced earlier than sexual orientation, especially given the recent (welcome) increase in children expressing their own gender identities, rather than identities that are expected of, or even imposed on, them. Ideally, this information would be featured from Stage 1 onwards, and acknowledge the diversity of gender identities that exist.

 

The concept of gender identity could also be added, or expanded upon, at several other points in the Syllabus, including:

 

  • In Stage 2, on page 55, where it says “explore strategies to manage physical, social and emotional change, for example: – discuss physical, social and emotional changes that happen as people get older and how this can impact on how they think and feel about themselves and different situations eg friendships, gender identity, appearance, interests” both ‘for example’ and ‘eg’ should be deleted, so that it is mandatory for all students to learn about gender identity at this point.
  • In Stage 4, on page 85 where it says “plan and use health practices, behaviours and resources to enhance the health, safety, wellbeing and physical activity participation of their communities: – design and implement health promotion activities targeting preventive health practices relevant to young people and those with diverse backgrounds or circumstances eg diversity of culture, gender or sexuality”, in addition to the changes proposed earlier re sexual orientation, the term ‘gender identity’ should be added after ‘gender’.
  • In Stage 5, on page 92, where it says “evaluate factors that impact on the identities of individuals and groups including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples: – examine how diversity and gender are represented in the media and communities, and investigate the influence these representations have on identities”, the term ‘gender identity’ should also be added (so that it reads ‘diversity, gender, gender identity and sexual orientation’).

 

  1. Intersex

 

As with gender identity, the concept of intersex – and the existence of people with intersex variations – should be introduced earlier than sexual orientation. Again, this should ideally be introduced in Stage 1, to allow students to grow up knowing that there aren’t just exclusively ‘male’ and ‘female’ bodies.

 

This recognition of bodily diversity should also be incorporated into the Syllabus in Early Stage 1 on page 35, and Stage 1 on page 45, where it includes references to learning about ‘male and female anatomy’. The discussion of intersex should then be incorporated at similar points to sexual orientation and gender identity throughout the remaining stages of the Syllabus.

 

Doing so would also help to meet one of the goals of the recent Darlington Statement of intersex organisations:

 

“54. We call for the inclusion of accurate and affirmative material on bodily diversity, including intersex variations, in school curricula, including in health and sex education.”[i]

 

  1. Rainbow families

 

The existence of a diversity of families, including children who grow up with same-sex parents, should also be included in the Syllabus. There are already multiple points in the Syllabus where this could be easily added, such as:

 

  • In Stage 1, on page 45, after “describe ways to develop respectful relationships and include others to make them feel they belong, for example: – explore kinship as an important part of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures”, the ‘for example’ should be removed and a new point added “- explore the diversity of family types, including families with mixed-sex parents and families with same-sex parents.”
  • In Stage 2, on pages 54-55, where it says “explore how success, challenge and overcoming adversity strengthens identity, for example: – explore contextual factors that influence the development of personal identity eg family, parents/carers…” both the ‘for example’ and ‘eg’ should be removed, and the term ‘rainbow families’ should be added (so that it reads ‘family including rainbow families[ii]’).
  • In Stage 3, on page 66, where it says “examine how identities and behaviours are influenced by people, places and the media, for example: – distinguish different types of relationships and their diversity” this could also include a reference to diversity in family relationships, including mixed-sex and same-sex parents.

 

Finally, as noted earlier there is already one place where the words lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex already appear in the curriculum – in Stage 5, on page 97. This point should also be made mandatory rather than optional, by removing the ‘eg’ (so that it reads “analyse how societal norms, stereotypes and expectations influence the way young people think, behave and act in relation to their own and others’ health, safety and wellbeing, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) health, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds (CALD)”.

 

Recommendation 5: The content for the Stages of the Syllabus should be amended to ensure all students learn about sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex and rainbow families.

 

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Acceptance & Anti-Bullying

 

One of the welcome features of the draft PDHPE K-10 Syllabus is the significant focus on combating bullying, and on promoting what is described as ‘upstander behaviour’.

 

This includes introducing content around confronting discrimination from Stage 2 onwards – see page 55 (“predict and reflect on how other students might feel in a range of challenging situations and discuss what they can do to support them eg confronting discrimination) and twice on page 57 (“recognise types of abuse and bullying behaviours and identify safe and supportive upstander behaviour” and “share ideas, feelings and opinions about the influence of peers and significant others in relation to bullying, discrimination, eating habits and nutrition, drug use, online safety and physical activity levels”).

 

However, I believe there is a need to ensure this anti-bullying content explicitly addresses anti-LGBTI bullying, given both its widespread prevalence and devastating impact on thousands of LGBTI young people. There are multiple opportunities to make these changes:

 

  • In Stage 3, on pages 69-70, where it says “plan and practise assertive responses, behaviours and actions that protect and promote health, safety and wellbeing, for example: – practise safe and supportive upstander behaviour and discuss how they can prevent and/or stop bullying and other forms of discrimination and harassment” the ‘for example’ should be removed, and the words ‘including racism, sexism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia’ should be added after ‘harassment’.
  • Also in Stage 3, on page 70, where it says “recommend appropriate alternatives and take action to improve health, safety, wellbeing or physical activity issues within the school or wider community, for example: – explore initiatives that challenge stereotypes to support the diversity of individuals and communities eg racism, gender stereotypes, discrimination [and] – model behaviour that reflects sensitivity to the needs, rights and feelings of others and explore ways to create safe and inclusive schools for minority groups eg challenge discrimination, peer support” the ‘for example’ and two instances of ‘eg’ should be removed to ensure this content is mandatory. Further, either ‘anti-LGBTI prejudice’ or ‘homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia’ should be added to ‘racism, gender stereotypes, discrimination’.
  • In Stage 4, on pages 79-80, where it says “discuss the impact of power in relationships and identify and develop skills to challenge the abuse of power: – discuss the influence of family, media and peer attitudes to power and explore how these may lead to an abuse of power in relationships eg bullying, homophobia, intolerance, family and domestic violence [and] – recognise forms of bullying, harassment, abuse, discrimination and violence and how they impact health and wellbeing”. It should be noted that this is the only time ‘homophobia’ is mentioned in the entire document and, unfortunately, it is after an ‘eg’, meaning it is entirely optional for teachers and schools to teach. The ‘eg’ should be deleted, and either ‘homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia’ or ‘anti-LGBTI prejudice’ should be added.
  • In Stage 4, on page 83, where it says “investigate the benefits to individuals and communities of valuing diversity and promoting inclusivity: – explore their own and others’ values and beliefs towards issues of racism, discrimination, sexuality and investigate the impact of contextual factors on young people, particularly those from diverse backgrounds, including Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Peoples [and] – describe how pro-social behaviour, respecting diversity, challenging racism and discrimination are inclusive ways of supporting and enhancing individual; and community health and wellbeing”. Based on the existing definitions of ‘sexuality’ and ‘diversity’ in the Glossary, these points currently do not include promoting LGBTI inclusivity. Even if those definitions are updated in line with the above recommendations, these points should still be made more explicit, with the first amended to read ‘racism, sexism, anti-LGBTI discrimination’ and the second to read ‘challenging racism, sexism, anti-LGBTI prejudice and discrimination’.
  • In Stage 4, also on page 83, where it says “plan and implement inclusive strategies to promote health and wellbeing and to connect with their communities: – describe the skills, strengths and strategies required to contribute to inclusive communities and implement strategies to challenge racist and prejudicial views of diversity within the community”, it should be amended to read ‘challenge, racist, sexist, anti-LGBTI and prejudicial views’.
  • In Stage 5, on page 93, where it says “investigate how the balance of power influences the nature of relationships and propose actions to build and maintain relationships that are respectful: – discuss discrimination as an abuse of power and evaluate legislation, policies and practices that address discrimination eg past policies affecting Aboriginal Peoples such as segregation and Aboriginal Self Determination” the words ‘, or the Sex Discrimination Act’ could be added.

 

Recommendation 6: The content for the Stages of the Syllabus should explicitly include discussion of anti-LGBTI bullying and discrimination and how to address it, beyond the single – optional – reference to homophobia that currently exists.

 

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Sexual Health Education

 

Another positive feature of the draft PDHPE K-10 Syllabus is the inclusive definition of ‘sexual health’ in the Glossary:

 

“A state of physical, mental and social wellbeing in relation to sexuality. It requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as a possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.”

 

The explicit acknowledgement of ‘pleasurable and safe sexual experiences’, and the need for sexual experiences to be ‘free of coercion’, is particularly welcome.

 

However, adopting an inclusive definition doesn’t mean much when the only time the phrase sexual health actually appears in the Syllabus prior to Stage 5 (which would generally be students in Years 9 and 10), is one brief reference in Stage 4 (covering students in Years 7 and 8), on page 84:

 

“explore the relationship between various health, safety and physical activity issues affecting young people and assess the impact it has on the health, safety and wellbeing of the community:

  • examine the impact that body image and personal identity have on young people’s mental health, drug use, sexual health and participation in physical activity.”

 

This isn’t explicitly about teaching the fundamentals of sexual health, merely its connection to, and interrelationship with, ‘body image and personal identity’ (which, while important, is not sufficient in and of itself).

 

Similarly, there is only one reference in the general curriculum to ‘sexually transmissible infections’, also in Stage 4, on page 85:

 

“plan and use health practices, behaviours and resources to enhance the health, safety, wellbeing and physical activity participation of their communities:

  • identify and apply preventive health practices and behaviours that assist in protection against disease eg blood borne viruses, sexually transmissible infections”.

 

Note that the reference to BBVs and STIs here also follows an ‘eg’, meaning that the decision whether to teach students about STIs (such as HIV) is discretionary. That is simply not good enough in 2017 – all students should receive information about STIs to empower them to control their own health.

 

Recommendation 7: Stage 4 of the Syllabus should include comprehensive education about sexual health, including mandatory information about sexually transmissible infections.

 

There is more information around sexual health in Stage 5 of the draft Syllabus, although even it is problematic. On page 95, it states:

 

“evaluate strategies and actions that aim to enhance health, safety, wellbeing and physical activity levels and plan to promote these in the school and community:

  • explore methods of contraception and evaluate the extent to which safe sexual health practices allow them to take responsibility for managing their own sexual health”

 

Given ‘contraception’ is generally understood to mean prevention of pregnancy, this content is therefore skewed towards vagina-penis sexual intercourse. To address the fact there are a range of other sexual practices (not just for LGBTI students, but also for cisgender heterosexual students too), this point should be amended to explicitly discuss sexual health and STI-prevention with respect to a range of practices. To not do so means denying the stated aim for all students “to take responsibility for managing their own sexual health.”

 

Recommendation 8: The Syllabus should move beyond discussion of ‘methods of contraception’ to discuss sexual health education around a range of different practices so that all students can ‘take responsibility for managing their own sexual health’.

 

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Life Skills

 

The students who are enrolled in the Years 7-10 Life Skills version of the PDHPE Syllabus can (obviously) also be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex, and therefore also have the right for LGBTI content to be included throughout.

 

There are a variety of points at which the draft Life Skills content should be amended to achieve this important goal, including:

 

  • On page 113, where it says “What personal characteristics make us unique? Students recognise personal characteristics that are the same and/or different as others, for example: – gender [and] – diversity” the terms ‘gender identity’, ‘intersex’ and ‘sexual orientation’ should also be added.
  • Also on page 113, where it says “What changes do adolescents go through? Recognise visible features that undergo change during adolescence, for example: – female and male body changes” it should acknowledge the existence of intersex bodies.
  • On page 114, where it says “recognise changes in relationships that occur in adolescence, for example: – social and emotional relationships with other genders” it should be reworded to say “social and emotional relationships with people of the same or different genders”.
  • Also on page 114, where it says “understand that physical changes are a normal part of adolescence, for example: – identify the stages of the reproductive process, eg menstrual cycle, sperm production, conception, pregnancy, childbirth” it should also include discussion of sexual health, and sexual practices, that are not ‘reproductive’ in nature.
  • On page 115, where it says “recognise factors that impact negatively on relationships, for example: – bullying, coercion, harassment, violence, threats, bribes [and] –sexism [and] –racism” it should also include either ‘anti-LGBTI prejudice’ or ‘homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia’.
  • Finally, on page 122, where it says “identify matters associated with sexuality, for example: privacy and ethical behaviour – responsibilities associated with sexual activity for themselves and others – safe sex – contraception – fertility and pregnancy – sexually transmitted infections – sexual behaviours and expectations – appropriate sources for advice on and assistance – potential outcomes of sexual activity” once again it should explicitly include discussion of sexual health, and sexual practices, that are not ‘reproductive’ in nature.

 

Recommendation 9: The Years 7-10 Life Skills Syllabus should be amended to explicitly include LGBTI students and content that is relevant to their needs.

 

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Thank you for taking this submission into consideration as the NSW Education Standards Authority finalises the PDHPE K-10 Syllabus. Please do not hesitate to contact me at the details below should you wish to clarify any of the information provided, or to seek additional information.

 

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

 

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Update 25 January 2019:

The final NSW PDHPE K-10 Syllabus was released in April 2018, and is being progressively rolled out from the start of the 2019 school year. Unfortunately, as this post – Invisibility in the Curriculum – makes clear, despite some minor improvements, the syllabus continues to ignore LGBTI students and content that is relevant to their needs, including sexual health education. This situation is a scandal, but one that seems to be largely ignored.

 

Footnotes:

[i] For more on the Darlington Statement, see the OII Australia website: https://oii.org.au/darlington-statement/

[ii] If the term ‘rainbow families’ is used at this point, it should also be defined in the Glossary.

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Back to School, Back to Discrimination for LGBT Students and Teachers

Every year, millions of students, and hundreds of thousands of teachers and other staff, start at Australian schools excited by the possibilities of the following 12 months – of the opportunities to learn (or teach) about the world around them, and about themselves.

 

However, for far too many students – and teachers and other staff – in schools around the country it will be another year in which they have to worry about being discriminated against, lawfully, simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

 

That’s because, under the anti-discrimination laws of five out of nine Australian jurisdictions, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students can legally be treated adversely by religious schools[i]. Six jurisdictions allow discrimination against LGBT teachers and other staff – plus one state which has a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ approach.

 

To find out what the law is in your jurisdiction, see below. And to find out just how many students, teachers and other staff are potentially affected by these discriminatory provisions, please read to the end of the article.

 

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Commonwealth

 

While LGBT students, teachers and other staff are protected against discrimination under the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984, these protections are fundamentally undermined by the inclusion of two excessively broad exceptions for religious organisations.

 

The first is contained in sub-section 37(1)(d), which states that:

 

“Nothing in Division 1 or 2 affects… any other act or practice of a body established for religious purposes, being an act or practice that conforms to the doctrines, tenets or beliefs of that religion or is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion.”

 

It is highly likely that this provision allows religious schools to discriminate against LGBT students, teachers and staff. But, just in case there was any doubt, the Act includes an additional ‘right to discriminate’ just for religious schools:

 

“Section 38

Educational institutions established for religious purposes

(1) Nothing in paragraph 14(1)(a) or (b) or (14)(2)(c) renders it unlawful for a person to discriminate against another person on the ground of the other person’s sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or relationship status or pregnancy in connection with employment as a member of the staff of an educational institution that is conducted in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of a particular religion or creed, if the first-mentioned person so discriminates in good faith in order to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion or creed.”

 

Sub-section 38(2) establishes a similar ‘right to discriminate’ against contract workers, while sub-section 38(3) reiterates the ability of religious schools to discriminate against LGBT students.

 

In short, instead of protecting LGBT students and teachers at religious schools against discrimination, the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 authorises their mistreatment (a pattern that, as we shall below, is sadly replicated in most states and territories).

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT students under Commonwealth law? Yes.

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT teachers and other staff under Commonwealth law? Yes.

 

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New South Wales

 

As I have written elsewhere[ii], despite being the first Australian jurisdiction to introduce gay anti-discrimination laws, NSW now has perhaps the worst LGBT anti-discrimination legislation in the country. A key reason for that is the extremely generous exceptions provided to religious (and other non-government) schools.

 

As with the Commonwealth, it is likely NSW religious schools have the ‘right to discriminate’ against LGBT students, teachers and other staff[iii] as part of the general religious exception provided by sub-section 56(d):

 

“Nothing in this Act affects… any other act or practice of a body established to propagate religion that conforms to the doctrines of that religion or is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of the adherents of that religion.”

 

And, just like the Commonwealth, there is also a specific exception applying only to schools – however, in what is a unique approach, the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 actually allows all non-government schools to discriminate against students on the grounds of homosexuality or transgender status, even where they are not religious:

 

“Section 49ZO Education

(1) It is unlawful for an educational authority to discriminate against a person on the ground of homosexuality:

(a) by refusing or failing to accept the person’s application for admission as a student, or

(b) in the terms on which it is prepared to admit the person as a student.

(2) It is unlawful for an educational authority to discriminate against a student on the ground of homosexuality:

(a) by denying the student access, or limiting the student’s access, to any benefit provided by the educational authority, or

(b) by expelling the student or subjecting the student to any other detriment.

(3) Nothing in this section applies to or in respect of a private educational authority” (emphasis added).

 

Section 38K establishes a similar right for NSW non-government schools (religious and not-religious alike) to discriminate against transgender students.

 

There are also equivalent sections regarding lesbian, gay and transgender teachers and other staff at non-government schools (religious and not-religious alike): section 49ZH and 38C respectively.

 

Therefore, all NSW non-government schools are able to fire (or not hire) LGT teachers and other staff under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977, and to refuse to admit, treat adversely and even expel students merely for being lesbian, gay or transgender. That is, in a word, appalling.

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT students under NSW law? Yes – and that includes non-government schools that are not religious, too.

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT teachers and other staff under NSW law? Yes, including non-government schools that are not religious.

 

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Victoria

 

Victoria is another jurisdiction that has adopted the ‘two-fold’ approach to permitting discrimination by religious schools against LGBT students, teachers and other staff.

 

First up, sub-section 82(2) of the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act 2010 states that:

 

“Nothing in Part 4 applies to anything done on the basis of a person’s religious belief or activity, sex, sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, marital status, parental status or gender identity by a religious body that-

(a) conforms with the doctrines, beliefs or principles of the religion; or

(b) is reasonably necessary to avoid injury to the religious sensitivities of adherents of the religion.”

 

This is then supplemented by section 83, which is entirely concerned with providing religious schools with an explicit ‘right to discriminate’:

 

Religious schools

(1) This section applies to a person or body, including a religious body, that establishes, directs, controls, administers or is an educational institution that is, or is to be, conducted in accordance with religious doctrines, beliefs or principles.

(2) Nothing in Part 4 applies to anything done on the basis of a person’s religious belief or activity, sex, sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, marital status, parental status or gender identity by a person or body to which this section applies in the course of establishing, directing, controlling or administering the educational institution that-

(a) conforms with the doctrines, beliefs or principles of the religion; or

(b) is reasonably necessary to avoid injury to the religious sensitivities of adherents of the religion.”

 

In 2016, there were two attempts to limit the impact of these sections – the first, by the Andrews Labor Government, would have compelled religious schools (and other religious employers) to demonstrate that discrimination against LGBT employees was an ‘inherent requirement’ of the respective position[iv]. The second, by the Victorian Greens, would have prohibited discrimination against LGBT students.

 

Unfortunately, both Bills were voted down by the Upper House (and specifically by Liberal and National Party MLCs) leaving LGBT students, teachers and other staff in Victorian religious schools exposed to mistreatment solely because of who they are.

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT students under Victorian law? Yes.

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT teachers and other staff under Victorian law? Yes.

 

**********

 

Queensland

 

It may be surprising for some (especially given they only equalised the age of consent in 2016), but Queensland is one of four jurisdictions that does not provide carte blanche for religious schools to discriminate against LGBT students, teachers and other staff.

 

That is because they have adopted a more limited version of the broad general exception enacted elsewhere. Section 109 of the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 provides:

 

Religious bodies

(1) The Act does not apply in relation to-

(d) unless section 90 (Accommodation with religious purposes) applies – an act by a body established for religious purposes if the act is –

(i) in accordance with the doctrine of the religion concerned; and

(ii) necessary to avoid offending the religious sensitivities of people of the religion.

(2) An exemption under subsection (1)(d) does not apply in the work or work-related area or in the education area (emphasis added).

 

LGBT students are protected from discrimination as a result of this provision.

 

Prima facie, it would appear that LGBT teachers and other staff should be too – after all, sub-section (2) says the religious exception does not apply to work.

 

However, there is an additional section of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 that does authorise discrimination against LGBT employees of religious schools in certain circumstances. Section 25 states:

 

“25 Genuine occupational requirements

(1) A person may impose genuine occupational requirements for a position.

Example 4- employing persons of a particular religion to teach in a school established for students of the particular religion

(2) Subsection (3) applies in relation to-

(a) work for an educational institution (an employer) under the direction or control of a body established for religious purposes…

(3) It is not unlawful for an employer to discriminate with respect to a matter that is otherwise prohibited under section 14 or 15, in a way that is not unreasonable, against a person if-

(a) the person openly acts in a way that the person knows or ought reasonably to know is contrary to the employer’s religious beliefs-

(i) during a selection process; or

(ii) in the course of the person’s work; or

(iii) in doing something connected with the person’s work; and

Example for paragraph (a)- A staff member openly acts in a way contrary to a requirement imposed by the staff member’s employer in his or her contract of employment, that the staff member abstain from acting in a way openly contrary to the employer’s religious beliefs in the course of, or in connection with the staff member’s employment.

(b) it is a genuine occupational requirement of the employer that the person, in the course of, or in connection with, the person’s work, act in a way consistent with the employer’s religious beliefs.

(4) Subsection (3) does not authorise the seeking of information contrary to section 124.

(5) For subsection (3), whether the discrimination is not unreasonable depends on all the circumstances of the case, including, for example, the following-

(a) whether the action taken or proposed to be taken by the employer is harsh or unjust or disproportionate to the person’s actions;

(b) the consequences for both the person and the employer should the discrimination happen or not happen.”

 

Summarising the above, religious schools in Queensland can discriminate against LGBT teachers and other staff if:

  • the employee acts in a way contrary to the employer’s religious beliefs during the selection process, at work or in connection with work, and
  • the employer can show it was a genuine occupational requirement that the employee act in accordance with those religious beliefs.

 

But, if the teacher or staff member does not act in such a way (which presumably includes the mere acknowledgement of having a same-sex partner, for example), they cannot be punished simply for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Further, the religious school cannot ask whether the employee is LGBT.

 

In short, Queensland allows a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ approach to LGBT teachers and staff in religious schools – but they can still be fired for being ‘out’ at work. Of course, more than two decades of US military policy demonstrated the folly of DADT – and it says a lot about the terrible state of Australian LGBT anti-discrimination laws that the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 remains the second-best law in this particular area.

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT students under Queensland law? No.

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT teachers and other staff under Queensland law? Yes, in some circumstances (including where it is a genuine occupational requirement, and the employee is ‘out’ at work). No, when the employee is not ‘out’ – and a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy applies.

 

**********

 

Western Australia

 

The Western Australian Equal Opportunity Act 1984 is far less complex – and far less positive – in terms of its approach to LGBT anti-discrimination protections for students, teachers and staff in religious schools.

 

Just like the Commonwealth, NSW and Victoria, Western Australia provides ‘dual’ exceptions to religious schools granting them the ‘right to discriminate’. Sub-section 72(d) notes:

 

Religious bodies

Nothing in this Act affects… any other act or practice of a body established for religious purposes, being an act or practice that conforms to the doctrines, tenets or beliefs of that religion or is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion.”

 

Section 73 then sets out specific, additional exceptions with respect to teachers:

 

(1) “Nothing in this Act renders it unlawful for a person to discriminate against another person on any one or more of the grounds of discrimination referred to in this Act in connection with employment as a member of the staff of an educational institution that is conducted in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of a particular religion or creed, if the first-mentioned person so discriminates in good faith in order to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion or creed”

 

And students:

 

(3) “Nothing in this Act renders it unlawful for a person to discriminate against another person on any one or more of the grounds of discrimination referred to in this Act, other than the grounds of race, impairment or age, in connection with the provision of education or training by an educational institution that is conducted in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of a particular religion or creed, if the first-mentioned person so discriminates in good faith in favour of adherents of that religion or creed generally, but not in a manner that discriminates against a particular class or group of persons who are not adherents of that religion or creed.”

 

Prima facie, that means Western Australian religious schools can only discriminate against students on the basis of their religion, not their sexual orientation or gender identity. However, unlike Queensland’s section 109(2), there is no equivalent limitation on the general religious exception in WA, meaning religious schools still (probably) retain the right to discriminate against LGBT students under section 72(d).

 

Overall, then, Western Australia provides multiple grounds for religious schools to discriminate against LGBT teachers and other staff, and likely one ground to discriminate against LGBT students.

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT students under Western Australian law? Yes (probably).

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT teachers and other staff under Western Australian law? Yes.

 

**********

 

South Australia

 

The Equal Opportunity Act 1984 makes it clear that religious schools in South Australia can discriminate against LGBT teachers and other staff, probably under the general religious exception in sub-sections 50(ba) and (c), and definitely as a result of specific exceptions in section 34.

 

However, the latter section imposes some strict procedural requirements if a religious school wishes to utilise such exceptions:

 

(3)         This Division does not apply to discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status in relation to employment or engagement for the purposes of an educational institution if— 
(a)         the educational institution is administered in accordance with the precepts of a particular religion and the discrimination is founded on the precepts of that religion; and (b)         the educational authority administering the institution has a written policy stating its position in relation to the matter; and 
(c)         a copy of the policy is given to a person who is to be interviewed for or offered employment with the authority or a teacher who is to be offered engagement as a contractor by the authority; and 
(d)         a copy of the policy is provided on request, free of charge— 
(i)         to employees and contractors and prospective employees and contractors of the authority to whom it relates or may relate; and 
(ii)         to students, prospective students and parents and guardians of students and prospective students of the institution; and 
(iii)         to other members of the public.

 

The situation for LGBT students is slightly less clear-cut, with sub-sections 37(1) and (2) providing that:

 

Discrimination by educational authorities

(1) It is unlawful for an educational authority to discriminate against a person on the ground of sex, sexual orientation or gender identity-

(a) by refusing or failing to accept an application for admission as a student; or

(b) in the terms or conditions on which it offers to admit the person as a student.

(2) It is unlawful for an educational authority to discriminate against a student on the ground of sex, sexual orientation or gender identity-

(a) in the terms or conditions on which it provides the student with training or education; or

(b) by denying or limiting access to a benefit provided by the authority; or

(c) by expelling the student; or

(d) by subjecting the student to other detriment.”[v]

 

These protections, for LGBT students, appear to be quite strong – however, it should be remembered that the general religious exceptions featured in section 50 still apply to this situation. And again, unlike Queensland’s section 109(2), there is no equivalent limitation on the Act’s general religious exceptions, meaning religious schools still (probably) retain the right to discriminate against LGBT students under sub-sections 50(ba) and (c).

 

This also appears to be the view of the Equal Opportunity Commission, as expressed in its submissions to the Law Reform Institute review of LGBTI laws in South Australia[vi].

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT students under South Australian law? Yes (probably).

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT teachers and other staff under South Australian law? Yes, although procedural requirements apply.

 

**********

 

Tasmania

 

Despite being the last Australian jurisdiction to decriminalise homosexuality, Tasmania was the first – and, to date, remains one of only two – states or territories to ensure that all LGBT students, teachers and staff cannot be discriminated against solely because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

 

That is because the religious exceptions offered under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 are narrowly drafted. In terms of employment, section 51 states that:

 

Employment based on religion

(1) A person may discriminate against another person on the ground of religious belief or affiliation or religious activity in relation to employment if the participation of the person in the observance or practice of a particular religion is a genuine occupational qualification or requirement in relation to the employment.

(2) A person may discriminate against another person on the ground of religious belief or affiliation or religious activity in relation to employment in an educational institution that is or is to be conducted in accordance with the tenets, beliefs, teachings, principles or practices of a particular religion if the discrimination is in order to enable, or better enable, the educational institution to be conducted in accordance with those tenets, beliefs, teachings, principles or practices.”

 

In short, a Tasmanian religious school can discriminate against a teacher or staff member because of their religion – but there is no equivalent right to discriminate on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

 

The protection in relation to LGBT students is even more unambiguous. Section 51A provides:

 

Admission of person as student based on religion

(1) A person may discriminate against another person on the ground of religious belief or affiliation or religious activity in relation to admission of that other person as a student to an educational institution that is or is to be conducted in accordance with the tenets, beliefs, teachings, principles or practices of a particular religion.

(2) Subsection (1) does not apply to a person who is enrolled as a student at the educational institution referred to in that subsection.

(3) Subsection (1) does not permit discrimination on any grounds referred to in section 16 other than those specified in that subsection.

(4) A person may, on a ground specified in subsection (1), discriminate against another person in relation to the admission of the other person as a student to an educational institution, if the educational institution’s policy for the admission of students demonstrates that the criteria for admission relates to the religious belief or affiliation, or religious activity, of the other person, the other person’s parents of the other person’s grandparents.”

 

Not only does this section only apply to admission (and therefore does not authorise discrimination once a student is enrolled, including potential expulsion), it also only applies to the grounds of religious belief or affiliation, and religious activity.

 

Once again, a religious school can only discriminate against students on the basis of their (or their parents’/grandparents’) religion – they cannot legally mistreat students on the basis of their, or their family’s, sexual orientation or gender identity. In this way, the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 provides a model to which other Australian jurisdictions should aspire (and which the ACT Government has recently emulated).

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT students under Tasmanian law? No.

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT teachers and other staff under Tasmanian law? No.

 

**********

 

Australian Capital Territory

 

The ACT Government recently passed the Discrimination Amendment Act 2018 which has successfully adopted the best-practice approach of Tasmania in this area.

 

The previous specific exceptions for religious schools (in section 33) were abolished, and the general religious exception (in section 32) has been limited, and now does not allow religious schools to discriminate against students, teachers and other staff on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

 

Like Tasmania, they do allow schools to preference students and teachers in admission and employment, respectively – although have gone even further than Tasmania by requiring schools that want to discriminate in this way to publish their policies.

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT students under ACT law? No.

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT teachers and other staff under ACT law? No.

 

**********

 

Northern Territory

 

The Northern Territory allows discrimination by religious schools against LGBT teachers and other staff. Arguably, it does so only once (instead of providing two separate ‘rights to discriminate’, like the Commonwealth and some other states) – although once is still one time too many.

 

While the ‘general religious exception’ in the NT’s Anti-Discrimination Act is comparatively constrained (covering “an act by a body established for religious purposes if the act is done as part of any religious observance or practice”: sub-section 51(d)), there is an additional special ‘right to discriminate’ against LGBT teachers and staff. Section 37A provides that:

 

“An educational authority that operates or proposes to operate an educational institution in accordance with the doctrine of a particular religion may discriminate against a person in the area of work in the institution if the discrimination:

(a) is on the grounds of:

(i) religious belief or activity; or

(ii) sexuality; and

(b) is in good faith to avoid offending the religious sensitivities of people of the particular religion.”

 

However, there is no equivalent right to discriminate against LGBT students – indeed, like the current Tasmanian legislation, the NT only allows religious schools to discriminate on the basis of the student’s faith (sub-section 30(2) provides that “[a]n educational authority that operates, or proposes to operate, an educational institution in accordance with the doctrine of a particular religion may exclude applicants who are not of that religion.”)

 

Combined with the more limited general religious exception outlined above, that means NT religious schools probably cannot discriminate against LGBT students. Consequently, the Northern Territory actually has the fourth-best LGBT anti-discrimination laws in Australia on this issue.

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT students under Northern Territory law? No.

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT teachers and other staff under Northern Territory law? Yes.

 

**********

 

Summary

 

In conclusion, then, far too many LGBT students, teachers and other staff members will start the 2019 school year in a vulnerable position – they can be lawfully discriminated against simply because of who they are.

 

In terms of students, such discrimination is permitted in religious schools under the anti-discrimination laws of:

  • Commonwealth
  • New South Wales
  • Victoria
  • Western Australia (probably), and
  • South Australia (probably).

 

Only Queensland, Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory have chosen to protect students in religious schools from homophobic, biphobic and transphobic discrimination.

 

As we have seen, the situation for teachers and other staff members is even worse – they can be legally mistreated under anti-discrimination legislation in:

  • Commonwealth
  • New South Wales
  • Victoria
  • Western Australia
  • South Australia (although procedural requirements apply), and
  • Northern Territory.

 

In Queensland, LGBT teachers at religious schools can be discriminated against if they are ‘out’ – otherwise a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy applies. Only Tasmania and the ACT refuse to provide religious schools with an explicit ‘right to discriminate’ against LGBT teachers and other staff.

 

Up to this point, this discussion has been very ‘legal’, and somewhat technical. But it is important to remember that the impact of these religious exceptions is significant in practical terms.

 

Based on data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics[vii], in 2015 there were more than 1 million students enrolled at Australian schools where lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students could be discriminated against simply because of who they are.

 

In fact, the exact number was 1,007,864[viii]. With the number of students in non-government schools rising by 1.4% per year, this has likely risen to above 1,040,000 at the start of 2019 (despite recent changes meaning LGBT students in Canberra are now protected).

 

The number of teachers and other staff that can be lawfully discriminated against is just as confronting.

 

In 2015, 110,073.8 Full Time Equivalent positions[ix] were at religious schools that could legally discriminate against teachers and other staff members who were lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

 

An additional 28,944.1 FTE positions – employees at religious schools in Queensland – could be adversely treated if they were ‘out’ at work.

 

In fact, of the 141,806.1 FTE positions at religious schools nationally, only the 2,788.2 FTE positions in Tasmania were fully protected against discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity – or less than 2% of teachers and staff members at religious schools nationally. Although, from the 2019 school year, they will be joined by teachers and other staff at religious schools in the ACT (2,690.8 FTE positions in 2015).

 

The numbers of students, teachers and staff who can legally be discriminated against if they happen to be LGBT are almost too large to comprehend. They remain so even when broken down by jurisdiction.

 

For example, in my (adopted) home state of NSW, 409,728 students[x] attend, and 41,487.8 FTE[xi] teachers and other staff members are employed at, religious schools that can practice this (abhorrent) discrimination.

 

Of course, not all religious schools engage in the mistreatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, teachers and staff. I’m sure there are many that refuse to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and aspire to be genuinely inclusive learning environments.

 

But the fact remains that these schools retain the legal ability to exclude LGBT students and employees simply because of who they are – and, in my opinion at least, I do not believe they can be fully inclusive until this ‘right to discriminate’ is removed.

 

And so, with the school year commencing, and parliamentary sittings set to resume around the country shortly, I would argue that Commonwealth, state and territory MPs (outside Tasmania and the ACT) should educate themselves about this unacceptable discrimination.

 

If they do, they might finally take action to ensure that all students can learn in classrooms that are free from anti-LGBT discrimination – and are taught by the best teachers available, including LGBT teachers, and not just the best cisgender heterosexual teachers.

 

If they don’t – if Members of Parliament continue to allow more than 1 million students to attend, and more than 110,000 teachers and staff to be employed at, religious schools that can lawfully discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity – then those MPs deserve to receive an ‘F’, in 2019, and for every year until this unacceptable situation is fixed.

 

theres-no-place-for-discrimination-in-the-classroom

And there’s no place for discrimination in the school staffroom, either.

 

If you have enjoyed reading this article, please consider subscribing to receive future posts, via the right-hand scroll bar on the desktop version of this blog or near the bottom of the page on mobile. You can also follow me on twitter @alawriedejesus

 

Footnotes:

[i] Intersex students (and teachers and other staff) are not included in this article because, irrespective of their jurisdiction, they should be protected by the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984, and, according to major religious groupings during the development of that legislation, the religious exceptions contained therein do not apply to intersex status.

[ii] What’s Wrong With the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977.

[iii] It should be noted that the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of bisexuality, at all – it is included as part of the LGBT acronym here for the sake of consistency across the article.

[iv] For more, see Victoria’s Equal Opportunity Amendment (Religious Exceptions) Bill 2016.

[v] Note that these provisions only apply to students – there is no equivalent section for teachers and other staff.

[vi] This would also reflect judicial interpretation of the general religious exception in NSW (including in cases like OW & OV v Members of the Board of the Wesley Mission Council [2010] NSWADT 293 (10 December 2010)).

[vii] Australian Bureau of Statistics – 4221.0 Schools, Australia, 2015, released 04/02/2016

[viii] This calculation is based on the total number of students attending Catholic and Independent schools nationally (1,305,843) minus the number of similar students in those jurisdictions where they are protected from discrimination: Queensland (262,166); Tasmania (24,142) and Northern Territory (11,671). Unfortunately, the dataset provided does not identify Independent schools as religious versus non-religious, although the proportion that are non-religious is considered to be extremely small. Therefore, for the purposes of calculating this estimate, all Independent schools have been allocated as ‘religious’.

[ix] As with the previous calculation, this figure is based on the number of FTE positions at Catholic and Independent schools Australia-wide (141,806.1) minus the 28.944.1 in Queensland where the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy applies, and 2,788.2 in Tasmania, where LGBT teachers and staff are protected against anti-LGBT discrimination. Once again, the dataset provided does not identify Independent schools as religious versus non-religious, although the proportion that are non-religious is considered to be extremely small. Therefore, for the purposes of calculating this estimate, all Independent schools have been allocated as ‘religious’.

[x] Noting that the caveat that applies to national figures (about the treatment of religious versus non-religious Independent schools) does not apply here – all non-government schools in NSW can discriminate against LGBT students, including non-religious schools.

[xi] The caveat – about the treatment of religious versus non-religious schools – does apply here however, because non-religious Independent schools in NSW cannot discriminate against LGBT teachers and staff, only LGBT students.

What does Malcolm Turnbull want his legacy to be?

It’s time for Malcolm Turnbull to seriously consider what he wants his legacy to be.

 

That might sound premature to some, especially given that tomorrow (Monday 14 March 2016) it will be only six months since he replaced Tony Abbott as Leader of the Liberal Party. Tuesday, the clichéd ‘Ides of March’, is the six-month anniversary of his official swearing in.

 

However, in the life of an Australian Prime Minister, six months is not an insignificant period of time. Indeed, for many, six months is a considerable slice of their term.

 

In the just over 70 years since World War II, Malcolm Turnbull is the 15th person to ascend to our top job. The average term in office – even including the 16-year rule of Robert Menzies[i] – is less than five years. In fact, only four Prime Ministers[ii] in those seven decades have even made it to the five-year mark, while six ended up serving less than three years.

 

The pace of turnover of Prime Ministers also appears to be accelerating – in the 11 years since Turnbull entered Parliament, he is now the fifth Prime Minister (with one of those, Kevin Rudd, even having two non-consecutive turns).

 

Based on the above, six months is likely to represent at least 10% of Turnbull’s entire term in office, and probably more.

 

In fact, there are reasons to believe Turnbull’s stay in the Lodge might be shorter than the average. For example, he is third oldest person to ever be first sworn in as Prime Minister (and the two who were older[iii] served for a combined period of less than two years).

 

It is also reasonable to describe Turnbull’s support inside the Parliamentary Liberal Party as somewhat tenuous. His first stint as Leader, while in Opposition, lasted less than 15 months. And, even after two years of the worst Prime Minister in living memory, he only defeated Tony Abbott by 54 votes to 44 last September (and which was only moderately better than the 39 votes cast for an ‘empty chair’[iv] in the February 2015 spill motion against Abbott).

 

With a switch of just six votes needed to reverse that result (whether to Abbott, who clearly remains interested in returning, or another candidate from the conservative wing of the Liberals) it should be noted that a sizeable majority of Liberal MPs in marginal seats voted for Turnbull[v], meaning that any loss of seats at the upcoming 2016 election would leave him more vulnerable to a challenge from inside the Government.

 

Of course, if the current level of in-fighting and disorganisation within the Coalition continues, there is also the small but real chance of the Government being voted out, cutting Turnbull’s term short at 12 months or less.

 

This thought – that, after just six months, it is time to start seriously considering his legacy – might be confronting for Turnbull, but he should console himself with the knowledge that, for most of his contemporaries, substantial elements of their legacies were built during their first year in office.

 

Kevin Rudd gave the apology to the Stolen Generations after less than three months in the role. He is also most commonly remembered for his response to the Global Financial Crisis, which reached its peak in September and October 2008 – again, less than 12 months from his election win on November 24 2007.

 

In Julia Gillard’s case, the announcement of the ‘carbon pricing mechanism’ (forever dubbed the carbon tax) was made on February 24 2011, exactly eight months after she ousted Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister.

 

The National Disability Insurance Scheme is also seen as a key part of her legacy – and, while the legislation that gave it effect was not introduced until late 2012, the Productivity Commission report which preceded it was already two months into its work before Gillard even became PM[vi].

 

Tony Abbott continues to assert that his first Budget – the ‘horror’ 2014-15 Budget, more widely known for its unfairness– is a key part of his legacy[vii], and that was handed down just eight months into his term. His more trivial – but just as infamous – ‘captain’s call’ to reintroduce knights and dames happened two months earlier.

 

Even in the case of John Howard, who, given he served as Prime Minister for more than 11 years and therefore has a long and highly-contested ‘legacy’, there is probably only one key positive achievement about which almost all parts of the political spectrum agree[viii] – his gun law reforms following the Port Arthur Massacre[ix], which itself occurred less than two months after he swept to power.

 

Six months into his own term as Prime Minister, it is hard to pin down exactly what Malcolm Turnbull’s key achievement or achievements have been (other than the initial, widespread feeling of ‘relief’ which many Australians experienced after he deposed Abbott). Different language has been used, including much talk of ‘agility’ and ‘innovation’ and ‘excitement’, but new ideas or policies? Not so much.

 

That situation will change, to some extent, over the coming months, as Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison put together their first Budget – to be delivered in early May (either May 10th, or 3rd if, as is now widely expected, they head to a double dissolution poll on July 2). There is obviously intense pressure on them both to set out their platform for the campaign ahead in that document.

 

But there is an even earlier opportunity for Malcolm Turnbull to establish his legacy as Prime Minister. Two closely-linked opportunities, in fact: the decision on what to do with the Safe Schools program, and the choice whether or not to proceed with a plebiscite on marriage equality.

 

Both of these issues will come to a head in the coming week. The independent review of the Safe Schools program, instigated following the internal revolt by the likes of Cory Bernardi in the Coalition Party room meeting on 23 February, was expected to be handed to the Commonwealth Department of Education on Friday 11 March[x].

 

While it may be another week or two before the Government announces its response to that review, you can guarantee they will be discussing it internally during the week ahead (it’s also highly likely to be debated again in the Coalition Party room meeting on Tuesday, the second-last such meeting before a potential ‘double D’-election).

 

Lenore Taylor has also reported that the proposal for a plebiscite on marriage equality will be considered in detail by the Turnbull Cabinet this week[xi].

 

While the plebiscite was first adopted as Coalition policy under then Prime Minister Abbott on 11 August last year, this will be the main, Cabinet-level discussion of the process required to hold one – the question to be asked, expected timing (which, depending on who you listen to, may or may not be before the end of 2016), the estimated cost (likely upwards of $160 million[xii]), public funding of the yes and no cases, compulsory or voluntary voting and the supporting legislation.

 

Again, it is possible that the marriage equality plebiscite proposal will also be discussed at the Coalition Party room meeting on Tuesday morning (it will be interesting to see whether this one also takes six hours, especially given how much Liberal and National Party MPs appear to enjoy discussing LGBTI issues).

 

Obviously, the approaches that Turnbull, and his Liberal-National Government, adopts on these two issues this week will be a key part of his personal legacy for LGBTI Australians. Both decisions will have direct, and long-lasting, impacts on literally hundreds of thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, their children, and their families and friends.

 

On Safe Schools, Turnbull will choose between defending a program developed to combat homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic bullying of LGBTI students, thereby reducing the all-too-frequent tragedy of LGBTI youth suicide – or giving in to bullies, like the Australian Christian Lobby, and The Australian newspaper, who it seems would much prefer enforced silence about LGBTI issues in the classroom, and the schoolyard, to the detriment of children with diverse sexual orientations, gender identities or intersex characteristics.

 

The consequences of this choice – whether a school is genuinely inclusive, or a vacuum allowing intolerance and discrimination to fester – can and will have lifelong impacts on the students who receive, or miss out on, programs like Safe Schools as a result.

 

On marriage equality, too, the impacts of Turnbull’s imminent decision will be profoundly felt, not only by LGBTI Australians, but also by the children of rainbow families.

 

As has been made clear by Australian Marriage Equality[xiii], if Malcolm Turnbull implemented the policy position that he held before becoming Prime Minister – of supporting a ‘free’ or conscience vote – then we could have marriage equality legislation passed by the end of this week.

 

But, if he persists with what was originally Tony Abbott’s plebiscite – but which is now most definitely his – not only will he be wasting at least $160 million on something which is completely unnecessary and inappropriate, he will also be causing real harm to LGBTI Australians, and our kids, by ensuring that there will be a protracted, bitter, and downright nasty campaign leading up to the vote.

 

The Australian Christian Lobby, both with its past actions (including repeated suggestions that gay and lesbian parenting creates another Stolen Generation[xiv]), and its recent call for state and territory anti-discrimination laws to be suspended for the duration of the campaign[xv], have effectively guaranteed it.

 

And, even if the marriage equality plebiscite is successful, it will still be at least another 12 – and possibly up to 18 or even 24 – months before Australian couples will finally be able to wed in their own country, with some elderly couples sadly, but inevitably, passing away before they can tie the knot.

 

However, while the impact of these decisions will be most keenly felt by LGBTI people, young and old, and their children, I would argue they will define Malcolm Turnbull’s legacy much more broadly. This is because his approach to Safe Schools, and the plebiscite, will tell us a lot about who he is as a Prime Minister, what type of Government he leads, and ultimately about his vision for Australia.

 

In terms of who Malcolm Turnbull is as Prime Minister, he would like most people, and especially the ‘persuadables’ in the electorate, to believe he is still the leather jacket-clad QandA panellist, with views that are more moderate than most of the members of his party – believing in climate change, supporting a republic, and wanting to be the leader who finally introduces marriage equality.

 

Deep down, I’m sure Turnbull would love to be the ‘cool’ Prime Minister who attends the 2017 Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras parade, claiming credit for removing discrimination from the Marriage Act 1961, receiving the passionate support, even adulation, from sections of the crowd in return.

 

But, if he caves in to the deeply homophobic and transphobic campaign against Safe Schools, led by the vitriolic and hateful scare-mongering of the Australian Christian Lobby and others, and if he continues to support an unnecessary, inappropriate, wasteful and divisive marriage equality plebiscite, then not only will Malcolm Turnbull fail to be the Leader that he thinks he is (or at least wants to be) – he will become exactly the same type of Leader as the one he replaced.

 

By endorsing the attack on Safe Schools, and persisting with the plebiscite, Turnbull would show that there is no core belief that he will not jettison, no principle he is not prepared to compromise, in his quest to remain Prime Minister of Australia for as long as possible. The Opposition critique of him – that he is just Tony Abbott in a more expensive suit – will be more than justified.

 

And, by ensuring that it will be the public’s vote that finally achieves equality in relationship recognition in Commonwealth law, and not his own vote in Parliament, he will simply become another politician whom we had to win marriage equality in spite of, and not because of[xvi].

 

How Turnbull handles the decisions on Safe Schools, and the plebiscite, will also reveal a great deal about the type of Government he leads.

 

Is it a Government that represents, and serves the interests of, all Australians? Does it believe that the real and urgent needs of young lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people are worthy of attention, and above all action? Does it think that people should not be legally discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity of intersex status?

 

Or is it a Government that represents, and serves the interests of, cisgender heterosexual Australians only? Does it believe that the pressing needs of young LGBTI people can simply be ignored? Does it think that the relationships of LGBTI Australians are genuinely lesser than those of other people, and therefore should be treated as such?

 

Turnbull has so far studiously avoided having to address this deep divide inside the Liberal-National Coalition. On Safe Schools, rather than reject the campaign against the program outright, he simply passed the buck to an independent review – thereby encouraging the attack to continue.

 

And, instead of directly reprimanding MPs like George Christensen and Andrew Hastie, who have compared Safe Schools to ‘grooming’[xvii] and George Orwell’s Big Brother[xviii] respectively, Turnbull offered a meek, generic statement saying “I encourage everybody who is discussing these issues to do so in very measured language… and to consider very carefully the impact of the words they use on young people and on their families.”[xix]

 

On marriage equality, he has again chosen not to upset the applecart, instead leaving in place Tony Abbott’s preferred option – a plebiscite – despite the insistence of multiple members of his own Government that they will not be bound by any ‘yes’ vote[xx], thus rendering the entire exercise pointless.

 

Well, on both of these issues, he can no longer kick those proverbial cans any further down the road. This week, in Cabinet and most likely in the Party room too, Malcolm Turnbull will need to decide what type of Government he wants to lead – and then he will need to argue for it, in the face of likely fierce criticism from Liberal and National MPs who do not now, and likely will not ever, support LGBTI equality, possibly at the cost of their ongoing support for his leadership.

 

Ultimately, how Malcolm Turnbull approaches the Safe Schools debate, and the marriage equality plebiscite, in the next few weeks will tell us whether he has what Keating would describe as ‘the vision thing’.

 

Does Malcolm Turnbull have a vision of a better Australia, where young lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people can grow up happy and healthy, attending schools where they are free to be who they are, respected and accepted?

 

Does he see a future where all relationships are treated equally irrespective of the sexual orientations, gender identities or intersex statuses of the people involved, and is he prepared to actually do something to make that future a reality?

 

Does Malcolm Turnbull show, in who he is and how he governs, that he has the interests of all of us, including LGBTI Australians, at heart?

 

Or does his vision only extend as far as what is required to keep him in the Prime Ministership, the role that he has clearly coveted for so long?

 

That might sound harsh, and to some even potentially unfair, but that is what I believe is at stake in the next few weeks as Turnbull decides what to do on the Safe Schools program, and on the marriage equality plebiscite.

 

One final comment – some might argue that, given it is not Malcolm Turnbull who is leading the attacks on Safe Schools, and it was not his proposal to hold a plebiscite on marriage equality, assessing his ‘legacy’ on how he approaches these issues is unjustified.

 

To which I would respond with two observations. First, he is the Prime Minister, and the campaign against Safe Schools is happening on his watch, including by members of his own Government, which makes his response to this issue extremely relevant to how we assess his performance.

 

And, while the marriage equality plebiscite might not have originally been his idea, if he chooses to proceed with it, at enormous cost, both financially, and psychologically in the harm it will cause to LGBTI Australians and their children, it will very much be his responsibility.

 

Second, John Howard did not ‘choose’ gun control to be his legacy, nor did Kevin Rudd ‘choose’ for the GFC to dominate his first term agenda, and Julia Gillard certainly did not ‘choose’ for her stint as Prime Minister to include such a large focus on climate change.

 

They were responding to events that were not of their own making – Port Arthur, global markets, and even the hung parliament. But how they responded to these things is what made them Leaders – and that is why we remember these achievements as part of their legacies.

 

Malcolm Turnbull did not choose for the attack on Safe Schools, nor did he choose Tony Abbott’s plebiscite. But, how the Government approaches these issues is now within his control as Prime Minister – and it is up to him how he chooses to exercise that power.

 

Does Malcolm Turnbull choose to support Safe Schools or does he side with those who have campaigned against it? Does he proceed with a plebiscite on marriage equality, even when he knows it is unnecessary, inappropriate, wasteful and divisive? In short, what does Malcolm Turnbull want his legacy to be?

 

151222 Turnbull

For Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, it’s time to turn his mind to how he will want to be remembered.

 

[i] Although this also includes the three-week term of John McEwen.

[ii] Robert Menzies, Malcolm Fraser, Bob Hawke and John Howard.

[iii] John McEwen and William McMahon.

[iv] The Australian, Last Post, February 10 2015.

[v] The New Daily, “Why Turnbull could win the election – and still lose”, March 8 2016.

[vi] The Productivity Commission started its work in April 2010, and released the Disability Care & Support Final Report in August 2011.

[vii] The Australian, “Tony Abbott: My legacy the key to victory at next election”, September 26, 2015. Quote from Mr Abbott: “You can always dispute the marketing… but the 2014 Budget was a very serious structural attempt to tackle our long-term spending problems.”

[viii] Outside of ‘gun nuts’, and the accidental Liberal Democrat Senator, David Leyonhjelm.

[ix] Howard’s gun law reforms, and gun ‘buyback’, even has international admirers, as demonstrated by the 2013 segment by John Oliver on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart (as reported here: Sydney Morning Herald, “US Show Uses Howard to Embarrass Gun Lobby”, April 22, 2013).

[x] Gay News Network, “Government Comment on Safe Schools Report Not Expected for 1-2 Weeks”, 11 March 2016.

[xi] Guardian Australia, “Coalition to finalise marriage equality plebiscite details as July election looms”, March 8 2016.

[xii] See “7 Better Ways to Spend $158.4 million”.

[xiii] Sydney Morning Herald, “Majority of MPs would back marriage equality”, January 30, 2016.

[xiv] Guardian Australia, “Q&A Recap: Lyle Shelton locks horns with panel on marriage equality”, 1 March 2016.

[xv] ABC News, “Same-sex marriage plebiscite: Christian lobby group wants ‘override’ of anti-discrimination laws during campaign”, 16 February 2016.

[xvi] For more, see: “Letter to Malcolm Turnbull about the Marriage Equality Plebiscite”.

[xvii] Buzzfeed Australia, This MP Just Compared the Safe Schools Coalition to ‘Grooming’”, 25 February 2016.

[xviii] From Mr Hastie, the Member for Canning’s, Facebook page: “George Orwell foresaw where the abandonment of reason can lead society: to a world devoid of compassion and empathy for those who disagree with us. All that is left is raw power. As Orwell wrote, without reason and charity in our public debate there will be nothing left but “the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.”

[xix] ABC News, “Safe schools: Turnbull warns MPs over language used in debate”, February 26 2016.

[xx] Guardian Australia, “Eric Abetz: Coalition MPs will not be bound by plebiscite on marriage equality”, January 27 2016.

Letter to Minister Pyne Calling for COAG to Reject Health & Physical Education Curriculum Due to Ongoing LGBTI Exclusion

The Hon Christopher Pyne MP

Commonwealth Minister for Education

PO Box 6022

House of Representatives

Parliament House

CANBERRA ACT 2600

C.Pyne.MP@aph.gov.au

Tuesday 9 December 2014

Dear Minister Pyne

Call for COAG to Reject Health & Physical Education Curriculum Due to Ongoing LGBTI Exclusion

I am writing to you in advance of the COAG Education Ministers Council meeting on Friday 12 December 2014 in Canberra. Specifically, I am writing to request that you, and your state and territory ministerial counterparts, reject the national Health & Physical Education (HPE) curriculum and start again.

I make this serious request on the basis that this curriculum does not ensure that all students are provided with health and physical education that is relevant to their needs, including those students that are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI).

The development of the national HPE curriculum has, like other national curricula, been a long process, with multiple stages of public consultation.

This has included:

None of these versions of the HPE curriculum have been genuinely LGBTI-inclusive. None of these three documents have even included the words lesbian, gay or bisexual. Not once. How can a national HPE curriculum support all students, including those with diverse sexual orientations, if it cannot even name them?

It must also be pointed out that none of the three drafts of the HPE curriculum have included sufficient sexual health information, with no references to sexually transmissible infections, condoms and/or safer sex and, more than 30 years into the HIV epidemic, none have even mentioned HIV or other blood borne viruses. These omissions mean Australian students, including but not limited to LGBTI students, will not be given the information that they need to stay safe in future.

Of course, the national HPE curriculum, like other curricula, underwent an additional review during 2014, after you requested that Mr Kevin Donnelly and Mr Ken Wiltshire review the entirety of the Australian curriculum (see my submission to this review here:  https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/03/13/submission-to-national-curriculum-review-re-national-health-physical-education-curriculum/).

Unfortunately, the outcome of this review, at least as far as the HPE curriculum is concerned, is far from positive (see my summary of this: https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/11/09/the-national-curriculum-review-fails-to-support-lgbti-students/).

In their report, released in October 2014, Mr Donnelly and Mr Wiltshire noted that at least one jurisdiction, one religion-based school system, and a number of other individual schools, have each rejected the inclusion of even minimal content for same-sex attracted and gender diverse students, and will oppose any attempt to introduce comprehensive sexual health education.

The national curriculum review also found that the HPE curriculum is overcrowded, and recommended that “[t]he core content should be reduced and a significant portion should become part of school-based curriculum…” This jeopardises further the few positive references that have made it into the current draft (such as the option for schools to teach students about homophobia, alongside racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination).

Finally, the national curriculum review report supported the views of some religious organisations that the HPE curriculum should grant schools even greater flexibility in how ‘sexuality education’ should be delivered, when it should be delivered (allowing schools to delay provision of this vital information), and even flexibility in who should teach it (commenting that “[w]e think this is the way forward” in response to suggestions that older teachers should deliver these topics).

The specific recommendation in this area notes “[t]he two controversial areas of sexuality and drugs education should remain, but schools should be given greater flexibility to determine the level of which these areas are introduced and the modalities in which they will be delivered…”

The net outcome of the national curriculum review, at least as it concerns Health & Physical Education, is this: a curriculum that already largely excluded LGBTI students and content, is, in practice, found to be essentially optional, with at least one jurisdiction, one religion-based school system, and other individual schools all opting-out. What LGBTI-related subject matter there is remains under threat as the content is slimmed down, while those religious schools that do teach ‘sexuality education’ will have the ‘flexibility’ to choose when it is taught, how it is taught and even by whom it is taught.

This is the exact opposite of what a national curriculum should be. A national Health & Physical Education curriculum should be a document that recognises that, no matter what state they reside in, and irrespective of the type of school they attend (government, religious or private), all LGBTI students have the fundamental right to an inclusive education, to learn about themselves and their sexual orientations, gender identities and intersex status, to be taught that who they are is okay, and not to be silenced, excluded or marginalised.

The existing version of the HPE curriculum does not even come close to recognising that right, and, as such, I believe it should be rejected and the entire curriculum development process begun again.

I call on you and the state and territory ministers attending the COAG Education Ministers Council meeting to take this serious course of action because the failure to do so will have serious consequences for the next generation of LGBTI young people and students.

I am sure you are aware young LGBTI people are at greater risk of experiencing bullying (including homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic discrimination) and physical abuse, are at greater risk of depression and other mental health issues and, most tragically of all, are at greater risk of attempting or committing suicide than their non-LGBTI peers.

The development of a national Health & Physical Education curriculum was an unprecedented opportunity to address some of these issues by guaranteeing that, in their classrooms at least, young LGBTI people were provided with an inclusive and understanding environment. Unfortunately, despite two public consultations and the national curriculum review, the current draft of the national HPE curriculum fails miserably to seize this opportunity.

We can do better, we should do better, we must do better, for the sake of young LGBTI people around the country, now and in coming years. Please reject the national Health & Physical Education curriculum and start again.

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

Will Minister Pyne listen to the needs of LGBTI students?

Will Education Minister Christopher Pyne listen to the needs of LGBTI students?

Cc: The Hon Adrian Piccoli MP, NSW Minister for Education (office@piccoli.minister.nsw.gov.au)

The Hon James Merlino MP, Victorian Minister for Education (james.merlino@parliament.vic.gov.au)

The Hon John-Paul Langbroek MP, Queensland Minister for Education, Training and Development (education@ministerial.qld.gov.au)

The Hon Peter Collier MLA, Western Australian Minister for Education (Minister.Collier@dpc.wa.gov.au)

The Hon Jennifer Rankine MP, South Australian Minister for Education and Child Development (minister.rankine@sa.gov.au)

The  Hon Jeremy Rockliff MP, Tasmanian Minister for Education and Training (jeremy.rockliff@parliament.tas.gov.au)

The Hon Joy Burch MLA, Australian Capital Territory Minister for Education and Training (BURCH@act.gov.au)

The Hon Peter Chandler MLA, Northern Territory Minister for Education (minister.chandler@nt.gov.au)

The National Curriculum Review Fails to Support LGBTI Students

The Final Report of the Review of the Australian Curriculum, conducted by Ken Wiltshire and Kevin Donnelly, was released on Sunday 12 October 2014, accompanied by the Commonwealth Government’s Response (both documents can be found at the following link: <http://www.studentsfirst.gov.au/review-australian-curriculum ).

Based on initial reporting (including this article by Samantha Maiden in The Sunday Telegraph <http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/teenagers-should-be-given-lessons-on-sex-and-drugs-national-curriculum-report-states/story-fni0cx12-1227087475187 ), you could be forgiven for believing that the outcome of the Review was, overall, a positive one for LGBTI students, with a commitment to include content relevant to their needs.

Unfortunately, however, a closer examination of the Final Report, and the Government’s Response, reveals that it is nothing more than another missed opportunity, yet another failure to ensure that the national Health & Physical Education (HPE) curriculum caters to the needs of all students, including those of different sexual orientations, gender identities and intersex status.

To understand just how far short of this standard the ‘Wiltshire & Donnelly’ Review falls, we must first look back at the development of the HPE curriculum. Drafted by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment & Reporting Authority (ACARA) during 2012 and 2013, the HPE curriculum was subject to two rounds of formal public consultation, before the current draft was submitted for the consideration of COAG Education Ministers late last year.

Despite a number of submissions highlighting the HPE curriculum’s failure to genuinely include LGBTI students and content (including two from yours truly: <https://alastairlawrie.net/2013/04/11/submission-on-national-health-physical-education-curriculum/ and <https://alastairlawrie.net/2013/07/30/submission-on-redrafted-national-health-physical-education-curriculum/ ), and even after some minor tinkering around the edges (with a couple of welcome references to ‘homophobia’ and ‘transphobia’ added), the current draft of the HPE curriculum does not guarantee that all students will learn what they need to know to be comfortable in who they are, and to stay safe.

In particular, as I made clear in my submission to the National Curriculum Review itself, the draft HPE curriculum:

  • Has significant problems in terms of terminology – for example, it does not even use the words ‘lesbian’, ‘gay’ or ‘bisexual’ once in the entire document.
  • Includes a fine-sounding commitment to student diversity that is almost immediately undermined by allowing “schools flexibility to meet the learning needs of all young people” – and which is especially poor when compared with the first draft that clearly stated that “same-sex attracted and gender diverse students exist in all Australian schools”.
  • Does not ensure students receive comprehensive sexual health education – with no year band descriptions providing a minimum level of information about sexually transmissible infections, and no references to condoms either, and
  • Completely excludes HIV and other BBVs, like hepatitis B and C – despite the fact that, more than 30 years into the HIV epidemic in Australia, the number of transmissions is rising (with one potential cause a lack of comprehensive and inclusive sexual health/BBV education for students).

[NB My full submission to the National Curriculum Review is available here: <https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/03/13/submission-to-national-curriculum-review-re-national-health-physical-education-curriculum/ ].

The choice to appoint noted homophobe Kevin Donnelly (see my letter to Minister Pyne calling for Mr Donnelly to be sacked on that basis: <https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/01/11/letter-to-minister-pyne-re-health-physical-education-curriculum-and-appointment-of-mr-kevin-donnelly/ ) to review what was already a poor document was obviously a major concern.

And I will be the first to admit that the Final Report of the National Curriculum Review, including its recommendations about the HPE curriculum, is not as bad as was initially anticipated. But just because it did not live down to some exceptionally low expectations, does not mean that the outcome for the HPE curriculum, and its potential impact on LGBTI students, was in any way positive.

The first major failing of the National Curriculum Review’s approach is that it appears to concede, without mustering much opposition, that, far from being a national minimum standard, the HPE curriculum is essentially optional.

For example, it notes that “one jurisdiction said it would refuse to implement the content in sexual orientation” (which appears to be Western Australia), while “a few schools are implacably opposed to the inclusion of such material [sexuality education] and some have refused to teach it”, and “[o]ne organisation claimed they would not teach it as prescribed as it did not fit in with their religious values.”

Presumably, that final organisation was the National Catholic Education Office (NCEC), with the Final Report noting that “the submission by the NCEC signals that Catholic schools reserve the right to implement the Australian Curriculum according to the uniquely faith-based and religious nature of such schools: For example, as usual in all Catholic schools, the new Health and Physical Education Curriculum will need to be taught in the context of a Personal Development program informed by Catholic values on the life and personal issues involved” (emphasis in original).

Which means that Catholic Schools – which now account for more than 1-in-5 students across Australia – (presumably) Western Australian schools, and select other schools, have all refused to implement a document that wasn’t even genuinely LGBTI-inclusive to start.

The second major failing, or in this case potential failing, of the National Curriculum Review’s approach is that it supports “the need to reduce the amount of content overall”, noting that “[s]ubmissions and consultations and the opinion of the subject matter specialist suggest that it is overcrowded and needs some slimming down and some restricting of year-level content. Some of the content could well be addressed more in school-based activity.”

Indeed, one of its key recommendations is that “[t]he core content should be reduced and a significant portion should become part of school-based curriculum…” While this recommendation isn’t explicitly linked to LGBTI-related content, there is now a real risk that, in finalising the HPE Curriculum, either at the COAG Education Ministers meeting in December, or subsequently during 2015, what little LGBTI-inclusive material there is may be on the chopping block. This is something that will need to be monitored closely in coming months.

The third major failing of the National Curriculum Review in this area is that, rather than mandating that every student, in every school, receives a minimum level of LGBTI-related education, it instead supports ever greater levels of ‘flexibility’ in terms of what is delivered in the classroom (noting that that the original HPE curriculum already supported ‘flexibility’ in this area).

For example, in one particularly telling paragraph it notes “[o]ther schools, including Christian schools, have advised us that they are comfortable with the inclusion of such content [sexuality education] in the health and physical education curriculum, provided there is flexibility so that they are able to teach it at the age level they deem appropriate, and by mature teachers rather than younger ones who may feel challenged in this arena. We think this is the way forward.”

Which, upon analysis, is actually a pretty bizarre statement – not just because it shouldn’t matter how old a teacher is, as long as they are appropriately qualified, but also because the National Curriculum Review is essentially agreeing to schools disregarding the evidence of when it is best to provide sexuality/sexual health education to students. Instead, the Review supports allowing schools to teach this content at whatever age they wish, without any justification, and presumably delaying it beyond the age at which it would be most valuable.

The recommendation in this area goes even further: “[t]he two controversial areas of sexuality and drugs education should remain, but schools should be given greater flexibility to determine the level at which these areas are introduced and the modalities in which they will be delivered…” (emphasis added). Which means that even how sexuality education is taught is apparently negotiable.

The net outcome of the National Curriculum Review, at least as it concerns Health & Physical Education, is this: A curriculum that already largely excludes LGBTI students and content, is, in practice, essentially optional, with at least one jurisdiction, one religion-based school system, and other individual schools all opting-out. What LGBTI-related subject matter there is remains under threat as the content is ‘slimmed down’ in coming months, while those religious schools that do teach ‘sexuality education’ will have the ‘flexibility’ to choose when it is taught, how it is taught and even by whom it is taught.

Which, to me at least, sounds like the exact opposite of what a national curriculum should be – and demonstrates just how big a missed opportunity this entire process has been.

A national Health & Physical Education curriculum should be a document that recognises that, no matter what state they reside in, and irrespective of the type of school they attend (government, religious or private), all LGBTI students have the fundamental right to an inclusive education.

The existing HPE curriculum does not even come close to recognising that right, and the Final Report of the Australian Curriculum Review will not deliver it, either. That is why we must give the ‘Wiltshire & Donnelly’ Review a fail – because it fails to support LGBTI students.

Two final points. First, at least one of the explanations for why the National Curriculum Review has ultimately failed LGBTI students lies in the fact that it actively bought into the notion that the area of ‘sexuality education’ is somehow controversial. Well, that is simply not true.

Just because there are people who disagree with something does not make it controversial. Just because some governments, religious organisations, individual schools and even some parents do not think students should be taught material because it is LGBTI-inclusive, does not mean their opinion is valid.

None of their individual or collective prejudices about sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status trump the rights of LGBTI students to hear about themselves in the classroom, and to be taught that who they are is okay. Nor do the so-called interests of these groups override the need to reduce the number of suicides of young lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, an ongoing tragedy in schools and communities across the country.

Which brings me to my final point. Some people believe that the inclusion of the following paragraph indicates that the Curriculum Review is supportive of LGBTI students:

“Expert medical opinion is clear that, along with the earlier maturation of young people, there is currently a serious crisis – including youth suicides – occurring in Australian society in this domain as a result of a lack of forums and spaces where young people can discuss such issues, including sexuality. The school setting, on the assumption that the curriculum is balanced and objective in dealing with what are sensitive and often controversial issues, offers one of the few neutral places for this to occur.”

Of course, I agree with the majority of this statement (reference to ‘controversial’ aside) – as would many advocates operating in this area. But, if you are to raise the spectre of youth suicide, and LGBTI youth suicide in particular, but then fail to deliver a document that would do anything to tackle this crisis, then, Mr Wiltshire and Mr Donnelly, your words aren’t just hollow and tokenistic, they are offensive.

Ken Wiltshire & Kevin Donnelly's National Curriculum Review has failed LGBTI students around the country.

Ken Wiltshire & Kevin Donnelly’s National Curriculum Review has failed to support LGBTI students around the country.

Submission to National Curriculum Review re Health & Physical Education Curriculum

The following is my submission to the review of the national curriculum, initiated by the Commonwealth Minister for Education, the Hon Christopher Pyne MP at the end of 2013. Given the appointment of Mr Kevin Donnelly to co-chair this review, I am not confident that all, or indeed, any of the concerns below will be listened to. But the inclusion of LGBTI students and content in our schools system is so important that I believe it is still worth a shot.

National Curriculum Review Submission

Thursday 13 March 2014

Thank you for the opportunity to make a submission on the development of the national school curriculum.

In this submission I will limit my comments to the development of the national Health & Physical Education (HPE) curriculum. In particular, I will be commenting on whether the HPE curriculum as drafted addresses the needs of, and genuinely includes, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) students.

I have previously made submissions on the initial public consultation draft of the HPE curriculum, released in December 2012 (a copy of my submission is provided at <https://alastairlawrie.net/2013/04/11/submission-on-national-health-physical-education-curriculum/ ), and on the revised draft released for limited public consultation in June and July 2013 (see <https://alastairlawrie.net/2013/07/30/submission-on-redrafted-national-health-physical-education-curriculum/ ).

In both of those submissions I was strongly critical of the fact that the draft HPE curriculums did not genuinely attempt to include LGBTI students (including omission of the words lesbian, gay or bisexual), did not provide adequate sexual health education, and did not provide adequate information regarding HIV and other Blood Borne Viruses (BBVs), including viral hepatitis.

A second revised draft of the curriculum was prepared by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) ahead of the meeting of Commonwealth, State and Territory Education Ministers in November 2013. It has been reported that Education Ministers did not agree to the second revised draft, but instead simply noted its development in anticipation of this review.

Nevertheless, the second revised draft HPE curriculum was published in February 2014 on the Australian Curriculum website (www.australiancurriculum.edu.au).

I have analysed the second revised draft, and sincerely hope that my comments below convey the seriousness of my concerns about the ongoing exclusion of LGBTI students and content, and the potential negative health impacts that this exclusion will have over the short, medium and long-term.

The current version of the national Health & Physical Education curriculum does nothing to put all ‘Students First’, which I understand to be the guiding principle of this review. In fact, by continuing to exclude some students, and marginalising content which is relevant to their needs, the draft HPE curriculum places lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex students last.

If the HPE curriculum were to be implemented as it currently stands, it would actively contribute to, and reinforce, the disproportionate rates of mental health problems, depression and, most tragically, suicide, which continue to affect young LGBTI people.

By failing to include detailed BBV and sexual health education, the HPE curriculum would also leave young people, and gay and bisexual men and trans* people specifically, exposed to unnecessary risk of transmission of HIV and other infections.

And by not ensuring that all students are provided with information that is relevant to their own needs and personal circumstances, the HPE curriculum will undermine the fundamental human right to health of the next generation of young LGBTI people. This right must be respected, and not denied to people merely on the basis of other peoples’ attitudes towards their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

This review is an(other) opportunity to address some of the serious shortcomings of the draft HPE curriculum. Please seize this opportunity and recommend that the curriculum be amended to ensure LGBTI students are included, with content that is relevant and targeted to meet their needs, including around sexual health and BBV education.

The remainder of this submission will look at five key areas of the draft HPE curriculum. They are:

  • Terminology
  • Student Diversity
  • Bullying & Discrimination
  • Sexual Health, and
  • HIV and other BBVs.

Terminology

One significant problem that has consistently appeared through the initial draft, revised draft and now second revised draft of the Health & Physical Education curriculum is that of terminology. Specifically, the HPE curriculum has either completely excluded terms that are essential for young people to learn, or included terms or definitions that are not appropriate in the circumstances.

The biggest problem in terminology, featured in all three drafts, has been the failure to even include the words lesbian, gay or bisexual. Despite these being the most common forms of identification for people whose sexual orientation is ‘not heterosexual’, these terms have never appeared in any version of this document.

In fact, the ongoing refusal to name lesbians, gay men and bisexuals – despite the fact that students will have heard these terms regularly amongst their families and friends, in culture and in broader society, and that an increasing number of young people, including students, will be using these terms to describe themselves – is almost bizarre in its stubbornness to deny reality.

Even if there may be a reason for sometimes using the umbrella term same-sex attracted, to ensure that people who may be sexually attracted to people of their own sex but who do not use the terms lesbian, gay or bisexual to identify themselves are included, there is absolutely no justification for not naming lesbian, gay and bisexual identities within the HPE curriculum (for example, by using the description “same-sex attracted, including lesbian, gay and bisexual people”). The failure to do so contributes to the marginalisation of lesbian, gay and bisexual young people.

On a related issue, the HPE curriculum as drafted appears to use the incredibly broad, and arguably poorly-defined, term ‘sexuality’ at multiple points in the document when ‘sexual orientation’ would be more appropriate.

For example, the Glossary defines ‘sexuality’ as “[a] central aspect of being human throughout life. Sexuality encompasses sex, gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, pleasure, intimacy and reproduction and is influenced by the interaction of biological, psychological, social, economic, political, cultural, ethical, legal, historical, religious and spiritual factors”. The breadth of this definition makes some of the references to sexuality in the curriculum either too vague to be practicable, or even unintelligible.

The more widely-accepted term ‘sexual orientation’, which the curriculum does not define, and only appears to use once (in the definition of ‘sexuality’, reproduced above), would be more constructive, especially when references are made to differences or diversity in ‘sexuality’. Using the term sexual orientation would also more clearly include different orientations (including lesbian, gay and bisexual) than using the term sexuality alone.

On a positive note, there have been some improvements in references to, and definitions for, diversity in gender identity, including transgender people (which at least is included as part of the Glossary definition of ‘gender diverse’).

There have also been improvements in terms of the recognition of intersex people, who are now at least referenced in the statement on student diversity, and provided with a separate definition in the Glossary (where previously it had been erroneously included within the definition of gender diverse).

Nevertheless, defining a term in the Glossary and then using it once in the main text of the curriculum itself (and even then only as part of an ‘aspirational statement’ at the beginning of the document) is not sufficient to guarantee that the needs of transgender and intersex students are met.

In summary, the HPE curriculum needs to be significantly amended, such that it actually includes the terms lesbian, gay and bisexual, and that it adequately includes information about these sexual orientations, as well as transgender and intersex people, throughout the document.

Student Diversity

As discussed above, the HPE curriculum includes a statement on ‘Student Diversity’ at the beginning of the document, and this includes two paragraphs on ‘Same-sex attracted and gender-diverse students’.

I welcome some of the changes that have been made to this section between the revised draft and the second revised draft. In particular, these paragraphs now make a variety of positive statements (including that “it is crucial to acknowledge and affirm diversity in relation to sexuality and gender’” – noting my view, expressed earlier, that the use of ‘sexual orientation’ would be preferable here – while talking about “inclusive… programs” and the needs of “all students”).

Indeed, the last sentence of the section is particularly encouraging where it notes that being inclusive and relevant is “particularly important when teaching about reproduction and sexual health, to ensure that the needs of all students are met, including students who may be same-sex attracted, gender diverse or intersex”.

However, these positive developments continue to be undermined by the preceding statements that the HPE curriculum “is designed to allow schools flexibility to meet the learning needs of all young people, particularly in the health focus area of relationships and sexuality” (emphasis added) and that “[a]ll schools communities have a responsibility when implementing the HPE curriculum to ensure that teaching is inclusive and relevant to the lived experiences of all students” (emphasis added).

Both of these statements appear to leave the decision whether, and in what way, schools will include LGBTI students and content up to the schools themselves. In the first instance, whether LGBTI students and content are included at all is too important to be left to the ‘flexibility’ of the school itself.

Second, and far more importantly, the reference to ‘lived experiences’ could be argued to leave a loophole for schools to assert that, unless students first identify themselves or disclose their status as LGBTI, they do not exist in the eyes of the school and therefore the school does not have a responsibility to include them or content relevant to their needs.

This approach – apparently leaving it up to students to ‘come out’ before they are entitled to receive vital health information, despite the fact that doing so can, in many Australian jurisdictions, lead to the potential expulsion of that student, let alone other personal consequences for the student with their family or friends – fundamentally undermines the concept of health, and health education, as a universal human right.

And, while this appears to be a somewhat negative and narrow interpretation of these paragraphs, it is a realistic one given that a statement which appeared in the initial consultation draft, which stated that “same-sex attracted and gender diverse students exist in all Australian schools” was abandoned in the revised draft, and, despite arguments put forward for its re-inclusion was not included in the second revised draft.

In my view, whether to include LGBTI students and content should not be an issue of ‘flexibility’ between different schools. Instead, there should be a minimum level of LGBTI education provided to every student in every school – and, after all, isn’t a national minimum standard what the curriculum should be aiming to achieve?

This would be further supported by the re-inclusion of a statement which notes that “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex students exists across all Australian schools, and all schools must provide LGBTI-specific content to each and every student”.

Bullying & Discrimination

One area where there has been significant improvement from the initial draft and revised draft to the second revised draft has been an increase in content that attempts to redress anti-LGBTI bullying and discrimination.

In particular, I welcome the commitment in the Glossary definition of ‘discrimination’ that “[t]he types of discrimination that students must learn about include racial, sex and gender discrimination, homophobia and transphobia” (emphasis added).

I also welcome the increased content in year band descriptions that explicitly includes learning about homophobia, in years 7/8 and 9/10.

However, there are still a range of improvements that could be made to ensure that the curriculum adequately informs students about the need to stamp out discrimination and bullying of LGBTI students.

First, it is important to note that ‘homophobia’ does not necessarily include all forms of discrimination or prejudice against LGBTI people. The inclusion of transphobia in the Glossary is valuable, however, it should also be included in the year band descriptions to ensure that it is not overlooked. Both the Glossary and year band descriptions should also include biphobia and anti-intersex discrimination, which should not automatically be subsumed within a catch-all category of ‘homophobia’.

Second, discussion of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and anti-intersex discrimination should not be left until years 7/8 to be introduced into the HPE curriculum, but should be commenced in years 5/6 alongside education about racism.

This is vital not only because anti-LGBTI bullying and discrimination can occur from a young age (including all-too-common insults like “that’s so gay”), but also because some young lesbian, gay and bisexual students are coming out earlier and earlier (and deserve to be protected), while some trans* and intersex youth may have disclosed their status earlier still.

Third, in the year band description for years 9/10, heading “[c]ritique behaviours and contextual factors that influence health and wellbeing of their communities” instead of using the term “such as… homophobia” (emphasis added) the curriculum should say “including homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and anti-intersex prejudice” to ensure that schools cannot opt out of providing this content.

Fourth, I would highlight the inconsistency in providing information about homophobia and transphobia to students, which as I have indicated above is a positive development, with the ongoing exclusion of the words lesbian, gay and bisexual from the document in its entirety, and the exclusion of the words transgender and intersex from the year band descriptions (which provide the main content of the curriculum).

It would seem nigh on impossible to appropriately teach students about the negatives of homophobia and transphobia (together with biphobia and anti-intersex discrimination, which should be added) at the same time that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex students are either not explicitly mentioned in the year band descriptions, or not even mentioned at all in the entire curriculum.

Sexual health

One of the key aspects of any Health & Physical Education curriculum must be the provision of comprehensive, inclusive and up-to-date education around sexual health.

Unfortunately, none of the three drafts of the HPE curriculum released to date have provided even a bare minimum of information about the best practices to support sexual health, not just for LGBTI people, but also for cisgender heterosexual students.

While the Glossary does at least provide a definition of ‘sexual health’ (“[a] state of physical, mental and social wellbeing in relation to sexuality. It requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence”), there is either limited or no support to implement this in practice in the year band descriptions.

In the year bands 5/6 and 7/8, which represent key ages for sexual health education, there is some discussion of physical changes surrounding puberty, and even changing feelings and attractions, but there does not appear to be any unit or module where students are taught the ‘nitty-gritty’ of sexual health, including discussion of different sexual practices, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and the best ways to reduce the risks of STI transmission (including but not limited to condom usage).

I continue to find it extraordinary that the national minimum standard for Health & Physical Education to students does not even refer to STIs or condoms.

One of the arguments that has been mounted in defence of this omission is that this level of detail is not necessary in the curriculum, and that it will be covered as different jurisdictions and school systems implement their own syllabus.

I completely disagree. Given how fundamental sexual health is to the health and wellbeing of young people, surely the national HPE curriculum is the perfect place to guarantee that all students, rights across the country and irrespective of whether they attend government or non-government schools, receive the best possible information.

In addition, the reticence to provide any real detail around sexual health in the curriculum, on the basis that ‘specifics’ are not required, looks more like evasion when compared with some of the other sections of the curriculum which are, in fact, quite detailed (for example, in the year 5/6 band description it suggests “experimenting with different music genres such as Indian Bhangra music when performing creative dances”).

If something as specific as Indian Bhangra music can be named in the HPE document, then there must also be space for detailed discussion of the importance of sexual health, different sexual practices, STIs and condoms.

HIV and other BBVs

My fifth and final concern is related to the fourth, and that is the complete exclusion of HIV, and other BBVs like viral hepatitis, from the curriculum.

As I have written previously, I simply cannot understand that a national Health & Physical Education curriculum, developed and written in the years 2012 and 2013, does not even refer to HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C, which together directly affect almost half a million Australians.

It is vital that students learn about these BBVs, and most importantly how to reduce the risks of their transmission (for example, condom usage, hepatitis B vaccination, not sharing injecting equipment and safe tattooing and body art practices). If we do not provide this information, at the age that young people need it most, then we are failing in our duty of care towards the next generation.

The ongoing exclusion of HIV in particular looks odd (or, to be less charitable, short-sighted and ill-conceived). More than 30 years into the HIV epidemic in Australia, and with Melbourne hosting the 20th International AIDS Conference in July 2014, the proposed national minimum standard for Health & Physical Education curriculum does not even bother to mention it.

This is far from the ‘best practice’ approach that Australia adopted to the HIV epidemic in the 1980s. A best practice approach to the HPE curriculum now would, as a minimum, ensure that all students learn about HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C, and the best ways to reduce the risks of transmission.

 

Conclusion

 

As I have outlined above, I have serious concerns about the second revised draft Health & Physical Education curriculum, including its continued exclusion of LGBTI students and content relevant to their needs, as well as minimal or non-existent education regarding sexual health and HIV and other BBVs.

As reviewers of the national curriculum, I believe it is your responsibility to remedy these significant shortcomings, and ensure that the final HPE curriculum adopted is one that provides for the best possible health education and outcomes for all students, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex students.

That is my definition of Students First.

Sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

Letter to Minister Piccoli re Proud Schools

UPDATE (Saturday 8 February): Yesterday, I received a response from the NSW Government to my letter about Proud Schools (below). It was not from the Minister, but rather from the Executive Director, Learning and Engagement, in the Department of Education and Communities.

In short, it appears that the NSW Government has completed its review of Proud Schools and on that basis has decided to abandon the Proud Schools pilot/model. Unfortunately, it does not appear as if the review of the Proud Schools pilot is going to be released.

Equally concerning, while the response talks about a “Wellbeing Framework for Education”, there appears to be very little detail about what this might entail. Given the homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and anti-intersex discrimination which continues to affect LGBTI students (a fact reinforced by the Growing Up Queer report, released yesterday), there will need to be a lot more information provided about this framework before it could be supported.

As an aside, I find it curious that in a letter about Proud Schools, and replying to a letter about Proud Schools/the needs of LGBTI students, the response does not refer to LGBTI students specifically, instead making generic statements about ‘all students’. Hmmm…

The full text of the letter:

Dear Mr Lawrie

I write in response to your email of 12 January 2014 to the Hon Adrian Piccoli MP, Minister for Education regarding the Proud Schools pilot. The Minister has asked me to respond on his behalf.

The Department of Education and Communities is committed to providing safe and supportive learning environments that respect and value diversity and that are free from all forms of violence, bullying, discrimination, harassment and vilification.

We know that learning outcomes are better where students are happy, safe and supported at school. We also know that when school communities work together real improvements in promoting understanding and reducing discrimination can be made.

From the Proud Schools pilot it has emerged that a ‘one size fits all’ approach will not be appropriate for a systemic school system.

Significant work is currently underway on developing a Wellbeing Framework for Education. This framework will provide schools with guidance and evidence informed practice to support all students within the context of their school and in consultation with their school communities. The subsequent development of any wellbeing materials will need to carefully balance the wellbeing of all young people.

Thank you for your email.

Yours sincerely

[NAME WITHHELD]

Executive Director, Learning and Engagement

5 February 2014

ORIGINAL POST Today (Tuesday 28 January) is the first official day of the school year for teachers across NSW. Tomorrow, students return to school for the first time in 2014. And yet, with teachers and students coming back, it is still unclear whether something else is returning to NSW schools this year – the Proud Schools program.

A three-year pilot of Proud Schools – which is designed to help schools include LGBTI students, and protect them from bullying – was due to be completed at the end of 2013. The pilot project was also subject to a formal review last year, to help determine whether it should be expanded, and if so in what form.

But, as far as I can tell, this review has not yet been released, and no announcement appears to have been made about the future of the Proud Schools program. Is the Proud Schools pilot being extended? Is the program being rolled out beyond the initial very small number of schools in which is began? Has Proud Schools been axed? If so, has it been replaced with another program aimed at serving the needs of LGBTI students in NSW?

Concerned about the lack of information, I wrote to the NSW Minister for Education, the Hon Adrian Piccoli, about this subject two weeks ago. Below is my letter to him (dated 12 January). I have yet to receive a response to this, but will update this post if I do.

Dear Minister

PROUD SCHOOLS/PROGRAMS FOR LGBTI STUDENTS

I am writing regarding the Proud Schools program, which has been piloted across a small number of NSW schools over the past three years (2011-2013).

I understand that the Proud Schools pilot was the subject of a review by the NSW Government during 2013, and that, following this review, the NSW Government was to make a decision about the long-term future of Proud Schools.

Has this review been finalised? If so, has a decision been taken by the NSW Government concerning the future of the Proud Schools program? If so, when will this decision, and the review upon which it was based, be made public?

I write because there are only two weeks left until the 2014 school year commences, and believe that it is important for schools, teachers and LGBTI students to have some certainty about the future of this program.

Even if the NSW Government decides not to continue with the specific Proud Schools initiative, it is vital that a program which supports the needs of LGBTI students is rolled out across NSW schools, not just in the small number that were involved in Proud Schools, but across the entire state.

This is because LGBTI students are subject to increased levels of bullying and harassment based on homophobia, bi-phobia, trans*-phobia and anti-intersex prejudice, experience higher rates of mental illness as a result of this discrimination, and are at risk of not receiving education that is inclusive of their needs.

I seek your assurance that you are giving this issue priority, and will have a program in place in NSW schools from the beginning of the 2014 school year.

I look forward to your response to this letter.

Yours sincerely

Alastair Lawrie