Invisibility in the Curriculum

Did you know that the NSW Personal Development, Health and Physical Education K-10 Syllabus does not require schools to teach students what lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex mean, or even that they exist?

 

The NSW Education Standards Authority reviewed the PDHPE curriculum in 2017 (see my submission to that consultation here), and released its consultation report and final K-10 syllabus in early 2018.

 

It is now being progressively rolled out in NSW classrooms, with full implementation by the start of the 2020 school year.

 

This is despite the fact the new PDHPE curriculum is entirely unfit for the 21st century, contributing to the ongoing invisibility of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) content, and therefore of LGBTI students.

 

This can be seen in a number of ways. The first, and perhaps most important, is in its use – or, more accurately, lack of use – of the terms lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex themselves.

 

In the 138 pages of the syllabus, these words occur three times each.[i] However, two out of these three appearances are found in the document’s glossary – with a definition of each term, and then as part of the broader definition of LGBTI people.

 

But teachers do not teach the glossary to their students. Instead, they are only required to teach the content for each year stage of the syllabus. And the terms lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex can be found only once in the prescribed content, together on page 96:

 

‘investigate community health resources to evaluate how accessible they are for marginalised individuals and groups and propose changes to promote greater inclusiveness and accessibility eg people in rural and remote areas, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people (LGBTI), people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds, people with disability.’

 

The problem with this is that LGBTI comes after ‘for example’ and therefore even referring to LGBTI people in this exercise is, on a prima facie reading, optional.

 

This issue – the status of content that appears after ‘eg’ in the syllabus – was raised, by myself and others, during the consultation process. The answer at the time was that whether this information was taught was at the discretion of the school and/or teacher. This appears to be confirmed in the consultation report, which states on page 18 that:

 

‘The content defines what students are expected to know and do as they work towards syllabus outcomes. Content examples clarify the intended learning. Teachers will make decisions about content regarding the sequence, emphasis and any adjustments required based on the needs, interests, abilities and prior learning of students.’

 

In practice, LGBTI people appear just once in the entire NSW PDHPE K-10 Syllabus, as part of an exercise about marginalised groups and inclusiveness, but schools and/or teachers can choose to remove even this most cursory of references.[ii]

 

This marginalisation, and exclusion, of LGBTI content and students is simply not good enough.

 

Another cause of the curriculum’s problems can be found if we return to the glossary, and inspect the definition of sexuality:

 

‘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.’

 

On a philosophical level, this is actually quite an inclusive and even progressive view of the complexity of human sexuality. But on a practical level, the absence of specificity in this definition undermines any obligation for schools and/or teachers to teach about real-world diversity of sexual orientation.

 

This lack of prescription means that, on page 96 – which is the only place in the general syllabus where ‘sexuality’ appears not following an ‘eg’ (and therefore is the only reference that isn’t optional)[iii] – content to ‘explore external influences on sexuality and sexual health behaviours and recognise the impact these can have on their own and others’ health, safety and wellbeing’ does not necessarily include lesbian, gay or bisexual sexualities.

 

It is a similar story in terms of gender,[iv] with the glossary definition (‘Refers to the concepts of male and female as well as the socially constructed expectations about what is acceptable for males and females’) not particularly useful in ensuring students learn about the diversity of gender identities. There also do not appear to be any references to non-binary or gender diverse identities.[v]

 

These definitions of sexuality and gender, and how they are employed throughout the syllabus, could be interpreted by some supportive schools and teachers to include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender subject matter. But there is absolutely nothing that ensures schools and/or teachers must teach this content.

 

This erasure, or invisibilisation, of LGBTI people in the NSW PDHPE K-10 Syllabus is nothing short of homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic.

 

Which makes it somewhat ironic then that there are more references to homophobia and transphobia in its content than there are to LGBTI people.

 

On page 77: ‘describe forms of bullying, harassment, abuse, neglect, discrimination and violence and the impact they have on health, safety and wellbeing, eg family and domestic violence, homophobic and transphobic bullying, racism, cyberbullying, discrimination against people with disability.’

 

And on page 88: ‘propose protective strategies for a range of neglect and abuse situations, eg family and domestic violence, bullying, harassment, homophobia, transphobia and vilification.’

 

Although note of course that both times homophobia and transphobia appear after an ‘eg’, meaning whether they are taught in these contexts remains optional (and obviously neither of these sections explicitly refers to biphobia or intersexphobia either).[vi]

 

Another major problem with the new NSW PDHPE K-10 Syllabus is its approach to sexual health.

 

There are only two compulsory references to sexual health in the content of the syllabus, one of which we have already seen (on page 96: ‘explore external influences on sexuality and sexual health behaviours and recognise the impact these can have on their own and others’ health, safety and wellbeing’).

 

The other reference, on page 95, describes ‘identify methods of contraception and evaluate the extent to which safe sexual health practices allow people to take responsibility for managing their own sexual health.’

 

There are two problems with this statement. First, it puts the emphasis on ‘contraception’ when sexual health, and LGBTI sexual health especially, is a much broader concept. Second, it does not specifically mandate that schools and teachers instruct students about sexually transmissible infections (STIs).

 

In fact, quite astoundingly, the only reference to STIs in the general syllabus,[vii] on page 84 (‘identify and plan preventive health practices and behaviours that assist in protection against disease, eg blood-borne viruses, sexually transmissible infections’) makes teaching about them optional. The only time the term HIV even appears in the entire document is in the glossary.[viii]

 

In terms of STI-prevention, it seems the NSW PDHPE syllabus has actually gone backwards from the previous 2003 document, which at least prescribed that students learn about:

 

‘sexual health

-acknowledging and understanding sexual feelings

-expectations of males and females

-rights and responsibilities in sexual relationships

-sexually transmitted infections, blood-borne viruses and HIV/AIDS’ as well as to

‘identify behaviours that assist in preventing STIs, BBVs and HIV/AIDS and explore the interrelationship with drug use.’[ix]

 

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The aim of the PDHPE K-10 Syllabus is explained on page 12 of the document:

 

‘The study of PDHPE in K-10 aims to enable students to develop the knowledge, understanding, skills, values and attitudes required to lead and promote healthy, safe and active lives.’

 

Unfortunately, the more than 100 pages of the new syllabus which follow that statement make clear that it does not, and cannot, promote healthy, safe and active lives for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex students. After all, it is impossible for students to learn everything they need to be safe when they cannot see themselves in the curriculum.

 

This document represents a complete derogation of duty by the NSW Education Standards Authority, and Education Minister Rob Stokes and the Berejiklian Liberal-National that have overseen them.

 

They have also failed in their duty to keep all students safe, LGBTI and non-LGBTI alike, given the paucity of sexual health information, and specific content around sexually transmissible infections, in the syllabus.

 

To some extent it is perhaps a little unfair to single out NSW for these failures, because they are not alone in responsibility for them.

 

As this author has previously written, the national Health and Physical Education curriculum (which provides the framework for the NSW syllabus) developed earlier this decade by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), also abjectly fails to take the needs of LGBTI students seriously.

 

Despite repeated calls for him to intervene, then-Commonwealth Education Minister Christopher Pyne refused to take action to make LGBTI-inclusive content a priority either.

 

Ensuring that all teachers, in all schools, provide health and physical education content that is inclusive of all students and their needs has been placed in the ‘too hard basket’ by educational authorities, and Ministers, at multiple levels of government over multiple years.

 

It seems they would prefer to pretend LGBTI students do not exist rather than to take on the influence of religious schools and others who see anything that promotes the view that LGBTI people are part of the natural, beautiful diversity of humanity as some sort of ‘radical agenda’.

 

In this respect, the exclusion of LGBTI content from the NSW PDHPE K-10 Syllabus shares a lot in common with the current debate about the exceptions to anti-discrimination law that allow religious schools to discriminate against LGBT students, something the NSW Government has also ruled out fixing.

 

As with that issue, the losers out of the new PDHPE curriculum are the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex kids who have the right to learn about themselves, and to receive the information they need to keep themselves safe, but who are instead being made to feel invisible.

 

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NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes has overseen the development of a PDHPE K-10 Syllabus that is almost completely silent on LGBTI issues.

 

Footnotes:

[i] The term bisexual actually appears four times, with an additional appearance in the glossary in the definition of ‘same-sex attracted’, alongside ‘homosexual’ in its only appearance.

[ii] This interpretation – that teaching the examples which are included in the content is optional – is supported by page 24 of the consultation report, which states: ‘The content is presented to be inclusive and provide the flexibility for delivery based on the context and the ethos of schools. Schools will make decisions about the scope and range of examples to illustrate the diversity of groups in Australian society.’

[iii] There is a separate reference to ‘sexuality’ that is not optional on page 119 in the Life Skills section, for students with special needs, although it does not specifically refer to diversity of sexual orientations.

[iv] The definition of sex on page 135, described as ‘The biological characteristics that define humans as female or male. While these sets of biological characteristics are not mutually exclusive, as there are individuals who possess both, they tend to differentiate humans as males and females’, also does not ensure students learn about variations of sex characteristics.

[v] The definition of transgender or trans on page 137 states ‘A general term for a person whose gender is different to their sex at birth’.

[vi] As an aside, it must surely be difficult to teach students about homophobia and transphobia when the syllabus doesn’t require instruction about the terms lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex in the first place.

[vii] At a minimum the Life Skills content for students with special needs makes teaching about sexually transmissible infections mandatory (on page 119: ‘recognise issues of safety in relation to sexual relationships, including contraception, sexually transmissible infections’).

[viii] In the glossary definition of sexually transmissible infections: ‘Any infection that can be passed from one person to another during sexual activity. Sexually transmissible infections include chlamydia, herpes, gonorrhea, syphilis, genital herpes, scabies, pubic lice, hepatitis and HIV.’

[ix] On page 27 of the 2003 PDHPE 7-10 Syllabus, here.

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’.

 

**********

 

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.

 

**********

 

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

 

**********

 

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.

Submission to Australian Human Rights Commission Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex (SOGII) Rights Consultation

One of my favourite campaigns of recent times – It Gets Better – performs a valuable role, letting vulnerable LGBTI youth know that, while the homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia they may be experiencing is awful, for most of them, it will get better. I emphasise the word most here because we should always remember that it does not get better for everyone.

Meanwhile, as the LGBTI movement itself ‘ages’, many of us are increasingly celebrating the past, and reflecting on significant community milestones (such as last year’s 30th anniversary of the decriminalisation of male homosexuality in NSW, or the 40th anniversary of Sydney’s Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras which is now only three years away). But, while absolutely necessary, looking backwards should never obscure the challenges that remain ahead.

This consultation, including an examination of legislation, policies and practices by government(s) that unduly restrict sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex rights, provides an opportunity to highlight some of the major obstacles which continue to prevent LGBTI Australians achieving full equality. In this submission, I will concentrate on six such areas:

  1. Involuntary or coerced sterilisation of intersex children

These unjustified practices – surgeries performed with the aim of ‘normalising’ intersex children according to the expectations of their parents, their doctors, and/or society at large, so that they conform to an exclusionary man/woman binary model of sex – are human rights abuses, plain and simple.

Obviously done without the child’s consent, such practices can involve sterilisation, as well as other ‘cosmetic’ (ie unnecessary), largely irreversible surgery on genitalia to make their bodies fit within the idea of what a man or woman ‘should’ be, ignoring the individual involved and their fundamental rights to bodily integrity, and personal autonomy.

That these practices continue in 2015 is abhorrent – and the fact the Commonwealth Government has yet to formally respond to the Senate’s 2013 Report into this issue (http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Community_Affairs/Involuntary_Sterilisation/Sec_Report/~/media/Committees/Senate/committee/clac_ctte/involuntary_sterilisation/second_report/report.ashx) is, or at least should be, a scandal.

  1. Restrictions on the rights of transgender people

Another group within the LGBTI community whose rights continue to trail those whose identities are based on sexual orientation (lesbian, gay and bisexual people) are transgender Australians.

This includes the fact there continue to be ‘out-of-pocket’, in many cases quite significant, expenses for medical support for trans* people simply to affirm their gender identity. This is a denial of their human rights – access to trans* surgeries and related medical services should not be restricted by the capacity to pay, but instead should be fully publicly-subsidised through Medicare.

The ongoing requirement that married transgender Australians must divorce their spouses in order for their gender identity to be legally recognised is also a fundamental breach of their rights, and must end.

  1. Processing and resettlement of LGBTI refugees in countries which criminalise homosexuality

Australian Governments, of both persuasions, are guilty of violating the human rights of LGBTI refugees. These are people who are (often) fleeing persecution on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status, and seeking our protection.

Australia’s response? To detain them, indefinitely, in inhumane prison camps on Nauru and Manus Island. For many, while detained they are at risk of prosecution under the laws of Papua New Guinea and/or Nauru, both of which continue to criminalise male-male intercourse. Even after they are found to be refugees, they are then ‘resettled’ in these countries, in effect exposing people who have fled persecution to potentially more persecution.

While I believe the offshore processing and resettlement of all refugees is unjust, it should be recognised it has a disproportionately negative impact on LGBTI refugees.

  1. Denial of the right of LGBTI students to an inclusive education

It is encouraging that greater numbers of young LGBTI people feel comfortable in disclosing their status at an earlier age – and for some, that they attend genuinely inclusive schools. However, this inclusion is by no means universal.

For example, the recently developed national Health & Physical Education curriculum does not even include the words lesbian, gay or bisexual, and does not guarantee students will be taught comprehensive sexual health education (even omitting the term HIV). This is a massive failure to ensure all students learn vital information that is relevant to their health.

Similarly, while the national Safe Schools Program is a welcome initiative to counter homophobia and bullying, participation in the program is optional, with most schools (and even some entire jurisdictions) opting out. The right to attend school free of discrimination should not depend on a student’s geographic location, or their parent/s’ choice of school.

Finally, religious exceptions to anti-discrimination legislation (in all jurisdictions outside Tasmania), mean many LGBTI students are at risk of discrimination, by their school, simply for being who they are.

  1. Limitations on anti-discrimination protections

Students are not the only LGBTI individuals let down by Australia’s current anti-discrimination framework. These same religious exceptions mean that, in most jurisdictions, LGBTI people can be discriminated against in a wide range of areas of public life, both as employees and people accessing services, in education, health, community services and (as employees) in aged care.

The attributes which are protected under anti-discrimination law also vary widely, with intersex people only truly protected under Commonwealth and Tasmanian law, different definitions of transgender (including extremely narrow protections in Western Australian legislation), and NSW excluding bisexual people altogether.

Finally, only four jurisdictions have vilification protections for (some) members of the LGBTI community – with no Commonwealth LGBTI equivalent of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

  1. Ongoing lack of marriage equality

I include this not because I consider it as important as the issues listed above, but simply as someone who has been engaged to be married for more than five years – and has no idea how much longer he will have to wait to exercise the same rights as cisgender heterosexual couples, with the only difference being who I love. Marriage discrimination is wrong, it is unjust, and it must go.

This submission is by no means comprehensive – there are a variety of other issues which I have excluded due to arbitrary word length restrictions (including mental health issues, anti-LGBTI violence, and discrimination against rainbow families – with my partner and I able to adopt in Sydney, but not Melbourne or Brisbane).

In conclusion, while it does get better, and over time, it most certainly has got better, there are still many ways in which the rights of LGBTI Australians continue to be denied – and about which we, as LGBTI advocates and activists, should remain angry, and most importantly, take action.

Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson, who is leading the consultation on SOGII Rights

Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson, who is leading the consultation on SOGII Rights

NB Public submissions to the AHRC SOGII Rights consultation close on Friday 6 February. For more details, head to: <https://www.humanrights.gov.au/sogii-rights

For more information on some of the topics listed above, see my previous posts on:

– Submission to Involuntary and Coerced Sterilisation of Intersex People Senate Inquiry <https://alastairlawrie.net/2013/07/01/submission-to-involuntary-and-coerced-sterilisation-senate-inquiry/

– Letter to Scott Morrison About Treatment of LGBTI Asylum-Seekers and Refugees Sent to Manus Island <https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/02/02/letter-to-scott-morrison-about-treatment-of-lgbti-asylum-seekers-and-refugees-sent-to-manus-island-png/

– Letter to Minister Pyne Calling for COAG to Reject Health & Physical Education Curriculum Due to Ongoing LGBTI Exclusion <https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/12/09/letter-to-minister-pyne-calling-for-coag-to-reject-health-physical-education-curriculum-due-to-ongoing-lgbti-exclusion/

– The Last Major Battle for Gay & Lesbian Legal Equality in Australia Won’t be about Marriage <https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/02/26/the-last-major-battle-for-gay-lesbian-legal-equality-in-australia-wont-be-about-marriage/  and

– Bill Shorten, Will you Lead on Marriage Equality? <https://alastairlawrie.net/2015/01/24/bill-shorten-will-you-lead-on-marriage-equality/

No 4 Draft Health & Physical Education Curriculum Fails LGBTI Students

For people who read my blog regularly, you will know that this is something I have written a fair bit about over the past 12 months. For others, you could be forgiven for asking what exactly I am talking about. Which is a fair enough question, given this subject has almost completely evaded media attention, even within the LGBTI community.

In December 2012, the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) released a draft national Health & Physical Education (HPE) curriculum for public consultation. Submissions closed in April this year, before a second draft was released for limited public consultation in July 2013.

ACARA then finalised the draft curriculum from August to November, before submitting it for approval at the COAG Standing Council on School Education and Early Childhood (SCSEEC) meeting in in Sydney on 29 November.

Through this process, it became clear that the draft HPE curriculum that had been developed would almost completely fail to serve the needs of young LGBTI people right around Australia. Neither the first nor the second draft curriculum even included the words gay, lesbian or bisexual, and, while the second included transgender and intersex, it only did so in the glossary and even then erroneously included them within the same definition.

Nor did the draft HPE curriculum guarantee that all students, LGBTI and non-LGBTI alike, would learn the necessary sexual health education to allow them to make informed choices. Almost unbelievably, COAG Education Ministers were asked to approve a Health & Physical Education curriculum that did not even include the term HIV (or other BBVs like viral hepatitis for that matter), just two days before World AIDS Day.

For more information on just how bad the draft HPE curriculums were, here is my submission to the first draft: https://alastairlawrie.net/2013/04/11/submission-on-national-health-physical-education-curriculum/ and second draft: https://alastairlawrie.net/2013/07/30/submission-on-redrafted-national-health-physical-education-curriculum/

Given the fact the draft HPE curriculums so comprehensively failed to include LGBTI students, let alone content that was relevant to their needs, why didn’t this issue receive more attention, both from the media, and more specifically from LGBTI activists and advocates?

Well, there are lots of reasons – including but not limited to the inability of something as complicated as a school curriculum to compete with the much more emotive, yes/no, good/evil, photogenic juggernaut that is marriage equality.

But simply writing it off in that way is too simple – and lets us off the hook, free from our own responsibility for this failure. Because, if the exclusion of LGBTI students and content from the HPE curriculum was not a public issue, it is because we, as LGBTI activists and advocates, did not make it one.

In which case, I would like to sincerely apologise to future generations of young LGBTI people, who we failed over the past 12 months. If the HPE curriculum that is ultimately adopted resembles anything like its draft form, then we simply did not do enough to ensure that you received the education that you deserve.

Of course, I should not be alone in making such an apology – there are many other people, and organisations, who could and should have done more in this area throughout the course of 2013. Nor should we let off the hook the Education Ministers, both Labor and Liberal, who oversaw the development of the HPE curriculum, including Peter Garrett and Bill Shorten who were Education Minister when the two drafts were released, respectively.

There is however, a small glimmer of hope, and an opportunity to make things better, in the HPE curriculum and therefore for LGBTI students over the next 10 to 15 years. That is because new Commonwealth Education Minister Christopher Pyne has commenced a review of both ACARA, and of the curriculum development process more generally.

While overall that is probably not a positive development, it did mean that the HPE curriculum was not actually agreed at the 29 November meeting, but was instead simply ‘noted’. In short, there is still time to try to convince Minister Pyne, and any or all of this state and territory counterparts (Labor, Liberal and Green), that the draft HPE curriculum is not good enough when it comes to providing essential health education to LGBTI students.

Unfortunately, doing so would require the concerted effort of LGBTI people and organisations from around the country. Based on all the evidence of the past 12 months, I am not especially hopeful. Still, I can hope to be proven wrong.

UPDATE January 11 2014: As of yesterday, the small glimmer of hope that might have existed is no more. The Commonwealth Education Minister, Christopher Pyne, has appointed Kevin Donnelly as one of two men to review the curriculum. Unfortunately, Mr Donnelly is on record as making numerous homophobic comments in the past, including advocating for the rights of religious schools to discriminate against LGBTI students and staff. If anything, there is now a grave danger that the final Health & Physical Education curriculum will be significantly worse than the already poor versions released publicly in December 2012 and July 2013. How depressing for us – and how dangerous for the health and safety of the next generation of LGBTI students and young people.

The ABCs of Health & Physical Education Must Include LGBTI

Next week, a decision will be made that will have a profound and long-lasting influence on the health and wellbeing of an entire generation of young lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Australians. And it has nothing (or at most, very little) to do with marriage equality.

On Friday, 29 November, the COAG Standing Council on School Education and Early Childhood, which includes Commonwealth, state and territory Education Ministers, will decide whether to approve the national Health and Physical Education (HPE) curriculum. The HPE curriculum, developed by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), has largely been ignored, struggling to compete for attention against photogenic images of same-sex couples in wedding attire, and empowered adults advocating for the right to marry the person they love.

While I obviously support that campaign (indeed, I am engaged to be married myself), the national HPE curriculum will arguably have a far greater impact on young LGBTI people, right across the country, than any other possible reform.

We already know that young LGBTI people experience significantly higher rates of mental health issues, and, tragically, suicidality, than other groups. Figures from the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell report reveal that young same-sex attracted people are roughly six times more likely to attempt suicide (20-42% compared to 7-13% of heterosexual young people). While there is less research, similar, if anything even worse, statistics affect young transgender people.

And we already know what causes poorer mental health outcomes for younger LGBTI people – the homophobia, bi-phobia, trans-phobia and anti-intersex discrimination that still occurs all too frequently. The 2010 Writing Themselves In 3 report found that 61% of same-sex attracted and gender questioning young people had experienced verbal abuse because of homophobia, 18% had suffered physical abuse, and 26% reported other forms of homophobia.

Disturbingly, “the most common place of abuse remained school with 80% of those who were abused naming school” (WTI3 pIX). Our young LGBTI people are being abused in one of the places that they should feel safest. And the trend is worsening, with that figure markedly up since 2004 (when 74% reported homophobic abuse at school) and 1998 (69%).

Just as worryingly, young LGBTI are not receiving an inclusive education in terms of content either. While just over a third of young people reported receiving useful information about homophobia and discrimination from school (WTI3, p80), less than one fifth were able to access information about gay or lesbian relationships (p81).

Our schools are also comprehensively failing to provide adequate, and appropriate, sexual health education to young LGBTI people. Writing Themselves In 3 found that less than one in five students were taught relevant information about gay or lesbian safe sex (by comparison, approximately 70% reported receiving information about heterosexual safe sex: p82). Young people themselves are aware of this gross inadequacy – 84% of LGBTI respondents found their Sexuality Education to be either not useful at all (44%) or at best only partly useful (40%) (p84).

I have painted this confronting picture because the development of a national Health and Physical Education curriculum was an ideal chance to rectify some of these deficiencies. An inclusive HPE curriculum, which specifically included LGBTI students and content relevant to their needs, could have gone some way to reducing the disparities in health outcomes experienced by young LGBTI people. But it seems likely the document that will be agreed at the end of next week will fall spectacularly short of this goal.

Two drafts of the HPE curriculum have been released for publication consultation: the first, an 82-page draft in December 2012, the second, a pared-down 50 page revised draft in July 2013. In neither draft are the terms lesbian, gay, homosexual or bisexual even used, let alone defined. The words transgender and intersex do make a solitary appearance in the revised draft: in the glossary, erroneously included together under the heading gender-diverse.

Not only is the national HPE curriculum not going to overcome the silence about LGBTI students and content which exists in many schools across Australia – it is more likely to perpetuate and further entrench it.

To be fair, the curriculum does include a single aspirational – some might say, less kindly, token – paragraph on the subject of ‘same sex attracted and gender diverse students’ (SSAGD) on page 18 of the July 2013 revised draft. But even this includes vague, and seemingly unenforceable, commitments.

It says the curriculum “is designed to allow schools flexibility to meet the needs of these [SSAGD] students, particularly in the health context of relationships and sexuality” (emphasis added). This leaves open the possibility that some schools, including but not limited to religious schools, will exercise that same flexibility to exclude LGBTI content.

The next sentence reads “[a]ll school communities have a responsibility when implementing the HPE curriculum to ensure teaching is inclusive and relevant to the lived experience of all students” (emphasis added). That could be interpreted, optimistically, to mean all schools must include SSAGD content – or it could be interpreted, by less progressive school bodies (or indeed state and territory governments), to mean HPE education must be inclusive only where they are aware of the presence of LGBTI students.

That might seem, on the face of it, to be an overly-negative reading – except that a statement that “students facing these issues [SSAGD] exist in all schools”, which appeared in the first draft of the curriculum, was axed from the revised draft. It is hard to ignore the possibility that religious and independent schools have ensured the removal of such a clause, thereby allowing them to continue to ignore LGBTI students and content unless those students identify themselves.

These schools know that many young people will not disclose their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status at school (often in – quite legitimate – fear of punishment from that same school), meaning that heterosexual and cisgender-only health education can continue on much as before. Even where LGBTI students do ‘come out’, the onus should never be put on them to do so in order to receive an inclusive education: all students have the fundamental right to be taught LGBTI relevant content, whether they have disclosed their status or not.

That right exists no matter which state or territory they live in, and irrespective of whether they attend a public, religious or other private school. The right to be taught LGBTI-inclusive content also supersedes whatever views the school, or its employees, may hold, based on religion or otherwise. To me, that is the definition of putting children first, something which conservatives and family values campaigners consistently tell us to do.

Any optimistic view of the curriculum, based on the ‘aspirational paragraph’ referred to earlier, is further undermined by the lack of specific content in the individual year band descriptions, which is the practical guide to what students are expected to learn (on pages 25-42). There are no sections that guarantee detailed LGBTI-relevant content will be taught. In fact, a single reference to ‘homophobia’, which was included in the original December 2012 draft, was excised from the revised draft released in July 2013.

Even worse, there does not appear to be any section which mandates that students be taught comprehensive sexual health information (and that absence even includes heterosexual sexual health). There are no references to safe(r) sex education, to condoms, or to sexually transmissible infections (STIs). Above all, there is not a single reference in the entire draft HPE curriculum to HIV.

Imagine that for a second. More than 30 years into the HIV epidemic in Australia, and in the same year that the Annual Surveillance Reports showed a 10% increase in HIV notifications (24% in NSW), our national Health and Physical Education curriculum does not even mention HIV (nor does it include other Blood Borne Viruses (BBVs) like hepatitis B or C, which themselves each affect 1% of the entire Australian population).

The idea that, just two days before World AIDS Day, Commonwealth, state and territory Education Ministers could sit around a table and agree to an HPE curriculum that excludes HIV and other BBVs is simply astounding (and a lot of other words which I am too polite to write here).

Taken together, these omissions – LGBTI students and content, comprehensive sexual health education, and HIV and other BBVs – from the national Health and Physical Education curriculum, mean that the document that has been drafted (or the public versions of it at least) is an abject failure.

And it is a collective failure, too. The original December 2012 draft, and the July 2013 revised draft, were both released under the previous federal Labor Government. Of the state and territory Education Ministers present next Friday, five will be from the Coalition, two from Labor and even one from the Greens, and they will each bear some of the responsibility.

But above all, this is a test for the new Commonwealth Education Minister, the Hon Christopher Pyne MP. He has come to Government expressing concerns about the ACARA process for developing the national curriculum, and the outcomes it has produced. Here is his opportunity to show that he is genuine, and to help ensure that the national Health and Physical Education Curriculum is genuinely-inclusive.

If he does not, if the document that is approved on 29 November excludes LGBTI students and content, comprehensive sexual health education, and HIV and other BBVs, then Minister Pyne will earn a large red “F” on his first term report card. He can – and must – do better.

Update (3 December): The Standing Council on School Education and Early Childhood met last Friday, but did NOT endorse the national Health & Physical Education curriculum. Instead, they have noted its development, while also noting that the Commonwealth is reviewing ACARA and the curriculum development process more broadly. Basically, the curriculum is on hold until that review is finished, meaning it could be adopted at some point in 2014, amended and then adopted in 2014, or could be sent back for complete redraft, either by ACARA or someone else. I will obviously post further updates as I become aware of important developments.

Letter to Ministers re National Health & Physical Education Curriculum

So, you may recall that I lodged a submission with the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) regarding the draft national Health and Physical Education (HPE) Curriculum which they released for public comment in December 2012 (see my post in April 2013 for a copy of my submission).

Well, the draft HPE curriculum is now being considered in detail between different state and territory Governments, and the Commonwealth Government, before its expected agreement in the second half of this year.

It is unclear what, if any, changes have been made to the curriculum as a result of the consultation process. Given the importance of the issue, today I wrote to the Commonwealth Minister for School Education, the Hon Peter Garrett MP, and his NSW counterpart, the Hon Adrian Piccoli, expressing my concerns about the draft. And, because of the potential impact on LGBTI health, I copied in the Commonwealth Health Minister, the Hon Tanya Plibersek MP, and the NSW Health Minister, the Hon Jillian Skinner, to these letters.

It is still my hope that someone, somewhere, will finally realise that it is completely inappropriate and detrimental to adopt a Health and Physical Education Curriculum that does not specifically mention lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI) people, and does not even explicitly include HIV.

Anyway, here is a copy of my letter to Minister Garrett:

Dear Minister Garrett

NATIONAL HEALTH AND PHYSICAL EDUCATION CURRICULUM

I am writing to you to express my significant concerns about the draft national Health & Physical Education (HPE) curriculum.

The draft curriculum that was released for public consultation by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) in December 2012 fails to appropriately include lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) students, and does not guarantee that content relevant to their needs is provided in every classroom.

I have already lodged a submission to ACARA through their public consultation process. However, I would like to bring these issues directly to your attention because the consequences of excluding these students, and ignoring their educational requirements, are so severe.

I have also copied the Health Minister, the Hon Tanya Plibersek MP, into this correspondence, because many of these consequences will impact on the health of the LGBTI community. These impacts could include increased transmission of HIV and other STIs, as well as the continuing high, and disproportionate, rate of youth suicide among LGBTI people.

As you can see from my submission to ACARA, I have a range of criticisms of the draft curriculum. However, the three major issues which I would like to see addressed are:

1.       The national HPE curriculum must explicitly include LGBTI students and their concerns.

The draft HPE curriculum released by ACARA does not include any references to sexual orientation, homosexuality, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex. This is a gross oversight, and has the potential effect of making these students, and their needs, invisible.

There is a token effort to address this issue on page 18 of the draft, where it acknowledges that same sex attracted and gender diverse students exist in all schools. However, it does not back this acknowledgement up with any concrete action – instead, the draft curriculum notes that “it is expected that opportunities will be taken when implementing the [curriculum] to ensure teaching is inclusive and relevant to their lived experiences.”

This “expectation” does not actually guarantee anything. There are no explicit references to LGBT or I students in any of the band descriptions for years which follow from page 26. It is also difficult to see how any teaching can be “inclusive and relevant” when the curriculum does not even use the terms which most people from the LGBTI community use to describe themselves.

Unfortunately, adopting a national HPE curriculum which does not explicitly refer to LGBTI students or address their particular needs will only compound the feelings of isolation, and the discrimination, which many of these students experience, rather than cater to the health and physical education needs of all students, not just cisgender heterosexual ones.

2.       The national HPE curriculum must provide inclusive sexual health education.

Another key failing of the draft national HPE curriculum is that the ‘sex ed’ which it includes is both narrow in scope and limited in detail.

The primary reference to this essential area of health and physical education is on page 59 where it states students will be taught “investigating practices that support reproductive health and wellbeing”. And that is the extent of the content.

There are two major problems with this approach. First, “reproductive health and wellbeing” is an exclusionary terms, that primarily focuses on sexual health practices and issues for cisgender heterosexual students. It implicitly excludes same-sex sexual activity and other practices which do not relate to reproduction (and in fact omits many opposite-sex sexual activities). It would be far preferable to use the term “sexual health” which would include a much wider range of sexual activities and issues.

The second major problem is that one sentence is insufficient to cover the range of issues which need to be taught as part of sexual health. There should be significantly more detail in this area, including a guarantee that all students learn ‘safe sex’ messages, learn about condoms, basically that all students learn about ways to reduce STI transmission.

3.       The national HPE curriculum must include explicit reference to HIV.

On the subject of STIs, I find it astonishing that the draft national HPE curriculum does not include even a single reference to HIV.

As a gay man who came of age in the 1990s, I think that this is irresponsible, and fails to undertake the most basic requirement of a ‘health and physical education’ curriculum – namely, to provide education on how students can stay safe and protect their own personal health.

Yes, the consequences of a diagnosis have (thankfully) reduced because of improvements of treatment over the past 20 years. Yes, for many people HIV is now a chronic manageable condition rather than a ‘death sentence’.

However, many people, including young people, are still contracting HIV. And some people are still dying with HIV/AIDS at least a contributing factor.

Surely, in a document of more than 80 pages, there is room to incorporate basic information regarding HIV, and the main ways to prevent its transmission?

The NSW PDHPE curriculum finds room to reference HIV in both the K-6 syllabus, and the 7-10 syllabus. I expect that other states and territories would have similar components. At the very least, any national HPE curriculum must do the same.

As I indicated before, I think that the draft of the HPE curriculum released by ACARA in December 2012 fails in its important duty to provide education for the benefit of all students, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex students.

I hope that you and the Federal Government share these concerns and can help address the issues raised in this letter during the inter-governmental consultation on the final version of the HPE curriculum.

Should you have any questions about this letter, or my attached submission, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Thank you in advance for considering this correspondence.

Submission on National Health & Physical Education Curriculum

Below is the text of my submission to ACARA about the draft national Health & Physcial Education curriculum (due tomorrow 12 April). I think that my concern with the consultation draft, as released, shows through. I find it particularly worrying that the curriculum does not use the words lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex.

But it is even more worrying that it omits the terms or phrases condoms, safe sex and HIV/AIDS – that, to me, is negligently putting the lives of young people, and young gay and bisexual men in particular, at risk. Here’s hoping that ACARA listens to this submission, and to others from people writing about this issue.

Curriculum Photo

Submission on Draft National Health and Physical Education Curriculum: Foundation to Year 10

Thursday 11 April 2013

I am writing this submission as an ordinary member of the community. But I am also writing this submission as a gay man, and someone who was profoundly let down by my school education with respect to both inclusivity, and sexual health education.

In my opinion, both of these things – being genuinely inclusive of diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and of intersex people, and providing comprehensive and detailed sexual health education, including HIV prevention – are absolutely essential in any Health and Physical Education (HPE) curriculum.

Inclusivity is necessary because all students, whether they be heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI), or a combination of these, have the right to an inclusive education, to learn about who they are, to develop their identity in a safe place, and to be provided with all of the information which they need as they grow up.

These rights are particularly important for LGBTI students because they will be entering a world in which homophobia, bi-phobia, trans-phobia and anti-intersex prejudice remain a sad and unarguable fact. The consequences of not providing an inclusive education can be severe – LGBTI students can be the victims of harassment and bullying on account of their sexual orientations, gender identity or intersex status. LGBTI students, and later adults, also have higher rates of mental health issues, including rates of suicide, as a result of the discrimination which they experience. Any HPE curriculum which is adopted should be furthering the health of LGBTI people – and should not instead perpetuate their exclusion.

Sexual health education is necessary for all students, again, irrespective of whether they are gay or straight and no matter their gender identity or intersex status. However, unless they are specifically mentioned, the needs of LGBTI people can easily be overlooked with teachers and schools sometimes providing for the needs of the majority of their students, while ignoring the fact that every student should receive all the information they need to stay safe.

This is especially important for same-sex attracted boys, given that men who have sex with men remain a high-priority population in terms of HIV prevention. This means that sexual health education cannot be limited to ‘reproductive health’ or simply outline the risks of heterosexual intercourse, but must be comprehensive and teach all students about the risks involved in different types of intercourse, and above all the measures, such as condoms, which reduce those risks.

Of course, there is an additional reason why a HPE curriculum must be inclusive of LGBTI students, and must provide inclusive sexual health education – and that is because in many cases teachers and schools will be unaware which of their students are LGBT or I. Some students do ‘come out’ while at school, and obviously I believe that all schools should provide encouraging and nurturing environments to allow those students to do so. But many students do not come out while at school.

And I do not believe that they should be compelled to do so in order to receive an education which teaches them what they need to know about their identity, and the sexual health education which they need to stay safe.

As I mentioned before, my school education failed, and failed miserably, on both of these grounds. My school did not mention homosexuality, unless it was from a negative perspective. And throughout my education, at both primary and secondary schools, I not once was taught about safe sex in a same-sex attracted (or ‘non-reproductive’) context. Sadly, while many schools have become better at both inclusivity and sexual health education since that time (the early to mid-1990s), many have not.

The development of a national Health and Physical Education curriculum presents an ideal opportunity to address these issues. It is a chance to ensure that HPE, taught in any class room in any school across the country, is inclusive of LGBTI students, and provides sexual health education that is appropriate for all students, not just those who are heterosexual.

Unfortunately, the draft national HPE curriculum released by ACARA in December 2012 does not seize this historic opportunity. In my opinion, it falls far short in terms of its inclusivity (or, more accurately, lack thereof) of LGBTI students. For example, it does not even mention the words lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI), and therefore contributes to what can feel like an all-pervasive silence about these issues. I do not understand how any document can aspire to being inclusive of the full diversity of students when it deliberately omits the words lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex.

The draft national HPE curriculum also falls short in terms of the sexual health education which it provides. As well as beginning too late (in year 7 rather than year 5), the sexual health education which is included appears to focus on ‘reproductive health’ rather than genuinely inclusive sexual health. It should, but does not, cover everything necessary for same-sex attracted students and for HIV prevention.

The remainder of this submission will focus on some of the specific parts of the draft HPE curriculum which I believe should be amended, focusing on the many opportunities for improvement. I hope that these recommendations or suggestions are taken up, so that all students, including LGBTI students, get the education which they deserve.

1. On pages 3 and 4 of the draft HPE curriculum, the ‘key idea’ of being ‘healthy, safe and active’ could be amended to read: ‘confident, healthy, safe and active’. This would reflect the need for students to be confident in their personal identity (which is discussed briefly on page 4, but should be elevated in importance). Personal identity is fundamental to a student’s sense of wellbeing, and just as important as being ‘healthy’ or ‘safe’. It should also be noted that personal identity is not limited to LGBTI students, but would include a wide range of diverse backgrounds and therefore benefit students from across the spectrum.

2. On page 6, under the heading ‘relationships and sexuality’, the dot point which currently reads ‘exploring sexual and gender identities’ could be amended to be more explicit. A possible replacement could read ‘exploring different sexual orientations, gender identities and sex and intersex status’.

3. On page 15, I disagree with the choice to delay relationships and sexuality education until years 5-6 onwards. Instead, I believe it should commence in years 3-4, in the same way that alcohol and other drugs education does. This would ensure that students are aware of the full range of identities as they enter puberty, and do not need to ‘suffer in silence’ because they might be attracted to someone of the same sex. This outcome could be achieved by introducing the ‘themes’ or general concepts of relationships and sexuality in years 3-4 (including the identities of lesbian, gay and bisexual), and then providing more detailed sexual health education in years 5 and 6. As it currently stands, students would not receive detailed sexual health education until year 7 at the earliest, when students are generally turning 13. Given what we know about the sexual activity of young people, and the fact that puberty is starting earlier and earlier, this is too late for effective sexual health education to begin.

4. Onto a more specific issue – I think that more consideration could be given to introducing the particular topics relating to transgender and intersex from Foundation onwards, rather than waiting for 3-4 when lesbian, gay and bisexual issues are introduced. This is because gender identity and intersex are not related to sexual attraction, but instead may well be known before or at the commencement of schooling. Obviously I am not an expert on these issues, and would defer to the input of transgender organisations and groups like OII Australia. I am merely raising this issue because it would not appear logical to delay teaching these particular matters until closer to puberty (unlike arguably the same-sex attracted issues referred to above).

5. I welcome the inclusion of a statement about same-sex attracted (SSA) and gender diverse students on page 18 of the draft HPE curriculum – at the very least the curriculum acknowledges that these students exist and have specific needs. However, I reject the idea that the curriculum should provide schools with the ‘flexibility’ to include these students, with a vague and non-committal ‘expectation’ that schools will take opportunities to be inclusive. This seems fundamentally inconsistent with a sentence in the same paragraph which correctly notes that ‘students facing these issues exist in all school communities’.

If that statement is correct, then ALL schools across the country MUST be inclusive. The best way to achieve this is to provide specific and detailed requirements for the inclusion of LGBTI-related content throughout the text of the curriculum, rather than through a non-binding ‘aspirational’ statement at the beginning of the document which will likely only be referred to and applied by those schools and teachers which are already supportive of LGBTI students.

6. As a broader point, while I understand that the terms same-sex attracted (SSA) and gender diverse are included on page 18 because they are considered more inclusive of the diverse range of possible identities, I disagree that these should be the only terms used in the document to describe these groups. The vast majority of students who grow up who are SSA or gender diverse, will over time identify with one or more of the following identities: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex.

For this reason, I believe that these specific identities/descriptors should be included in the curriculum as well. These students deserve to have their identities spoken about in the classroom – and other students should also learn about the diversity of sexual orientations, gender identities and intersex people, rather than just the catch-all phrases SSA and gender diverse. After all, these are the terms which all students are likely to be exposed to after they depart the school environment. If any students leave school without understanding these terms then I think we are doing them a great disservice.

7. On page 49, at heading 4.2, I welcome the introduction of discrimination on the basis of sexuality as one of the particular examples of negative forms of discrimination which may be discussed in the classroom. However, I would like to see this broadened to look at discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status (rather than the more generic term ‘sexuality’), and I would also like teachers to be required to use all of these examples (including race, gender, disability etc), rather than simply choosing one or two from the list and potentially ignoring or omitting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex.

8. In the discussion of years 7-8, from page 58 onwards, the curriculum finally looks at sexual health education in detail. As discussed above, I believe this is far too late (and should instead be taught from year 5 onwards). However, turning to the substance of what is proposed, I also believe that it is too narrowly defined and limited in content.

For example, on page 59 the draft curriculum only refers to ‘reproductive health and wellbeing’. This is a very exclusionary term, traditionally focusing on sexual practices which are related to reproduction. This does NOT include other forms of sexual intercourse, including the behaviours of people who are same-sex attracted (as well as a range of other behaviours of heterosexual students which are also unrelated to reproduction). It is for this reason that the term sexual health should be used instead (or at least sexual and reproductive health), as it captures all of the behaviours which should be discussed.

9. The discussion of sexual health also needs to be made significantly longer, with more detail provided about what exactly has to be taught. This should include explicit reference to condoms, safe sex and the need for the prevention of HIV and other STIs. As a gay man who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, I believe that it is negligent to draft a curriculum for primary and secondary students that does not include the words condom, safe sex or even HIV. Any comprehensive guide for the ‘health and physical education’ of young people must include these terms, especially when considering the health and wellbeing of young gay men, bisexual men and men who have sex with men generally. I would hope that organisations from the HIV/AIDS sector will be making similar points on this particular issue.

10. Finally, in years 9-10, on page 70, in addition to the reference to homophobia, there should also be references to bi-phobia, trans-phobia and anti-intersex discrimination. Students should be aware of the existence of, and unacceptability of, each of these types of prejudice. Of course, logically these types of discrimination cannot be discussed without an understanding of the identities lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex, further underscoring the need for these issues to be taught from earlier in the curriculum.

As discussed earlier, I believe that significant amendments and improvements should be made to the draft national HPE curriculum to ensure that it is genuinely inclusive of, and provides appropriate sexual health education for, LGBTI students. I hope that ACARA takes these suggestions or recommendations for improvement into consideration as it revises the HPE curriculum before it is submitted to the Commonwealth and State and Territory education ministers for approval later this year.