Stonewall 50: Bouquets & Bricks

Today marks 50 years since the Stonewall Riots, a key moment in the history of LGBTI rights activism, both in the United States and around the world.

 

In a different world I had hoped to be in New York, attending the World Pride celebrations marking this significant anniversary – although unfortunately sometimes the more mundane parts of life, like mortgage payments, have other plans.

 

I wanted to be there to pay my respects to the activists who have come before us, and on whose shoulders we stand, who have paved the way towards the improved rights and increased acceptance many of us enjoy today.

 

Even though I may not be there in person I can still honour their achievements in my own small way, on this somewhat niche LGBTI rights blog, on the other side of the globe.

 

Thank you to the brave people at the Stonewall Inn who, in the early hours of June 28 1969, fought back against police oppression, and fought to end the injustice that was ubiquitous in the lives of queer people at that time.

 

Thank you to the trans and gender diverse people, the drag queens and the people of colour who have been at the forefront of this battle from the very beginning.

 

Of course, the Stonewall Riots was not the first instance of LGBTI people fighting back against abuse and mistreatment. Thank you too to the people at Compton’s Cafeteria, and Cooper Do-nuts, and likely other instances of queer rebellion that have been lost to history, because we were not the ones who were writing it.

 

Nor was Stonewall the starting point for LGBTI rights within the United States, with groups like the Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilitis undertaking the comparatively-boring legal reform work – but who, in doing so, took far greater risks than we could possibly appreciate today.

 

Obviously, the story of LGBTI activism did not begin and does not end with the US either (a mistake we make all-too-often, especially on anniversaries like this).

 

Thank you as well to the countless campaigners for our rights around the world, from the advocates for homosexual recognition in Germany in the second half of the 19th century, to the courageous people fighting for decriminalisation in the 69 countries where homosexuality remains illegal today (hopefully 68 later this year, if Bhutan’s upper house passes the Bill before it).

 

Looking closer to home, Australia’s most-famous instance of queer people celebrating amidst the spectre of police brutality had its own 40th anniversary just last year. Thank you to the 78ers, whose courage at that first Sydney Gay Mardi Gras helped inspire the generations here that followed.

 

Just as in the US, however, Mardi Gras was not the starting point for LGBTI rights in Australia.

 

Thank you to the people who stood up in the preceding decade, from the formation of the Homosexual Law Reform Society of the ACT in July 1969 (just one month after Stonewall, and who will celebrate their own 50th anniversary in four weeks’ time), through the early 70s activism of groups like Campaign Against Moral Persecution (CAMP for short), to the decriminalisation advocates in South Australia and elsewhere.

 

Thank you to the people who responded to the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980s, which decimated our community when it had only just begun to emerge from the darkness. You fought for your lives – and for all of us – and in doing so you kept the (candle)light alive.

 

Thank you to the HIV activists today, who understand that this struggle is not over.

 

Thank you to the law reformers, who over decades have secured the building blocks of legal equality, from anti-discrimination protections, to relationship recognition and most recently the right to marry the person we love.

 

Thank you to the trans and gender diverse activists, who have been fighting – against even greater resistance – for the right to live the lives you were always meant to. The battles for access to birth certificates and identity documentation, and health care, are not over.

 

Thank you to the intersex activists whose struggles seem bigger still. Many of whom are survivors of gross violations of the human right to bodily autonomy, but who speak out to stop those same coercive surgeries and treatments from being inflicted on others. And who must fight against the indifference of politicians, the arrogance of medical professionals and too-often the ignorance of other members of the LGBTI community.

 

Thank you to the queer people of colour, and especially to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTI people, who fight not just against homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia, but also against the racism that lies at the heart of our country (and, sadly, within our own community too).

 

As can be seen from the above, the incredible progress made so far on LGBTI rights has been achieved because of the work of more than any one particular individual or organisation. We have all played a role.

 

From the brave people who threw the first bricks at Stonewall. To others who have thrown bricks through the legal, social and cultural discrimination which LGBTI people all-too-commonly faced. And everyone who has thrown their own bricks through the closet of invisibility and shame that too many people have endured.

 

With those bricks we have built ourselves a community, and a home, where more people than at any point in history can feel accepted for who they are, no matter their sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics.

 

But, as we all know, the house of LGBTI rights remains incomplete – there is still much unfinished business, in Australia, the United States and around the world, before all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people can finally be considered ‘free & equal’.

 

Which means we need more (metaphorical) brick-throwers, to smash down the walls of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia that keep many LGBTI community members imprisoned.

 

So today, as we celebrate Stonewall 50, and give thanks to the LGBTI activists who have made our world a better place, we should take a moment to reflect on what each of us can do, what we should do, and what we must do, to carry on their work.

 

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

 

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No 11 Telling the Histories of the HIV Epidemic

One of the main cultural phenomena of 2013, at least from my perspective, was a welcome move towards telling the history of the HIV epidemic, and in particular looking back on the key years of the 1980s and early 1990s, especially in the US.

This started with the fantastic documentary How to Survive a Plague, directed by David France, focusing on the story of ACTUP activists in New York City. I wrote earlier in the year about how powerful this documentary was – almost 10 months later and I would still say this was the best, and most important, film I saw this year.

Which is not meant as any disrespect to the also rather wonderful All the Way Through Evening, directed by Australian Rohan Spong. This documentary presented a much more targeted examination of the impact of HIV, through the story of Mimi Stern-Wolfe, an incredible woman who, each year, organises a concert in New York which plays the music of composers lost to AIDS-related illness.

In theatre, I finally fulfilled a long-held ambition by seeing the Belvoir St revival of Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes. Staged 20 years after Tony Kushner’s 2-part epic first debuted, director Eamon Flack, and indeed the entire cast, did a brilliant job of making the pain, and fear, and hope, and hopelessness, seem all too real (which is a pretty decent effort when the plays ask the audience to suspend their disbelief about angels suspended on ropes, or in this case, standing on stepladders).

It was also a privilege to see the 7-hour marathon (we saw Millenium Approaches and Perestroika back-to-back) with my fiancé Steven. Not normally a fan of theatre, he was as engrossed as I was by this production.

More importantly, these films and plays served as a ‘history lesson’ for both of us. Steven was born in December 1983, after the first deaths from AIDS-related illness in Australia. His entire life has been in the shadow of this epidemic. Even though I am (*cough*) a little bit older than that, I still turned 18 after saquinavir and ritonavir had been approved by the FDA in the US, fundamentally altering the nature of the epidemic for the better.

It feels right that all generations of gay and bisexual men, and indeed all people potentially affected by HIV, should take the time to reflect on the history of this epidemic. That we should remember the people who fought to overcome stigma and discrimination, who fought for better access to treatment, who fought for the right to survive.

And of course it is vital to remember the personal stories of those who lost their own fight.

But it is also vital that, in doing so, we do not lose sight of the challenges that remain. Because the activists of yesterday might be somewhat disappointed in us if we did not also fight the battles of today, and tomorrow, with the same conviction that they did.

This includes tackling the stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV that continues to exist in our society. And working hard to help prevent new transmissions – something that was thrown into sharp relief by recent figures which showed that HIV notifications increased 10% nationwide in 2012, including a jump of 24% in NSW.

Above all, the global challenge of HIV is in ensuring that all people have access to effective treatments, irrespective of their race, sexual orientation or gender identity, their class or their nationality. Cost should not be a barrier to receiving the latest drugs. Indeed, access to treatment must be considered a fundamental human right.

Hopefully, Australia can play its part in the reinvigoration of this fight as it hosts the AIDS 2014 conference in Melbourne next July.

In the meantime, the recent trend towards (re-)telling the history of HIV on stage and on film, which arguably started with We Were Here back in 2011 (about the impact of HIV on San Francisco), shows no signs of letting up.

Next month, Jean-Marc Vallee’s Dallas Buyers Club will hit our cinemas. It is reported that John and Tim, a documentary about the life of the author of the memoir Holding the Man, Timothy Conigrave, and his partner John Caleo, will also be released early in 2014. [Incidentally, that book was the first I read as a young gay man, and remains my favourite to this day].

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Just this week, director Neil Armfield received Screen Australia funding to develop a film version of Holding the Man, based on Tommy Murphy’s 2007 stage adaptation. The Hollywood version of Larry Kramer’s largely autobiographical 1980s play The Normal Heart looks on track for a 2014 release, too.

Which, in a way, brings us all the way back to How to Survive a Plague. The scene of Kramer sitting in a room full of divided and dispirited activists, yelling “Plague!” is the one that has stayed with me above all others. One day, the epidemic that is the Human Immunodeficiency Virus will be over, in part because of the work of ACTUP activists and others like them.  Til then, we must keep remembering, and keep fighting.

Related posts

My post after watching How to Survive a Plague: https://alastairlawrie.net/2013/02/23/how-to-survive-a-plague/

My post after watching Angels in America: https://alastairlawrie.net/2013/07/01/belvoir-st-theatres-angels-in-america/

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

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

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

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

The Hon Christopher Pyne MP

Minister for Education

PO Box 6022

House of Representatives

Parliament House

CANBERRA ACT 2600

Sunday 29 September 2013

Dear Minister

LGBTI INCLUSION IN NATIONAL HEALTH AND PHYSICAL EDUCATION CURRICULUM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

Rainbow Crossings? What else have you got?

The City of Sydney held its Rainbow Flag/Crossing public consultation on Tuesday night (July 16th) at Paddington Town Hall.

While I am not the world’s biggest fan of a Rainbow Flag (I think that it would be a ‘nice’ thing for Sydney to have to commemorate the LGBTI history of the city, but there might be better options to do that as well – see discussion below), I went along because the forum also included a panel looking at the most important issues confronting Sydney’s LGBTI community today.

The following are my four main observations about the forum:

1. Who knew that butcher’s paper, hastily scrawled ideas and scribes reporting back to the broader group was still a thing, especially in a room full of more than 100 people? It was certainly not what I expected when I walked in the door (and I still don’t know whether it worked or not).

2. The forum, including a presentation from the person who ‘led’ the Rainbow Crossing movement, probably demonstrated the limitations of that particular form of activism. While chalking is/was a great opportunity to engage different people from across the wider community (and extend the message of acceptance to straight allies), its moment may have passed. And showing photos of Chinese children chalking a rainbow outside rubble, or Vietnamese orphans living with HIV jumping behind a rainbow, might not be as inspiring as you think – it might instead lead audience members to wonder about the much bigger problems which these people face, and which will not be overcome with temporary distractions.

3. There are probably better, although admittedly more expensive, ideas for celebrating the LGBTI community of Sydney than either a Rainbow Flag or Rainbow Crossings. Our table’s (entirely unoriginal) idea was to provide for a permanent LGBTI museum, which could provide an ongoing reflection on the history of LGBTI Sydney, and Australia. I think something might have been lost in the translation of our notes to what ended up on the City of Sydney website on this – whereas we wrote ‘permanent LGBTI museum’ the website describes it merely as ‘permanent space for a museum and exhibitions’. To put it bluntly, we don’t just want the space, we want the funding to help make a museum happen (link to Have Your Say consultation here: http://sydneyyoursay.com.au/GLBTI?module=news#tool)

4. The discussion of the issues confronting the LGBTI community in Sydney today was probably the most interesting part of the night. A lot of worthy ideas were raised (including youth suicide and mental health, discrimination in schools, religious exceptions, transgender services etc). But one issue which was apparently not raised outside our table, and which certainly wasn’t reported on by anybody back to the group (we weren’t asked) was the issue of rising HIV notifications. Less than 2 weeks since the release of figures showing a 24% rise of HIV notifications in NSW in 2012, and an 18% rise in notifications resulting from sex between men (which still accounts for 81% of transmissions in the state), it seemed that HIV notifications, and the enormous challenges which lie beneath it, wasn’t worth much of a mention. I was a little bit shocked by that result (although some older, more cynical heads around the table described it as disappointing but not surprising).

In any event, the failure of rising HIV notifications to register at a community event like this, and especially less than 2 weeks since the data was released, means that there is a lot of work for groups like ACON to do. But just as importantly, I think it means there is a collective responsibility for the gay male community of Sydney to consider why we don’t think increasing HIV notifications is a major issue for our community in 2013.

Belvoir St Theatre’s Angels in America

Angels in America Tickets PictureAnother thing which happened during June, and which I am still thinking about more than a fortnight later, is that I finally had the opportunity to see Angels in America.

Steve and I (somewhat ambitiously) went to see Part 1: Millennium Approaches and Part 2: Perestroika, in a double bill on Saturday 15 June. And it was one of the best theatre productions which I have ever seen. In one of the biggest compliments that a production can get, Steve even managed to stay awake – and interested – for all 7 hours.

Something about the production just clicked. The actors were uniformly great, so much so that it would be difficult to single anyone out for individual praise (although, having said that, Deobia Oparei as Belize/Mr Lies was hilarious and mesmerising at the same time).

The music, lighting and set design didn’t get in the way of the story-telling either. In fact, the decidedly ‘low-fi’ and rather ingenious way that the ‘Angels’ were brought to life in what is a small performing space actually helped – it took away some of the over-the-top fantasticality of the idea of angels appearing in contemporary society. And that, to this atheist at least, was a very good thing.

But as with most good theatre, the strength of Angels in America, and particularly in Part 1: Millennium Approaches, is the writing. Tony Kushner set down some absolutely amazing conversations between the characters. The back-and-forth about racism in America, between Belize and Louis, is still running through my head – and is still near-perfect in its encapsulation of problems of race as they are today (whether that is in the United States or indeed Australia).

The core subject matter of the play – the existential crisis presented by HIV/AIDS, how society responded to that crisis, and how the gay male community in particular was affected – has been the subject of some wonderful ‘art’ in the past 12 months, with Angels in America coming so soon after the brilliant documentaries All the Way Through Evening and How to Survive a Plague.

It is vitally important that we remember that time in our collective recent history, and the people who have been so tragically lost because of that awful virus. And just as important that we continue to work to ensure that it does not continue to claim so many lives now, and into the future.

Anyway, well done Belvoir, and Director Eamon Flack, for what really was a fantastic day – and night – at the theatre.

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.