PM orders review of LGBTI Safe Schools program

PM orders review of LGBTI Safe Schools program Source: AAP

SBS World News Radio: Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is facing pressure from some of his own MPs to withdraw Commonwealth funding from a national program designed to help students with LGBTIQ matters.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is facing pressure from some of his own MPs to withdraw Commonwealth funding from a national program designed to help students with LGBTIQ matters.

At the same time, Mr Turnbull has been accused of succumbing to conservative backbenchers by commissioning a review into the operation of the $8-million Safe Schools program.

The Safe Schools Coalition is a group comprising more than 500 schools and organisations, and 15,000 teachers, around Australia.

According to its website, the Coalition offers resources and support to staff and students with the aim of creating a safe environment for same-sex attracted, intersex and gender-diverse students, staff and families.

But some federal government MPs have criticised the scheme, saying it raises sexual issues that are inappropriate for school age children.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham has written to his state and territory counterparts asking them to confirm parents are being consulted before schools introduce the optional program.

Conservative Liberal senator Cory Bernardi, meanwhile, has presented a petition to the Senate with over 9,000 signatures calling on the government to scrap all federal funding allocated to Safe Schools.

He's told the ABC he believes school children are being influenced.

"I'm a parent and I want my children to go to school learning how to read, to write and how to do their maths. We already have problems with literacy and numeracy in our school system and what we've discovered is federal funds and resources from schools are being pushing a social-engineering agenda that is radically at odds with the aspirations of many parents. We've got children as young as 11 being told to imagine they're 16 and in a sexual environment, either a same-sex or opposite sex attraction, to imagine themselves without genitals, and being bullied and intimidated into complying with a radical program such that if they don't answer the questions properly they're left humiliated in front of the class."

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has asked the federal education minister to report back to him on the initiative, first funded by the Labor government in 2013.

In a statement, the Safe Schools Coalition says it welcomes all opportunities to demonstrate the positive impact of this important program and provide the facts and evidence behind it.

National Director Sally Richardson says Senator Bernardi's remarks reveal misconceptions held by some people around the nature of the program.

And she's not surprised by the government's announcement of a review.

"We are of course disappointed that the government has chosen to do a review, but obviously we welcome any opportunity to demonstrate the value of this important program and to be able to provide evidence and data behind the program -- so, we'll treat it as an opportunity to correct some misinformation about the program."

The Australian Christian Lobby has campaigned strongly against Safe Schools.

Lyle Shelton is its managing director.

"This is a program that goes far beyond any anti-bullying objectives that it might have, to actually seeking to impose an ideology upon young people which is certainly contested -- gender theory. Which, by no means, is accepted across the board. Certainly many in the feminist community don't go along with this, and I think many parents would be concerned particularly with the program's encouragement of boys to wear girl's school uniforms and vice versa, and for boys to use girls toilets potentially and share accommodation with girls on school camps if they identify with the opposite gender."

The Australian Education Union has described the government's investigation of the Safe Schools program as disappointing.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten, meanwhile, says it's disgraceful that a child could fall victim to what he sees as the prime minister's failure to stand up to the right wing of his party.

The Australian Greens plan to initiate a Senate inquiry into homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools, arguing that claims against the Safe Schools program are absurd.

Leader Richard di Natale says students should be able to openly discuss gender and sexuality matters.

"There are young people who are wrestling with these issues and in some circumstances becoming depressed and are leading to things like suicide. We know that is a consequence of not addressing these issues in an open, honest way."

Co-convenor of the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, Chris Pycroft, hopes the review will help demonstrate how useful the Safe Schools program is.

"There are misconceptions about: 'Oh, you know there are these particular resources that may or may not be appropriate,' and it may teach particular elements about the supposed gay lifestyle and that it educates and recruits people. That's not what this program is about. It is making sure that schools are safe places for young LGBTIQ young people."



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