Australian pop singer Troye Sivan has called on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to fund a national anti-bullying, anti-violence program for Australian schools “with a focus on LGBTQ bullying.”
The 21-year-old made the call in a video posted to YouTube and an online petition as part of a campaign backed by numerous prominent Australians.
“Australia needs an anti-bullying, anti-violence program, with a focus on LGBTQ bullying, that isn’t just another bullying program,” the pop star says in the video.
“What Australia does not need is a program that is tied up in politics and controversy.”
The call comes days ahead of the government’s 2017-18 budget, which will see funding discontinued for the embattled Safe Schools anti-LGBT+ bullying program.
The petition calls for a nationally funded program that includes tolerance and respect of LGBT+ people at its core.
“It should also teach students to not bully classmates based on their religion, race, gender, sexuality, faith, disability, skin conditions, social standing or political persuasions,” the petition says.
It also calls for an independent board of experts to review and alter the course based on best-practice and community consultation – to be done independently of government.
Guy Pearce, Missy Higgins, Paul Mac, Joel Creasey, Emelia Rusciano, Tracey Spicer, James Mathison and Mark Pesce are all said to be backing Sivan’s campaign.
While the Safe Schools program has been retained by most states, NSW has announced it will be developing a replacement plan, prompting community concern that LGBT+ issues will be ignored.
Several LGBT+ high school students told SBS that Safe Schools had made a tangible difference to their lives, and they were worried about fellow students should the program be dropped.
“I feel safe now,” a 15-year-old trans boy told SBS Sexuality, “I actually turn up and can learn without being bullied.”
The LGBT+ Health Alliance says LGBTI young people are up to five times more likely to attempt suicide. A 2014 study found that 16 per cent of LGBTI young Australians had attempted suicide.
“Most schools have a ‘no bullying policy’, but none actually follow it and it doesn't ever cover LGBT bullying,” the 15-year-old said.
“If they want their bullying policy to work, it needs to be specifically mentioned.”
Conservative politicians and columnists have slammed the Safe Schools program as part of a “leftist” agenda to promote “gender fluidity”.
Liberal MP George Christiansen likened the program to “paedophile grooming”.
Supporters have encouraged people to read the program material themselves and form their own opinion.
“[Safe schools] was made controversial by newspapers and politicians who still refuse to accept that people like me should be tolerated,” Sivan says in the video.
Dr Justin Koonin, President of LGBT+ health organisation ACON, said it was essential that schools are safe and inclusive.
“Given a high proportion of bullying is driven by homophobia and transphobia, it is imperative that any future program that tackles bullying in schools address LGBTI issues,” he said.
A 2015 study by Beyond Blue found that just over a third of 14 to 17-year-old boys would not be happy being friends with an LGBT+ schoolmate, with 41 per cent saying LGBT+ people made the uncomfortable.
Sivan’s mother, Laurelle Mellet, led a campaign last year calling on the government to retain Safe Schools funding. She says she was nervous when her son came out as gay at 14.
“I’d heard horrific stories of homophobic bullying and kids being suicidal at school,” she wrote.
“To exclude anti-LGBTQI bullying programs from schools is beyond cruel. I’d like to think all parents would fight for a system that makes their child feel safe, not worthless.”