• The 'Today Extra' host found herself under fire once again after calling an LGBTI scholarship "reverse discrimination". (Channel 9)Source: Channel 9
Sonia Kruger wants scholarships to be awarded on the basis of merit, but merit can only be a fair and measured prerequisite for opportunity when everyone's standing on even ground, writes Sam Leighton-Dore.
Sam Leighton-Dore

2 Aug 2016 - 4:29 PM  UPDATED 2 Aug 2016 - 4:37 PM

Sigh. There's nothing quite like a successful television presenter wearing a $1,000 Dion Lee skirt as she speaks out against scholarships designed to assist disadvantaged queer youth in their pursuit of a quality education.

Sonia Kruger isn't to blame here; yesterday morning she spoke on behalf of thousands of self-made Australians when she challenged the validity of targeted scholarships for LGBTI young people. Her view that such scholarships should only ever be offered on merit is understandable. In fact, it's idealistic. However, in saying that, it's also important to realise that merit can only be a fair and measured prerequisite for opportunity when everyone's standing on an even playing field.

Our playing field is in no way equal. Not yet. Not by a long shot.

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Here we go again...

This doesn't mean Sonia's not allowed to have an opinion. But what it does mean is that, as a person of clear merit who's also been fortunate, she and others in positions like hers should be making a conscious effort to be more curious.

Let's start by addressing Kruger's reference to "reverse discrimination" as though it were an actual real-life thing and not just a knee-jerk reaction of the privileged.

Throughout Australian history there have been countless national laws and systems in place to systematically oppress people. I'm not just talking about gay people. I'm talking about women. I'm talking about trans people. I'm talking about Indigenous people. I'm talking about all people of colour.

Believe it or not, many of these oppressions continue to exist today, which is why you're still more likely to get a call-back for a job interview if your name is John than you are if your name is Mohammad. Regardless of merit.

It's also why you'll still find a much higher percentage of LGBTI young people are homeless than their heterosexual counterparts. Ever tried smashing out straight A's in your school exams when you're homeless?

Now let's get into the nitty-gritty of it. Why is it perfectly okay (and indeed commendable) for targeted scholarships to be offered to LGBTI people? Don't we want equality? Why then do we keep asking for all this special-bloody-treatment? What gives?!

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Here's what gives: according to the Black Dog Institute's extensive analysis of mental health demographics, at least six people commit suicide each day in Australia. Six people. And according to the same report, these six people who commit suicide each day are more likely to be from the LGBTI community than they are from any other population in Australia. Not only that, but in a 2013 report published by Beyond Blue, it was revealed that LGBTI young people are more than TWICE as likely to experience high levels of psychological distress than their heterosexual peers. Twice as likely to buckle under crippling depression on the night before an exam. Twice as likely to suffer debilitating panic attacks rendering them unable to hand in an assessment on time.

I'm going to give Sonia the benefit of the doubt here. As a fundamentally good human being, I'm sure she understands and agrees that young people suffering depression and/or other mental illnesses should receive the occasional leg-up. However, what she mightn't understand, as many Australians don't, is the clear and proven intersection between these struggles and a person's sexuality. Basically, a person's sexuality is in no means irrelevant in the consideration of whether or not they might be eligible for a private scholarship.

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This is why it's so important that we offer opportunities to those who need them: whether they're women, POC, or young members of the LGBTI community. The more targeted these initiatives are, the more effective they'll be in accurately identifying and addressing the key minority groups who DO VERY MUCH need them.

I could go on about how the additional questions in this particular scholarship application are completely optional. I could go on about how the regular non-LGBTI focused scholarships are STILL available for other non-LGBTI disadvantaged children.

Instead, I'd like to come back to this warped idea of merit; the idea that everyone is born with the same opportunity; the notion that everyone enters this world with the same basic tools with which to build themselves a respectful resume. It's not right. And the sooner we realise it and stop defaulting on ill-informed scepticism, the sooner we'll allow for those without such tools to show their true potential where it might've otherwise been ignored or remained undiscovered.

Sonia, I hear you, trust me. You're an incredible woman and I've always rooted for you from the comfort of my lounge throughout your respective public battles. But perhaps your opinions would be more productive elsewhere–in the very real battle faced by thousands of Australian women for better and more affordable access to IVF treatment, for instance.

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As long as the statistics show that LGBTI people are being disproportionately exposed to abuse... As long as the statistics show that LGBTI people are more often finding themselves in horrific situations that lead to homelessness... As long as the stats show that LGBTI people are suffering depression and mental health disorders at higher levels... As long as the stats show that LGBTI young people are more likely to kill themselves than heterosexual young people...

Until such statistics are found only in the dusty pages of history books, there's a real and pressing need for targeted programs such as that being offered up by the Australian Business and Community Network Scholarship Foundation.

At the end of the day, $7000 isn't a whole lot, Sonia.

We're talking what, like, seven Dion Lee skirts for one disadvantaged gay kid's future?

Surely that's something even you can get behind.