As the ancient proverb goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions - and perhaps the same could be said about a watered-down, entirely hypothetical reincarnation of the Safe Schools program; one that fights for tolerance in the place of acceptance, support and inclusion.
A letter and petition addressed to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and signed by a number of ‘high profile’ Australians is today being met with fierce backlash in the LGBTIQ community, with some LGBTIQ rights campaigners suggesting the seemingly benevolent move was a misstep in the fight for a revival of the highly controversial Safe Schools Program.
One week out from 2017 budget announcements, the change.org petition and accompanying letter are calling for Turnbull and Education Minister Simon Birmingham to allocate $6 million to a proposed program that would prevent "all forms of bullying, including that which is based on religion, race, gender, faith, sexuality, disability, skin conditions, social standing or political persuasions”.
Signatories include Australian musicians Troye Sivan, Missy Higgins and Paul Mac, as well as comedian Joel Creasey and actor Guy Pearce.
"Make no mistake of our request: we do not seek a program that seeks approval of the way certain members of our society live,” the letter reads. “We seek only mutual respect and tolerance.”
“This is some serious Kendall Jenner bulls--t,” LGBTIQ rights campaigner Sally Rugg wrote in a response on Facebook, referring to the model's recently maligned Pepsi commercial. “You cannot be a rich, cisgender celebrity and call for a program to replace Safe Schools that seeks ‘only tolerance’.”
“You can't throw LGBTI activists, the community and the ACTUAL SAFE SCHOOLS COALITION under the bus because you are a rich, cisgender celebrity and you think, despite not being part of the campaign, not speaking to politicians, academics, teachers, activists and young people and their families affected by this issue that you have a better idea," Rugg continued. “This is so embarrassing, offensive and detrimental to the campaign.”
Musician Brendan Maclean tweeted that, if approached, he would have refused to sign the letter, disregarding the effort as “bulls—t”. “‘Tolerate’ is not a helpful word because it assumes all queers are the same person, to be met with the same reaction,” he tweeted. “It dehumanises us.”
“Anger aside, I think I was just a little shocked to see intelligent people I respect use that as a (sic) acceptable standard of care for students.”
Karyn Walker, Co-founder of Parents of Gender Diverse Children, said the letter was misinformed and condescending to the many hard-working campaigners on the front-line.
“It is so offensive, condescending, patronising and entitled,” she wrote in a response on Facebook. “Come speak to us, we can tell you about the life our kids have, and the experiences they have. Don’t upset and marginalise our kids - speak to us, who are fighting and working and advocating. Leave our kids alone to live and love.”
The campaign which, ironically, was seeking to avoid the media controversy of Safe Schools, was the brain-child of former Sydney Morning Herald/The Age Technology Editor Ben Grubb, who recently tweeted out a call-to-action: “If you are gay, high-profile, and want to save Safe Schools, please slide into my DMs. I have a plan.”
Troye Sivan’s mother, Laurelle Mellett, who joined her son in signing the letter, responded to community criticism this afternoon by saying the group would be taking all feedback and comments onboard.
“It’s wonderful that we are all so passionate and concerned about such a vital matter that is so critically important to us all,” she wrote in a statement. “We will continue to push for safe environments in schools and other areas. We look forward to your [the community’s] input and support as we move forward in the hope that things will change for the better.”
In a blog published to Medium, Ben Grubb addressed the backlash, writing: "I completely respect, whenever a letter is written, that not everyone is going to agree with its approach and that some will be unhappy about not being consulted."
He went on to add that he hopes the letter "helps reset or restart the conversation that we need to be having concerning vulnerable LGBTI people in schools."