• The ACL's Lyle Shelton and petition signatories Troye Sivan and Guy Pearce. (AAP / Twitter)Source: AAP / Twitter
A celebrity-backed petition for a federally funded Safe Schools replacement has sparked a debate about political compromise and drawn support from an unlikely ally.
By
Ben Winsor

3 May 2017 - 11:32 AM  UPDATED 3 May 2017 - 3:21 PM

A celebrity-backed petition seeking federal funding for an alternative to the Safe Schools program has been slammed by LGBT+ activists for seeking 'tolerance' rather than acceptance and ditching all mention of trans children - but the petition has also drawn support from an unlikely ally, the Australian Christian Lobby.

The ACL, a fierce opponent of the  Safe Schools anti-LGBT+ bullying program, was quick to release a statement that it "cautiously welcomed" the petition.

"Teaching kids their gender is fluid is on the way out and that’s a good thing," the ACL tweeted.

The campaign for a "de-politicised" program began in earnest yesterday, with a video by Troye Sivan and a letter to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull signed by celebrities including Guy Pearce and Tracey Spicer.

The letter calls for funding of a national anti-bullying program which "targets bullying in all its forms" and includes domestic violence and LGBT+ messaging. 

"Make no mistake of our request: we do not seek a program that seeks approval of the way certain members of our society live. We seek only mutual respect and tolerance," it read.

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But the petition has been seen by many activists as a significant step backwards from the ambitious Safe Schools program, which had come under fire from conservatives for its focus on acceptance and understanding for trans school-children. 

"Asking for tolerance is disgusting," said Leanne Donnelly, a Sydney mother of a trans teen. 

"It sounds to me like I'm supposed to beg people to be tolerant of my child's existence," she said, despite acknowledging that the letter was 'well intentioned'. 

"Equality and acceptance is the starting point, not downgrading to tolerance."

Trans children who praised Safe Schools for making their lives easier and allowing them to focus on schoolwork told SBS that course material about gender and trans issues was vital to the program.

"I used to be extremely suicidal and depressed," one 15-year-old trans boy told SBS. 

"I knew I was a guy but I had no idea there was a term for it," he said.

He says Safe Schools was powerful not only because he learnt there were others like him, but because it taught his classmates and teachers about his situation.

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The LGBT+ Health Alliance says LGBTI young people are up to five times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers, with rates even higher among trans youth.

The petition's organiser, former journalist Ben Grubb, has said transgender issues weren't intentionally omitted from the "compromise" letter. The letter called for consultation with LGBT+ groups in the development of a new program.

But that hasn't stopped activists from accusing the petition of throwing trans teens under the bus in an attempt to secure funding for a watered-down program.

The fierce debate prompted one signatory to distance herself from the campaign.

Radio presenter Emelia Rusciano, said she was never shown the full text of the letter, only signing a note supporting Safe Schools.

Less than 24 hours after the petition was announced, organiser Ben Grubb released a detailed statement explaining and defending the letter.

"No one likes to compromise, I know, but the fact is that LGBTI kids are committing suicide because they are being bullied by their peers," Grubb wrote.

"Will we get anywhere if we don’t compromise, or will that just delay us even further from achieving the end goal of true equality?"

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Grubb said he had spoken confidentially to a "Canberra decision-maker" and formulated the letter in a way the government could potentially accept. 

"Part of the reason for the language in the letter is due to some groups - such as certain powerful politicians, religious groups, and religious schools - refusing to accept and approve of LGBTI people because of their belief systems," he wrote. 

Grubb said that the letter didn't intentionally shun the word "equality" or gender issues, even though their mention was omitted - and he does have his supporters.

Critics attacked the original Safe Schools program for promoting a "leftist" ideology and a "gender fluidity" agenda. 

Conservative columnist Miranda Devine blasted the program for causing a claimed "spike" in children identifying as transgender, while Liberal MP George Christensen Iikened the program to "paedophile grooming".

Supporters of the original program have said such claims are ridiculous.

"There are definitely going to be cis / heterosexual people who rethink themselves, but if you're LGBT then you always have been," said the 15-year-old trans teen who had been through the program.

After 24 hours, the petition has 4,500 supporters.

Troye Sivan advocates for Safe Schools replacement:

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“Constant and repetitive curing can speed up the process for getting a strain that’s resistance.”