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Religious Backbenchers Freak Out Over LGBTI Support Services, Turnbull Orders a Review

Cory Bernardi predictably wants the government to scrutinise the Safe Schools Coalition, which offers support for LGBTI high school students.
February 24, 2016, 4:01am

Ultra conservative Liberal senator Cory Bernardi relaxing at home. Image via.

The Safe Schools Coalition, a taxpayer funded program which offers support services for LGBTI high school students around Australia, is now officially under review by the Federal government. Its material has been criticised by Liberal party MPs and Christian lobby groups as inappropriate for a teenage audience.

The decision to investigate the activities of the program has been met with condemnation from Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, who took to Facebook to express his concerns that the Federal government wanted not only to investigate Safe Schools Australia, but ultimately shut it down.

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The Safe Schools Coalition is a project of the nonprofit Foundation for Young Australians. A Labor initiative, Safe Schools received federal funding in 2013 and was launched officially by the Abbott government in 2014.

Safe Schools says it aims to create safe and inclusive environments for LGBTI high school students, as well as their families and teachers. It offers staff training programs, as well as online resources, and free consultation services.

Some of its online resources include a guide to hosting queer inclusive school formals, and tips for how to support school friends who have recently come out as queer. Over 500 Australian high schools have signed up to the coalition, with over 15,000 teachers accessing the program's resources.

Criticism of the "radical" Safe Schools program has come from the likes of Queensland senator Jo Lindgren, Queensland MP George Christensen, Tasmanian MP Andrew Nikolic, and South Australian Senator Cory Bernardi, who is well known for his particular brand of Christian-themed conservatism. Bernardi recently told the ABC that high school children were "being bullied and intimidated" into complying with the Safe Schools Coalition, and that the program "makes everyone fall into line with a political agenda."

Bernardi's support for investigating the program incurred a rare burst of emotion from federal opposition leader Bill Shorten, whose labelling of the backbencher as a "homophobe" has made him the social media hero of the day. Bernardi had been walking past a press conference given by Shorten when his standard issue heckling was met with the unexpectedly snappy response of "At least I'm not a homophobe either, mate."

The Safe Schools Coalition has come under fire from Christian groups since its inception. Take a look at this fairly hardcore Australian Christian Lobby website dedicated to exposing the "age inappropriateness" of the program's material. The website encourages visitors to "make a stand by emailing your State/Territory Member of Parliament and asking for this radical program to end."

Penning an essay about her experiences as an LGBTI advocate in response to the announcement, the CEO of the Foundation for Young Australians Jan Owen noted the "sad reality that in 2016 attempts to make our schools more inclusive and safe can be considered controversial. The fact is, that doing so is an issue of national importance."

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