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We Asked Safe Schools Supporters to Describe Growing Up Before Safe Schools Was a Thing

"For a really long time I felt I was broken, that I was wrong, that I wasn't even being a lesbian 'properly.' In turns out that being genderqueer is a thing, but knowing that early would've been a great help."

Last week Education Minister Simon Birmingham announced several changes to the besieged Safe Schools Program, after conservative backbenches requested a review. The program aims to guide young to people through issues of sexual identity and gender diversity, which some, such as Senator Cory Bernardi, felt was inappropriate learning material for schools.

Subsequently, the federally funded program will be no longer available in primary schools, while several units, such as its gender role playing activities will be removed.


The exception is in Victoria. On the weekend the state government vowed to prop up the program's funding, while there will be no changes to the program's curriculum. Students may also be referred on to queer youth support organisations, such as Minus18.

Last night, people around the country took to Australia's capital cities protesting the national changes. VICE headed to Melbourne, where support for the program has proven to be particularly strong. There we asked LGBTIQ protesters to describe their experience of growing up, before Safe Schools existed.

Jack Stewart

For a really long time I felt I was broken, that I was wrong, that I wasn't even being a lesbian "properly." In turns out that being genderqueer is a thing, but knowing that early would've been a great help. So it's really important to remove prejudice from kids at a young age considering it's all fine regardless of whether people are gay, trans, non-binary, or straight.

At school, I was part of a group that tried to set up a safe space for LGBTIQ youth, and we were told that it was "inconsistent" with their welfare program. This is at a time when I went to school with a lot of people who were queer and they were really struggling with mental health issues. Receiving a "no" from our school and the environment that was meant to be supporting us took a toll on all of us, and our ability to accept ourselves.

Laura Du Ve If I had something like this in my school, I would've had the language and knowledge to address how I was feeling. It's basically prevents people from suicide, because they're given a chance to map their identity.


The Turnbull government is basically murdering young queer kids by cutting back some of this funding. The biggest thing safe schools did was remove shame—we should be getting rid of the shame certain young people feel about their identity.

Luka James & Elwyn Murray

Luka: When I was a teenager I didn't even know what being gay was like, even though I was being bullied and being called a faggot. Unfortunately, I discovered my sexuality by being bullied. I'm 26 this year, and it's only now I'm experiencing some of the gender problems I'm having—and most of my life I've had to work through mental health issues tied to issues over sexuality and gender. Whereas, in heterosexual society, there's little if any of this. That's why heteronormativity kills.

Elwyn: I attended Princes Hill High School, a notoriously progressive high school that had a gay-straight alliance when I attended. Princes Hill was shorthand for bisexual high. Even though I didn't have a tough time, in retrospect, having that inclusive environment was actually quite amazing. Safe schools is great because those environments teach empathy. And beyond it being great for at-risk youth, it's quite instructive for heterosexual people to understand that there are alternatives, because everyone's sexuality is on a spectrum and it's vital to have an acknowledgement of that when you're young.

Liam York

I just needed someone who had the facts. I didn't know that transgender people existed until I was 20. Throughout high school I felt awful everyday and I didn't know that there was language to help me with that. If we're not telling children that it's safe to talk to other people about their identity, they'll internalise their emotions and get mentally sick (like I did). And this could potentially continue if there isn't any structural change made.


Jonathon Knokes and Nazz Tanter

Nazz: Queer youth are about six times more likely to contemplate suicide compared to their heterosexual counterparts. For trans and gender-questioning youth, 80 percent of them contemplate it—and I was part of this. I went through a pretty progressive high school and I was never bullied, but I was terrified of coming out, because I didn't know what the reaction would be because support services weren't there. The fact that there wasn't any messages there saying "your gender identity will be supported" is why it's personally important to me.

It's absolutely not ok for the government—theoretically the people charged with caring for all Australians—to be going after some of our most vulnerable members of our society. They're going after kids.

Jonathon: The statistics speak for themselves. It's what I went through as a teenager. I went to an all-male high school, and I didn't come out for various reasons. Even though I didn't come out I was bullied through that entire experience. If the safe schools program existed when I was there, it would've made a difference.

I've got nephews and nieces and the fact that they had the program teaches them that everyone matters—everyone matters.

Jimmy Nuttall and Annette Reeves (Jimmy's Mum)

Annette: The Christian right has stolen national discourse, and this program is just a sensible thing. Kids need to be safe, no matter what their orientation is. I think what happens in schools a lot is that there's a tolerance to discrimination, where staff members turn a blind eye to this, otherwise you have to be lucky enough to be at a school with tolerant staff members or at a school with the program.


If you're at Swan Hill High, or in less tolerant communities, what are you going to do? If our schools are driving toward positive educational outcomes, then you've got to support your students, especially their sexual orientations.

Kane Jones, Andrew Wale, and Damien McEvilly

Andrew: All of us here have been in similar situations the statistics reflect. The reason why this is happening is because the community's standing up and it helps save kids in the community.

Kane: We understand that the broader heterosexual community need to hear the experiences that we're lived through. This argument is more important than marriage equality because it's actively destroying the lives of young people.

Damien: I'm here because I'm here on behalf of the people who can't support and talk for themselves. I wish that I had this community at my age when I was struggling and getting bullied through school in the UK. Funnily enough Britain is now a lot more liberal and tolerant and sexually diverse gender identities, whereas in Australia there's a lot more pushback against it, and I can't understand why.

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