Push in schools to fight ‘modern’ homophobia

THE AUSTRALIAN: By Rebecca Urban, Educators are being urged to look out for a new form of “modern homo­phobia” — characterised by disinterest, disingenuous support or “sham tolerance” — as part of efforts to promote sexual diversity education in schools.

A guide prepared by the GALE Association — a global education alliance that counts several ­Australian academics, including Safe Schools founder Roz Ward among its membership — warns that in some countries, such as Australia, it is more common to encounter “modern homo­phobia” than “traditional homophobia” where same-sex-attracted people face open hostility and rejection. The document, which has been circulated in draft form ahead of its official release, presents as a playbook for LGBTI activists seeking to co-opt teachers, education officials and governments to implement policies around sexual diversity education in schools.

A push to broaden what it means to be homophobic is particularly relevant in Australia, where opponents to the Safe Schools program and to same-sex marriage have been tagged with the label. It is also likely to spark concern about the influence of special interest groups on education policies and school curriculums.

According to the GALE Association guide, “modern homophobics state they are not homophobic but they prefer their child not to be LGBTI and they prefer not to associate with LGBTI, especially when they do not conform to heteronormative standards”.

It cites the importance of “peer education” in generally supportive markets, where LGBTI advocacy groups conduct sessions for teachers on ­issues around supporting LGBTI students in schools.

“In this phase, peer educators will encounter more ‘modern’ homophobia and transphobia,” it says. “Modern homophobia and transphobia are more difficult to deal with than traditional homophobia and transphobia and peer educators need to be trained on this.”

The guide, which coins a new acronym to describe its target group: DESPOGI, or Disadvantaged because of their Expression of Sexual Preference or Gendered Identity, cautions activists to be aware of “laggards”, defined as “conservative actors whose main aim is to protest or block government action” as well as “traditionalists” who try to ensure that schools safeguard conservative values and limit knowledge of liberal values.

When organising conferences and workshops, activist ­organisations are advised to invite only stakeholders willing to support LGBTI-friendly policies as inviting “uninformed, prejudiced, ambigu­ous … participants” can prove to be a barrier to constructive discussion.

 “It should be made clear that this conference is not a democratic exercise but an expert meeting with the goal to advise government on how to effectively develop or implement its supportive policy,” the guide says.

The guide tackles the issue of how to evaluate the effectiveness of policies, programs or initiatives, noting traditional “effect and impact” research centring around a hypothesis can have negative side-effects, often highlighting elements that did not work. It recommends adopting evaluation methods that focus on “success factors”.

Centre for Independent Studies senior research fellow Jeremy Sammut said policymakers needed to be attuned to the tactics promoted by the GALE Association, which posed a serious risk to “traditional notions of pluralism and tolerance”.

“Pushing the idea of ‘modern homophobia’, creating terms such as ‘laggards’ and ‘conservative actors’ … is designed to beat up on people who don’t think like the activists do,” Professor Sammut said. “They’re basically saying to government … if you don’t sign up to this, you’re homophobic.”

Ms Ward, who manages Safe Schools in Victoria, did not respond to a request for comment.

The Safe Schools Coalition’s former national convener Sally Richardson is listed as a member. A spokeswoman for Safe Schools Coalition Australia, which severed ties from the Victorian group, said no staff were among its membership.

Rob Cover, from the University of Western Australia, is a member but was not involved with development of the guide. “It looks to me that the guide is very much focused on some of the extreme issues facing LGBTI communities in former Soviet countries, Africa and parts of Asia,” he said. “There is much less focus on the concerns relevant to Australian sexual diversity in schools (around bullying for example, or increasing understanding over tolerance).”

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