Safe Schools promoted during same-sex marriage campaign

The Australian, Rebecca Urban

Contentious sexual and gender diversity program, the Safe Schools Coalition, is being promoted to primary and secondary schools as a key tool to help LGBTI students and so-called “rainbow families” weather the same-sex marriage voting campaign.

Victoria’s education minister James Merlino has written to all public schools pledging additional resources throughout the campaign, revealing that the education department’s Safe Schools unit was on standby to provide advice or support in coming weeks.

A prominent gay and lesbian rights advocacy group is also pushing the program, which recently lost federal funding and has been replaced in NSW, SA and Tasmania following a backlash from parents and conservative politicians.

Rainbow Families Victoria, whose director Felicity Marlowe was a party to the unsuccessful High Court Challenge to plebiscite in the High Court last week, has also urged schools to remove references to “mother” and “father” from any enrolment forms, permission slips and other documents and replace them with more “inclusive” terms such as “parent or “guardian”.

The organisation has published several guides for supporting rainbow families during the campaign period aimed at early childhood services primary and secondary schools, which also suggest a range of actions and activities that “acknowledge and celebrate family diversity”.

Rainbow Families has said that it was not asking schools to take a position on marriage equality, yet promoted activities include “painting [school] steps rainbow, holding rainbow casual clothes days … and raising money for youth support services Minus 18 or local LGBTI groups”.

Specific advice aimed at preschool teachers includes pulling up children who might repeat opinions they hear at home or in the community “that two men or two women either can’t or shouldn’t marry”.

“Let them know that [they] can get married in lots of countries in the world, including New Zealand, America, Ireland, England, Canada, Spain, Uruguay and South Africa,” one of the guides says.

The group’s promotion of the Safe Schools Coalition appears to be at odds with the official Yes campaign, which has criticised same-sex marriage opponents for conflating marriage equality with sex education programs that promote contested theories around gender and sexuality.

The guide provides a link to the Victorian Government’s Safe Schools website: “Join Safe Schools Victoria … for more information and some excellent material on myths and facts about the program”.

The Victorian Government, which took over managing the program from La Trobe University in March and has deemed the program compulsory for all state secondary schools, has claimed repeatedly that Safe Schools is not a sex education program and does not teach radical gender theory, its All of Us classroom guide aimed at years 7 and 8 contain activities designed to help students view sexuality as fluid and changeable and gender as existing on a spectrum beyond male and female; introducing terms such as pansexual, gender queer, agender and non-binary.

It also encourages schools to stamp out “heteronormativity” and “heterosexism” from schools. One classroom activity has students role-playing an older teenager who is dating someone of the same sex as a way of exploring the impacts of homophobia and discrimination.

David Van Gend, a spokesman for the Coalition for Marriage, which is leading the No vote campaign, said the materials distributed by Rainbow Families Victoria was “another example of the clear intent of the gay marriage movement to enshrine their agenda via radical LGBTI sex and gender programs”.

“The communication is openly recruiting schools for the radical Safe Schools program as part of the campaign to legalise gay marriage,” he said.

Rainbow Families Victoria director Felicity Marlowe said that the guides had been temporarily removed from the group’s website pending advice on whether they needed to be authorised in accordance with new government legislation governing campaign materials.

Ms Marlowe said Rainbow Families had been helping schools create more inclusive environments for diverse families since 2010 and was concerned that during the plebiscite campaign kids from same-sex families would be exposed to “television ads or discussions in the playground that in left them thinking their own family was in some way not good and not worthy”.

She defended her group’s promotion of the Safe Schools program.

“We’ve proud to be in a state that supports Safe Schools and part of that program is to ensure that young people can go to school in inclusive environments,” she said.

“It’s really important that all LGBTI young people … are living and working and studying in communities that are supportive of all families and individuals, regardless of their sexual and gender identities.”

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