Teachers the best judge of youth needs

Mel Smith
Trade Union Training Officer

Gayby Baby documentary

Federation supports schools in implementing programs that address homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and other forms of intolerance and discrimination. It stands proud with teachers who are committed to strengthening young people’s academic, social and emotional development through the teaching and engagement that happens every day in our schools across the state.

The union recognises that teachers and principals are the most qualified, experienced and best placed people to determine the teaching resources that will best support their students learning experiences, whether that is to address academic outcomes or achievement of values and attitudes within their units of learning.

On August 26 the Daily Telegraph ran a front-page story titled “Gay class uproar”, saying Burwood Girls High School students would be “skipping classes in order to dress in purple and watch a documentary on gay and lesbian issues” and an opinion piece. The Gayby Baby documentary, which looks at lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender parenting from an observational perspective, was to be shown on Wear it Purple Day, August 28.

To have a media outlet such as the Daily Telegraph apply political pressure to influence what they think should be taught in schools, and how it should be taught, is an offence to the teaching profession.

What is more disappointing, however, is that the Department of Education has been seen to bow to this bullying behaviour — behaviour we teach our children to resist. Principals were advised by the Department that “the film ‘Gayby Baby’ must not be shown in school time so that it does not impact on the delivery of the planned lessons of the day. Screening the film may be considered if it is an integral part of the planned curriculum for an age appropriate year group”.

Schools have always been seen as places that teach our children more than just how to read and write. Schools teach our students a range of life skills from tying shoelaces and learning to swim, to teaching study skills and respectful relationships. Indeed, it is the responsibility of schools to help students understand the world in which they live and part of that is understanding diversity, inclusion and respect.

This is all the more important when talking about a vulnerable group of students who continue to face discrimination and bullying and consequently have higher rates of mental health issues and suicide.

Programs and resources that assist in creating safe and more inclusive schools for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) young people are needed and we should support the implementation of these programs. To have the purpose of these programs twisted and manipulated to make a headline, to sell papers and to push a political agenda is disgraceful.

Unfortunately the actions of the Murdoch press can be far reaching, and my concern is about the messages sent to young people when they read about an adult picking on a 12 year old girl, and when they see the Department and schools buckle under the pressure of the media.

Matt Coffey, Mel Smith, Mark Goudkamp and Greens MLC John Kaye at a rally outside the Daily Telegraph office

The positives to come from the debate following the Daily Telegraph article have been the messages of support to young LGBTIQ people, their families and their schools. This is encouraging, as to some degree it counteracts the negative messages sent to young people by the media, and because the battle to address homophobia, biphobia and transphobia continues. Schools will continue to address issues of intolerance, bullying and discrimination, and the more support they receive to address these concerns the better.

Mel Smith is the Officer attached to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer SIG.