Tuesday, 28 June 2016

UnSafe & UnSchooled

I want to start this off by saying that I am not here to pick a fight. I may end up eating those words, but my goal is not to make people upset, to insult anybody or to imply that people are being willfully unkind. In fact, I'm not even here to change people's opinions. That may seem weird coming from a blog like this, I often say "I'm a Narrator, not a Dictator", because I just tell people things. I don't use actions to change the world - I often do seek to change opinions, so that others act differently - but today, I'm not.
Whilst I am of the opinion that LGBT people of all colours, kinds and creeds deserve equal rights in every strand, that is not the issue here. So, if you disagree, if you think that marriage between a man and a woman is in some way sacred; if you think that transgendered youth should not be given the chance to transition or be recognized as their gender identity & if you think that same-sex children do not have a right to sexual education, you're welcome to that opinion . . . for today, at least; if you want to argue that particular point, then we will do so on another day, on another post, and I will gladly explain why your opinion is unfounded.

But the reason I am here is not because these people's opinions are wrong, it's because their facts are wrong. There is no word of the day today, because I'm not exploring language, I'm just here to explain something. The Topic of the Day is: "Safe Schools"

If you are not Australian, you may not understand the specific political controversy I am talking about today, but I recommend you read these words anyway; because, with the current cultural climate, every country is going to have to come to terms with its homosexual, bisexual & transgendered citizens in the near future. This is just another instance of Australia trying to deal with hers.
See, we are about to have an election, which means political parties are starting to fight. All you need to know is that despite being the result of a leadership spill, our current Prime Minister is pretty popular and for a long time the Opposition Leader was barely a blip on the radar, but as we've come closer the election, the Opposition Leader has gone full-gear into his election campaign, and he's been gaining popularity. So, as a result, whilst the major parties are creating positive campaigns, minor politicians are fighting dirty with smear campaigns.
One of the campaigns [which appears to be spearheaded by the Australian Christian Lobby, but don't quote me on that] is targeting Christians and Conservatives with pamphlets and resources saying that if you vote for the Opposition, then you will support the Safe Schools program; and tacking on the addendum that the Safe Schools program is an extreme sexual education program that tells children to be gay and that gender is a fluid concept, and telling very young kids about sexual intercourse and deviant sexual practices. I know this, because I received this pamphlet in the mail, and it made me very angry.

Now, this is the reason why I am not here to change opinions, because although I am a pretty progressive and open-minded person, I can agree with that ideal (somewhat tentatively). I mean, I agree for different reasons - I don't think anyone should be gay, but I also don't think anyone should be straight; I think you should be yourself. I also don't think gender is a fluid concept, I think that it is on a spectrum, but I don't think gender changes (transgendered male-assigned kids were always girls, etcetera), and I don't think that different degrees of femininity or masculinity matter, the only people whose gender identity should be legally changed and recognized are people with gender dysphoria who wish to treat that affliction by undergoing transition. I also think that, whilst it's perfectly healthy for adults to do whatever they want to do sexually, as long as there is consent and no harm caused; children need to be taught sex-education for the purposes of understanding puberty, safety and respect, not how to mount a sex swing.
So, no, we shouldn't tell kids to be gay, we shouldn't tell kids to cross-dress or to consider their gender transient, and we shouldn't discuss erotic content with young children . . .

So, it's a really good thing that Safe Schools doesn't do that.

Let's start from the beginning. So, what is Safe Schools? Well, it began as a Coalition that was begun for the purposes of combating the discrimination of LGBTQI children, this coalition was a joint effort of several LGBTQI "Ally" organizations throughout Australia (Western Australian AIDS Council; SHFPACT; True; Working it Out; Shine SA; Family Planning NSW & the Foundation of Young Australians) coalescing to create a dedicated program that would help the victims of queer discrimination.
What they came up with was a program which took a two-pronged approach. For these minority students, they offered respect and access to support and resources online; and for the rest of the student body, they taught children about respect, diversity, being kind to one another and working together without discrimination, offering resources to children at risk of becoming abusive or abused.

This is not just hearsay on the part of the program itself; when I received the pamphlet in the mail it had the distinct, emotionally manipulative style of propaganda. So, I decided to look it up, and I perused every single free teaching resource from the Safe Schools Hub for children in Kindergarten to Grade 7.
Now, I looked up just that bracket because kids in Australia graduate Grade 7 at age 12 [in Queensland at least, it may be different elsewhere], and that's around the time when, on average, kids will be reaching puberty. Now, I personally don't see a problem with teaching young kids sexual education and safe sex; I don't think it causes sexual deviancy . . . but at the same time, I lack the appropriate knowledge to either confirm or deny the "best age" for a kid to be sexually educated. All I do know is that puberty is when most children become more curious about their (and their peer's) bodies, so I figured after that point, it's fair game.

As for why I only looked at the free stuff? Mainly, it's because I do not have the disposable income to spend money on teaching resources for the sake of curiosity. But the other reasons is that the major contention of this smear campaign is funding.
I want to take a quick moment to say, this is just funding, and if you decide to vote one way or another due to a like or dislike of this program, it won't go away. It will lose government funding, but this is a coalition of seven pre-existing organizations, and several of their resources are dependent on other government funded supporter organizations, of which there are 168. So, if you choose to vote one way or another, all it will mean is that they will find their funding someplace else. I honestly don't care who you vote for, I only care who I vote for (since that's all I can affect), but if you think voting against a party that supports this program, all you're doing is swapping out who finances this program.
In fact, I think that is the only reason not to support Safe Schools; the Australian budget isn't as plump as it once was, so if you think government funds should be spent elsewhere, this is one program that won't suffer too much from lack of government funding. See, even if the Australian Government support stops, the current program relies on the Foundation for Young Australians (a not for profit organization), and just this year (at time of writing) the Victorian government has declared that it will continue to fund the Safe Schools Coalition, as it was the first state to implement it and does not want to lose its benefits.
Whilst I see no reason not to fund the program, I can see the value in wanting to invest government money elsewhere.

But anyway, that aside, I actually looked into the resources, so: What did those resources actually say about homsexual and transgender children?

Absolutely nothing. Zilch, zip, nada. See, the beautiful thing about homophobia [and there is only one beautiful thing] is that the only thing you have to do to stop people from being homophobic is teach them to be nice.
The first few resources I read came in a couple of varieties, and whilst they were more or less complicated, and had a different focus, they fell into several common types.
One type was the "be a friendly community" resource, which were about why it's nice to have friends, how to make friends; talking about respect and also stuff about community and activities that made kids get to know how to cooperate with one another, as well as cyber safety. Another type of resource was the "thinking healthy thoughts" resource, for the younger kids, this focussed on being open and honest about your emotions - not sexual emotions, just being sad or happy; it was designed to make kids feel more comfortable when being honest about their mental and emotional health. Then for older kids, it had several bullying resources, including a resource that offered help to explain not only why you were being bullied, but also explained to bullies why they feel the way they do, and how to deal with their issues as well, without resorting to violence.
Thirdly, there was the "how to be nice" resources, which talked about good and bad behaviour, or how to play well with friends, or for older kids included discussions on cyberbullying as well as ethics, morals and discrimination, and how it is beneficial to embrace diversity.
See, discrimination is very simple. It's not a rational belief, it's often emotional; you don't need to enter into a theological, sociopsychological debate in order to be nice to queer kids, you just need to teach them the facts about why it's nice to be nice and the job is done.

Now, full disclosure, there was one resource that mentioned homosexuality. It was called "Say No To Homophobia", but there are two facts you need to know: Firstly, the link didn't work, because the page had been moved; and secondly, it was an external link to the BeyondBlue website - it was a third-party resource, it wasn't even funded by the Safe Schools program.
Oh, and there was one resource for older primary school kids that was about sexual education . . . it was about sexting (i.e. sharing sexual photographs or information about yourself via phone or text message). However, it was focussed on heterosexual relationships, and it had one focus "sexting is illegal, don't do it". So, there was one overt "sexual education" resource, and it was aimed at straight kids.

Now I want you to ask yourself a question, because I asked myself this as well:
"Why would a program, whose main website says they are dedicated to stopping discrimination of homosexual, intersex and transgender minorities include so many resources that are not targeted at queer discrimination, or aimed at straight kids?"

You can consider your response, but I found only one conclusion: Safety
See, this program is called Safe Schools, and if you wish to teach people not to discriminate, you can't just focus on one minority. For two reasons [again with the two reasons], firstly, by ignoring other minorities when saying "don't discriminate", you create discrimination by silence, even if you ignore the majority it still would be othering, and it would paint a target on their back, the same way that the "anti-bullying wristbands" backfired. So, in order to make it safer for queer kids, you need to make it safer for everyone.
Secondly, one of the major causes of bullying, discrimination and mental health issues is stress and the sensation of impotence; when someone is stressed they may take it out on others, and bullying can be caused by those who are abused and associate violence with authority, or those that feel some form of self-pity or low self-esteem, to the degree that they externalize these feelings by making others feel worse than they feel - it's a simplified explanation, but it's true that victims of abuse often become perpetrators, and bullying is abuse, no matter what form it takes, emotional, physical or psychological.
Whether incidental or by design, Safe Schools combat discrimination of the few by teaching respect to the many. There's nothing sinister or underhanded about it. They very openly say "we want to get rid of transphobia and homophobia" on their website.

Now, there is still this pervading belief that they are telling kids to imagine what it's like to be gay, and that it tells kids it's okay to cross-dress. These are the resources often quoted as "corrupting the children", but these are not resources that that are part of the safe schools program, those rumours are based off of student-made resources, and third-party programs.
See, some of the teaching tools [for highschool kids, mind you] include lessons which centre on having the students create their own anti-discrimination posters or taking part in events or activities that celebrate diversity, and one of those has been floating around as evidence of "the gay agenda", but it is merely a self-motivated student encouraging a kind of diversity. There are also third-party websites which ask for student input in regards to their mental health, and several of these relate true stories from homosexual and transgendered teens, it is not a resource administrated by Safe Schools.
In regards to reports of a module that asks kids to think like a homosexual, the Safe Schools Coalition had only one thing to say:
  "The role play activity that has been discussed in media today is not and has never been part of Safe Schools Coalition Australia (SSCA) resources." SSCA

Finally, the fears about little boys using the little girls bathroom, and vice versa? Whilst that is a topic of contention, and Safe Schools supports the right of transgendered children to use the bathroom in the manner which does not make them feel uncomfortable, the fact of the matter is that no matter what Safe Schools supports, the law is the law - we recognize transgendered gender identity rights in this country, so only boys can use the boys' bathroom, and only girls can use the girls' bathroom, even if those boys and girls are trans - but there are legal parameters that prevent people from cheating the system. A boy can't just declare himself female and run into the lady's loo any more than I can declare myself "authorized staff" and run into a bank vault.
Safe Schools does not tell kids they can just use whichever bathroom they want, that's a lie, and even if it did it doesn't change the fact that this is just a teaching program, not legislation or even curriculum, it doesn't change the current bathroom segregation legislation in any way, not one iota.

So, no, there's nothing about Safe Schools that sexualizes young children, encourages deviancy, causes children to question their identity or indoctrinates children into accepting a political ideology (unless "be nice to people" is a political ideal). It just encourages diversity, acceptance, respect, mental health and has an overall code of conduct exemplified by the ideal that school should be a safe place for all children.

The only possible justification you could have to fear or dislike Safe Schools is if you honestly believe that discrimination is a good thing which should be encouraged. If you honestly think that, well, you're wrong. Treat others as you would like to be treated, that's Sociology 101; we are nice to one another and do not discriminate, because it's beneficial for everyone if we treat everyone well.
Or, to paraphrase Martin Niemöller:

First they came for the Transgendered, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not Transgendered.
Next they came for the Homosexuals, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Homosexual.
Then they came for the Bisexuals, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Bisexual.
Finally they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me . . .

Today, I was not here to change your opinion, I was here to present you with the actual facts in regards to this whole Safe Schools "controversy", because when you know the truth, it's not controversial at all, either you think schools should be a safe place for kids, free from discrimination, or you don't. If you don't, I vehemently disagree with you, but you're allowed to be wrong. Just don't tell me, or I'll probably want to debate you on it. If you do, I recommend you get your local school to join up, it's a pretty cool program.
But if you think that this is an example of the "gay liberal agenda" or that by falling for this propaganda, you in any way address your own views in regards to LGBTQI, or prevent others from accepting them as part of the community, you are wrong. The truth is, the only reason the Australian Christian Lobby created this campaign is because the Opposition Leader said they wanted to legalize same-sex marriage, and they want to terrify everyone into voting against that policy by saying that support for the Opposition is support for sexual deviancy. But I'm not here to do that. If you don't like same-sex marriage, vote however you like, because even if you vote against the party that plans on same-sex marriage legalization, there is still a referendum to be held after the election anyway.

In conclusion, I still don't care who you vote for. Personally, I don't even think this is the most important thing to consider in this upcoming election (although I would love to downvote the propagandists that spread this bigoted fear mongering). You see, I honestly believe that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, you can feel about this in whichever way you want. However, you are not entitled to your own facts. These are the facts, and if you feel the need to dispute the verisimilitude of anything I have said thus far, bring it to my attention alongside a primary source that affirms your claim, otherwise you're just another poor sod falling for fear mongering, bigoted propaganda, and you need to learn how to do some critical thinking before you inflict anyone else with your opinion.