The Federal Opposition under Peter Dutton is about to launch a full-scale anti-LGBTIQA+ culture war against school inclusion.
I predicted this before the election. Because contemporary far-right anti-LGBTIQA+ culture wars go in cycles. They start with attacks on discrimination protections in the name of a fake threat to ‘religious freedom’. They then move to attacks on transgender rights based on false claims about ‘women’s safety’. Or attacks on inclusive schools under the misleading banner of ‘parental rights’.
Under Scott Morrison, we saw the first two. But we haven’t seen the third since the fake furore over Safe Schools at the end of the marriage debate.
Don’t Say GAY
However, with US Republicans making ‘Don’t’ Say Gay’ Bills one of their main platforms, it was inevitable Australia’s inclusive schools would be next in the LNP’s firing line.
Peter Dutton virtually confirmed this when he said he will clamp down on the ‘extremism of teachers’.
“I think the national curriculum, the values argument, is going to be one of the big debates over this Parliament. I think you will see a big difference between the policies that we take to the next election compared with what Labor will.”
As that quote indicates, the attack will be on the national curriculum. Just like the Religious Discrimination Bill, the anti-LGBTIQA+ culture warriors will use it as a wedge against Labor. It will probably involve censorship of certain teaching materials, relentless attacks on ‘woke’ teachers and student diversity groups in the tabloids, and also a focus on affirming materials for trans and gender diverse kids.
Peter Dutton credited himself with thinking up the divisive 2017 marriage postal survey. Afterwards, he told CEOs in support of marriage equality to stick to their knitting. Then he wanted an anti-equality song at the 2017 NFL grand final alongside Macklemore’s Same Love. And who can forget that he also banned IDAHOBIT morning teas in the military.
The question is not whether he will launch an attack on inclusive schools. That anti-LGBTIQA+ culture war is inevitable. So, the question is, how do we prepare for that attack?
Here’s my best advice as a veteran of the campaign to defend Safe Schools and of battles over LGBTIQA+ school curricula going right back to the 1980s.
Find out what LGBTIQA+ inclusive education policies already exist in your state or territory and any research that shows they work.
When the attacks begin you can cite these policies as evidence that there is already work afoot to foster inclusive schools and the sky hasn’t fallen in. Research on the efficacy of existing programs re-inforces the point.
Find out the latest statistics about the challenges LGBTIQA+ young people face at schools. For example, over 60% felt unsafe at school in the last twelve months and over 90% report hearing homophobic abuse. 61% reported experiencing verbal abuse and 18% reported physical abuse. Because of this lack of safety one in six young LGBTIQA+ people has attempted suicide and one third have harmed themselves. Statistics like these will help illustrate the danger of further marginalising LGBTIQA+ young people.
Also, keep track of the surveys on parental attitudes to LGBTIQA+ school inclusion. According to a landmark study by the University of Western Sydney released earlier this year, 82% of Australian parents support gender and sexuality diversity in school curricula.
Work with state and federal education ministers and departments
If you are involved with an LGBTIQA+ organisation ask to meet your state education minister and department heads, as well as the federal education minister.
Warn them of the imminent attack from Peter Dutton. Provide them with the evidence above. Remind them that the best way to deal with attacks against inclusive schools is to stand firmly against them and not duck for cover in the hope it will all go away. It won’t.
If you’re an individual LGBTIQA+ Australian write to your state or territory education minister and the federal minister urging them not to give in to the fearmongering.
Work with parents groups, principals associations, student groups and education unions
This was one of the most effective strategies I was involved in during the Safe Schools fracas. We were able to bring together a wide range of education stakeholder groups to support straightforward statements defending inclusive schools.
Once you have sign-on from groups closely associated with education, publish their agreed statement in the local newspaper and arrange for the groups to send a delegation to meet your local federal MP.
This can be done at the local as well as state level.
Work with others who will be affected
The campaign against the Religious Discrimination Bill succeeded because the LGBTIQA+ community was able to work with other groups also disadvantaged by the Bill, including people with disability, religious minorities, employers, unions and women’s health groups.
It is likely other groups will be adversely affected by the Coalition’s moral panic over schools because this panic will also be about ‘critical race theory’, ‘climate alarmism’ and ‘making students hate Australia’. Others we can work with include environmental educators and groups seeking to foster racial, ethnic and religious inclusion.
We must ally with them now so we are ready to support each other when the storm comes.
Work with the Greens, Independents and Labor
The Greens, Teal independents and Senate cross-bench, emboldened by their strong vote, can play a key role in countering an attack on inclusive schools.
They can ask questions, talk to case studies and research and table inclusive legislation.
Most of all, they can prod the Labor Government to speak out as strongly as possible.
So far, Federal Labor’s response to the LNP’s LGBTIQA+ culture wars has been to make itself a small target.
That has come at a massive cost to LGBTIQA+ people who went largely undefended by Labor during the religious discrimination debate.
We can’t afford a repeat of Labor’s small-target approach. We must do all we can, both directly and through the minor parties and independents, to ensure it takes a strong stand.
The best way for Labor to overcome LGBTIQA+ wedges against it is to show no doubt, fear or hesitation. It’s time for fight, not flight.
These are, as ever, our greatest asset. Prepare current and former students, principals and parents to talk publicly about the value of existing inclusion programs and the need to expand them instead of imposing further restrictions.
It’s not always easy to tell one’s personal story effectively. It can require training and practice. I’ve been helping LGBTIQA+ people with their personal stories for many years. If you need some help, drop me a line here.
Talking points to consider
One-to-one discussions and letters to the editor can help change minds. Here are some points to remember when addressing LGBTIQA+ school inclusion:
School inclusion programs already occur without the sky falling in.
Inclusive schools are better, not only for LGBTIQA+ young people but for entire school communities.
All students should feel they are respected for being themselves.
Students will face greater ostracism and discrimination if acknowledgement of their identities is censored and deliberately prohibited.
61% of LGBTIQA+ students reported experiencing verbal abuse and 18% reported physical abuse. Because of this lack of safety, one in six young LGBTI people attempts suicide and one third self-harm.
No parent wants their child to attend a school where exclusion and ostracism are acceptable.
82% of parents support school curricula that deals with sexual and gender diversity.
The 2022 election result showed Australians want solutions to the real problems we face – housing risk, climate change, access to health care – not more confected culture wars.
We can defeat this imminent attack on our dignity and rights, just as we have defeated such attacks in the past.
If Peter Dutton insists on not learning the lesson of 2022, we can hand him 151 Warringahs at the next election.
We can do this by informing ourselves, working with governments, gathering support from groups in the education sector and allying with other affected communities.
The sooner and better we prepare the less damaging the attack will be and the quicker it will be over.
For the latest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) news in Australia, visit qnews.com.au. Check out our latest magazines or findus on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.