LGBTIQ community members have shared personal stories of classroom discrimination with a crowd of Safe Schools opponents during a public meeting convened by Liberal MP Kevin Andrews in Hobart on Tuesday night.
Andrews and Catholic Archbishop Julian Porteous addressed the public lecture, held at Hobart Town Hall, and criticised the Safe Schools anti-bullying program.
Writing in the Mercury newspaper ahead of the event, Andrews said the program is a Marxist “assault” seeking to “indoctrinate students, ignore parental rights and undermine the family”.
“Not only are individuals able to determine their own gender, a new intolerance silences anyone who differs,” he said.
“This is a dangerous path for our children — and our society generally.”
About 35 people attended the meeting, including 10 who were LGBTIQ people or allies. Those attendees held a vigil outside at which they held up pro-LGBTIQ signs.
Gay man Ben Dudman spoke at the event about his struggle as a gay student at a Catholic school.
“I said I understand they oppose Safe Schools, but I also asked what support are we going to give to LGBTI young people instead?” he said.
“I talked about my personal experience. While I appreciated my Catholic education very much, it became a struggle when I felt I had no support from my school and community.
“I prayed constantly throughout the day to be straight, but I realised I wasn’t going to change because sexuality isn’t a choice.
“The response from the speakers at the meeting was that pastoral care was needed, but I don’t believe this is enough.
“There needs to be education for teachers and students about how schools can be fully inclusive of LGBTI young people.”
Sam Watson, a young gay man who attended a Catholic High School until two years ago, said he attended the lecture “because I believe respectfully engaging in debate is essential to our democracy.”
“It was clear Mr Andrews misunderstands the purpose of Safe Schools and is trying to discredit it by wrongly associating it with Marxism,” he said.
Olivia Hogarth also attended the meeting and said many of the LGBTIQ attendees, including the mother of a transgender child, told compelling personal stories and queried what the Catholic education system is doing to support and include LGBTIQ students.
“Unfortunately, there were no satisfactory responses from the speakers,” she said.
In 2017, the Tasmanian Government launched an inclusive schools program that includes funding and resources for LGBTI teacher training and student support. There’s no equivalent program in the Tasmanian Catholic education system.