Australian state pours funding into anti-homophobia programming for high schools

My home state of New South Wales has just announced the launch of a new program designed to combat homophobic bullying in high schools. The program, Proud Schools, will be trialed at 12 high schools around the state, and will combine training for teachers with workshops for students and for parents.

It’s a welcome initiative: according to recent findings from the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, high school is an especially challenging time for queer youth. About two thirds of queer or questioning students reported experiencing homophobic verbal abuse, and one in five reported physical abuse. Almost all those who suffered this abuse said that it made them feel unsafe at school. And in Australia as in the US, homophobic bullying leaves queer and questioning kids far more vulnerable to self-harm than their straight peers.

Verity Firth, the State Minister for Education and Training, welcomed the new program and explained that its goal is to change the culture in NSW schools. “We don’t tolerate bullying or abuse in our public schools for any reason. That’s why the Proud Schools program aims to replace ignorance with understanding, intolerance with acceptance, and shame with pride,” Firth said.

Firth also acknowledged that ending homophobic bullying will require the participation of the entire education community – teachers, administrators and parents, as well as students. “Proud Schools recognises that for this change to take place whole school communities will need to work together, with parents and teachers playing a key role in identifying and addressing homophobic attitudes.” To that end, the program will involve professional development for teachers. In NSW, teachers are well trained to identify and avoid sex- and race-based discrimination, but to date no such training has been implemented for homophobic discrimination. The Proud Schools program will implement that training for teachers and school leaders. There will also be workshops for parents and students to contribute their ideas about what needs to be done to combat homophobic bullying in each of the twelve unique communities where the program is being trialed.

Members of the Australian LGBT community seemed pleased, too. William Field, a 21-year-old youth worker who dropped out of two different high schools as a result of homophobic bullying, says he wishes there had been something like Proud Schools around when he was a student. “I had no idea what to do and I’d come home crying every day because I had no one like me and people were saying I was a girl,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald. “It would have been so good to have had people in school who could tell us what it was like, or speakers who could tell us what it was like, to be gay.”

It’s expected that after this small trial is completed, Firth’s office will expand the Proud Schools program to all NSW public high schools. It’s high time NSW schools had an initiative like this, and I hope that the independent private schools where, in my experience, homophobia runs rampant, will also think about implementing this or a similar program.

and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

2 Comments

  1. Posted January 25, 2011 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    My only concern with a program of this nature is that it may be too specific. Are anti-trans/anti-genderqueer bullying also covered? What about cisgender kids who are still bullied by that criteria? Might we better off emphasizing bullying in general, whether it involves immutable characteristics (including others not listed) or simply being abusive?

    As a side note, I would also tack on that bullying (typically understood as a lone wolf intimidating others) is generally less serious than intimidation coming from cliques (a group of people), and I wonder how well the program addresses the problems coming groups.

    I admittedly haven’t found anything about the program yet in a hasty google search, but these are concerns that jumped to mind.

    • Posted January 26, 2011 at 9:16 am | Permalink

      Hi Matt,

      A similar program has been given funding in Victoria, Australia where I have been teaching secondary school. Bullying in terms of individuals and cliques is something that is covered both in teacher training and yearly PD sessions. While it is very important, I would say that the majority of teachers are aware of the problems associated with bullying and are ready and willing to change things in their classrooms to discourage bullying.

      A very important aspect of LGBTQ training, from a staff perspective, is that many teachers have no idea about what queer students are dealing with. A colleague advocated for voluntary training for our school and we encouraged all teachers to attend. One other colleague happily attended but commented that she didn’t understand what all the fuss was about because she didn’t care whether students were straight or gay. I explained some of the challenges that queer, genderqueer and questioning youth face in terms of elevated suicide statistics and greater struggles with depression. She honestly had no idea.

      Programs like this are a fantastic step in getting teachers to understand what is going on in their schools and ensuring that administrators (who have quite a lot of leeway in their schools) don’t block teachers from starting GSAs or putting up queer friendly posters (which happened at this school years ago). Teachers are often afraid of being “too political” in the classroom and often this extends to what they feel they can say in terms of gay and trans rights. Educating the Admin and the teachers is a great step to getting everyone on the same page.

      I rambled a bit, but hopefully have answered some of your concerns surrounding similar programs.

166 queries. 0.325 seconds