LGBTI youth to be supported in schools

Date: Sep 08, 2014

The recent poll on marriage equality in Australia has shown that there has been a shift in attitudes across the nation. Nearly three-quarters of Australians (72 per cent) surveyed in a Crosby/Textor poll said they were in total support of marriage equality. 

A new initiative has also been launched in schools in New South Wales to improve understanding, and support, of sexual and gender diversity in the state. NSW is the third state to take on the national program, following in the footsteps of South Australia and Victoria. 

The Safe Schools Coalition program will be implemented by Family Planning NSW and Foundation for Young Australians (FYA). The program provides support for teachers, students and parents on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) issues in secondary schools through student engagement, professional learning, resources and ongoing consultation.

Foundation for Young Australians CEO Jan Owen explained in a August 1 press release that school environments that are a safe and supportive spaces are critical to the wellbeing of students. Education can contribute to creating a community that young people want to live in, rather than the status quo, Ms Owen said. 

The importance of education in promoting inclusive environments for LGBTI youth was also stressed by Family Planning NSW Chief Executive Officer Ann Brassil.

"Rolling out the Safe Schools program throughout NSW will help us build education and awareness about sexual and gender diversity in schools to help reduce the verbal and physical abuse and violence experienced by students in homophobic and transphobic environments," Ms Brassil said.

To date the Safe Schools Coalition program has 150 member schools, provided training for 4,555 staff and supported more than 20,000 students. 

Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson talked about the importance of Safe Schools in light of recent research from the University of Western Sydney, which found that young people in Australia face harassment in all environments from family, school and in public. 

"The consequences of not fitting in and feeling ill-at-ease with yourself leads to introspection, developmental growth challenges and a frighteningly high number of LGBTI youth who have considered or engaged in self-harm," said Mr Wilson. 

"That is why the Safe Schools Coalition is so important. Because behind the statistics and research that shows young people often struggle to come to terms with their sexuality, or gender-identity, we lose sight of where the pain that they experience comes from."

A recent Supreme Court of Victoria case demonstrated the discrimination that LGBTI youth may face. Cobaw Community Health Services, who work to prevent youth suicide especially for youth who are attracted to the same sex, were refused an accommodation request at a Christian Youth Camp (CYC).

The court found that the group was unlawfully discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation, explained the Human Rights Law Centre.

If you feel you have been discriminated against talk to a lawyer. A family lawyer can also discuss issues with you that may arise from same-sex relationships.