You can watch the speech on You-Tube here.
This afternoon I rise to speak about an event I recently attended in my home state of South Australia, hosted by an organisation doing good work across our country, the Minus18’s same-sex and gender diverse formal. I attended this event in Adelaide on 13 November. This was the first time that a same-sex and gender diverse formal had been hosted in Adelaide, and it was attended by 120 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people. Members of this place may be aware that similar events have been hosted in Victoria, but this was a first for South Australia. I do hope that it is the first of many such events in SA in the future.
I was very inspired by this event. It was a powerful thing to see so many young people out and proud and comfortable in their own skin celebrating diversity at a really important social ritual like a formal. School formals are all too often the source of anxiety for the LGBTI young people. We still hear of schools preventing students from being able to bring same-sex partners to formals. We still hear of students being in fear of bringing a partner of the same-sex to a school formal because they are in fear of the homophobia and bullying they will experience. So this formal was an opportunity to do things differently and an opportunity for LGBTI young people to come together in a safe and inclusive environment—and that is a wonderful thing. I do remember my own school formal. Of course, a lot has changed since then—although, alas, unfortunately I still cannot dance to save my life—but I do wish that something like that was in place when I was at school, because it was certainly a tremendous event.
Minus18 is Australia’s largest youth-led organisation for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth. It provides a range of important support and assistance to young LGBTI people. This includes mental health support and peer mentoring to thousands of people across the country; regular social events; dance events; online support, which connects than 5,000 same-sex attracted and gender diverse young people; and then of course the formal that I mentioned earlier. This is an organisation that is run by youth volunteers and receives some funding from the City of Melbourne, the Victorian government’s Office for Youth and the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services. It is a truly great initiative run by young people for young people.
The event in Adelaide I had the privilege of speaking at was organised in collaboration with the Safe Schools Coalition. This coalition is comprised of schools that have access to resources and support aimed at improving the safety and inclusivity for LGBTI young people at school. It also has a component on combatting homophobia and transphobia. There are almost 470 member schools in this country. More than 13,000 staff have been involved in this and almost 330,000 students in the member schools. So this coalition is having a wide reach. This is very important work. I have remarked before that homophobia and transphobia still persist in this country, and these things still create a lot of harm. One way to combat that is by addressing this in our schools.
I read a really beautiful article on BuzzFeed by Lane Saintly, who talks to Margot, who is a nominee for the 2016 Young «Australian» of the Year award and works with Minus18, and I will quote from that article. Margot says:
For me growing up, I had no one I could look to. That sucked because I was like, OK I can be open with who I am and what I am, but I probably won’t be successful in my career, I’ll probably lose a bunch of friends, my family might reject me. In hindsight those weren’t correct assumptions. But because there was no one I could relate to, that’s the only thing I could believe. Being able to break that down for other people is huge.
I think Margot’s words would resonate with many gay, lesbian and transgender people. Indeed, research done here in Australia, Writing themselves in 3, found that 75 per cent of the 3,000 same-sex attracted young people who were surveyed had experienced some form of homophobia, bullying or abuse—75 per cent. So this is a big problem for our country.
Given the value of the work of Minus18 and the Safe Schools Coalition you can imagine my horror when I saw that the «Australian» «Christian» «Lobby» has been advocating for the Safe Schools Coalition to be axed—because, apparently, it is damaging to students; and apparently it ‘teaches kids gay and lesbian techniques’. That is a quote from the ACL in the Sydney Morning Herald. I am reluctant to give these absurd views anymore airtime, but I do believe that sunlight is the best disinfectant. I do believe that the ACL should be held to account for the homophobia they fan within our community and they should be held to account for the brazen lies they tell and the misinformation that they spread.
Despite their name, we of course know that the ACL do not represent Christians in this country. Indeed, a vast majority of «Australian» Christians reject their world view. So this group are completely unrepresentative. They are simply an extreme fringe group that promotes a world view that is as dangerous and divisive. I guess I should not be surprised that the ACL have taken aim at an organisation that seeks to combat bullying, given the ACL promote sexism, homophobia and transphobia—the very currency of bullies. That is their stock-in-trade. That is the business model of the ACL.
Let me address this suggestion that the Safe Schools Coalition somehow promotes homosexuality. I am really intrigued by this idea that simply by talking about being gay, or talking about difference, you are going to convert people, as if it is something that you can catch. I have spent my whole life being exposed to heterosexuality. Indeed, we live in a heteronormative society. In fact, it seems you cannot turn on the TV or read a magazine without being exposed to images of rampant heterosexuality! Everywhere I look I see straight couples holding hands and straight couples getting married. I was walking through the streets of Adelaide the other day and I saw a straight couple kissing in broad daylight—kissing on the side of the street! They are on a recruitment drive, you know. I think they want to sign me up. They have not had any luck yet.
What an absolute nonsense this is, but this is the kind of ridiculous logic that underpins the ACL’s criticism here, and this is the kind of contribution they make to the national discourse. Next they might come out with something that says that gay marriage is as damaging as smoking. Oh, wait a minute! They have made that claim. That is a comment they made back in 2012. It was a ridiculous, offensive contribution to the national debate. It is brazen lies and homophobia. The contribution that the ACL make to the national debate is homophobia and transphobia.
In a world that is rocked by poverty and injustice one might ask why the ACL refuse to use their resources to campaign and work on something that is actually meaningful, something that might actually make a positive contribution: war, poverty, famine, climate change and social inequality. There is so much injustice in this world. If the ACL want to take on moral decay, maybe they should start there. Maybe they should look at those moral challenges rather than obsessing over the gay, lesbian and transgender community in this country.
The really reckless and divisive comments of the ACL, the reckless and divisive homophobia, the brazen lies and misinformation they spread is a complete and important reminder of the reason why the work of the Safe Schools Coalition is so important. It is a reminder of the reason why the work of Minus18 is so important. As long as there is prejudice and discrimination in this world we need good people to come together to try to bring about positive change.
I commend the volunteers of Minus18 and the Safe Schools Coalition for doing this really important work. I am tremendously proud of the young people who are doing this good work. I have no doubt that they are changing lives for the better in this country and making our country a more safe and inclusive place, and that is certainly a great thing.