Marriage equality is about marriage equality

The ongoing debate regarding the marriage equality postal survey has led to some of those supporting the ‘no’ campaign to make claims that marriage equality will lead to changes to school policies and curriculum.  They have put flyers in letterboxes making all kinds of predictions and claims.  They have emailed parents and principals to warn them of the ‘consequences’ of marriage equality. 

Their arguments are confusing three quite distinct issues:

  1. marriage equality
  2. the  Australian Curriculum
  3. protecting LGBTIQ+ students and staff in school communities.

1. Marriage equality

There will be one certain effect of finally having marriage equality legislated in Australia – same-sex couples will marry. Opposite-sex couples will continue to marry. That is it.

2. Australian Curriculum

The Australian Curriculum is established by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority. Teaching and learning programs in schools are developed based on the Australian Curriculum.  Other programs, such as the Respectful Relationships curriculum available to Queensland schools, are developed by professionals with vast knowledge of the issues and the Australian Curriculum. 

To suggest that teachers and school leaders would do anything ‘radical’ with the curriculum in their school as a result of marriage equality being legislated in Australia is simply fear mongering, and is offensive to hard working teachers and school leaders who are in schools every day doing the best for their students and are concerned with their academic outcomes and their wellbeing.

3. Protecting LGBTIQ+ students and staff

School leaders and teachers need good quality professional development to help them meet the particular needs and experiences of LGBTIQ+ students at school.  They need to reflect on school policies and procedures, codes of behaviour, consequences for bullying and proactive strategies that create safe environments for LGBTIQ+ students, staff and other members of the school community. 

All schools need professional development and support for teachers and school leaders and a reliable, safe and confidential provider of advice and support for the school and parents when individual student need arises.

That is exactly what the Safe Schools program has been providing in Queensland.

In a sad attempt to win votes by perpetuating untruths about the Safe Schools program, Queensland’s Opposition education spokesperson has announced that Safe Schools would be “banned” under a future LNP government.

This is a curious election policy given that the funding for the Safe Schools program comes from the federal government, which has already announced it will cease funding on 31 October this year. Clearly there will not be a state election before that date.

The LNP says it plans to introduce an anti-bullying program to address all forms of bullying in schools. This misses the key point about why the Safe Schools program was created.  That is, that despite anti-bullying programs aimed at addressing all forms of bullying existing in schools for decades, LGBTIQ+ kids continue to experience homophobic and transphobic bullying and violence at both school and in the broader community.  It’s not just an Australian problem, it is a worldwide problem.  And unless measures to target this particular type of bullying are put in place, it will not go away.  Students will continue to miss precious days and weeks of school, they will continue to focus on their own lack of safety and wellbeing instead of on their school work, or, in the worst cases, they will disengage from school completely or be at risk of self-harm.

Regardless of who is in government, schools must be supported to do the best they can for all of their students. And that includes keeping LGBTIQ+ kids safe from harm. If a catch-all anti-bullying program could do that, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.

Sam Pidgeon
Queensland Teachers’ Union Vice-President

13 September 2017