BY ANGELA SHANAHAN
You have to admit, even serious issues can have their funny side.
How’s this for bizarre? On July 23 last year the Australian Christian Lobby’s Queensland spokeswoman, Wendy Francis, lodged a petition with the Queensland parliament complaining about the Safe Schools program and asking that it be removed from government schools. It was the second largest petition put to that parliament.
The Safe Schools curriculum, as revealed by The Australian, is a radical form of sex education under the guise of an anti-bullying program. To define the complaint about the program it was necessary to quote from resources used in the program.
So the following material from a Safe Schools student resource, OMG I’m Queer, was incorporated into the original petition lodged with the Queensland parliament: “It may come as a surprise, but there is no strict definition for virginity, especially if you’re queer. Penis-in-vagina sex is not the only sex, and certainly not the ultimate sex. If you ask me, virginity is whatever you think it is.”
The Clerk of the Parliament censored this from the Queensland parliament’s e-petition website because it contained “intemperate” language.
“In accordance with standing orders, petitions must be respectful, decorous and temperate and not contain any unparliamentary language or otherwise offend any rule or practice of the house.”
The wording of the petition was amended accordingly.
So, this quotation is considered “intemperate language” in a parliamentary setting but is considered suitable reading for schoolchildren aged 11 and up.
Many Queensland parents didn’t think so. And that is not all. Some of the material, especially that provided by the associated Minus 18 website, is too graphic to pass school firewalls, and students are urged to ask teachers to unblock it. This means a federal education program is advising schools to allow changes to their firewall protection. Parents may be interested in that one.
The contentious Safe Schools program may go to review, but my bet is that it won’t be scrapped, so great is the fear of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex lobby. It has become like gay marriage, a totemic political issue; the conservative right wing v so-called moderates.
Yet it is a fair bet most Australian parents, while quite moderate people, are not seeing this type of sex education as moderate at all. Radio stations and letters editors have been bombarded with calls from concerned parents who don’t want this for their children.
In an interview with Labor’s Penny Wong, who was partly responsible for the program, ABC radio host Rafael Epstein said: “I’ve had a few callers and texters, they do see this program as indoctrination and the imposition of an ideology.” Later in the program he put the perfectly moderate point that most parents are making: “Quite a few of the texters are saying, ‘Well, leave sexuality out of it, just teach the stuff about bullying. Leave gender fluidity and sexuality out of the discussion, that should be for parents.’ ”
True, but those amateur moralists, the parents, didn’t get much of a look-in with Wong: “I’m not an educator and the people who are best placed to judge what should be taught in schools are teachers, people who have experience in delivering curriculum and those are the people who make a choice to deliver this program in schools … Those people should make the decision about how best to address this.”
So schools are the repository of all moral, emotional and psychological expertise? Teachers, begrudgingly, are taking over the role of redundant parents.
Lessons on relationships flow from the family and only parents can, or should, exercise control over this aspect of a child’s emotional development.
Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham says all material should be “age appropriate” and that parents should be consulted. How does he envisage this consultation? Does he envisage that the parents of four-year-olds will receive advance copies of a resource, a picture book called The Gender Fairy, which according to author Jo Hirst is about “two children who don’t align as the gender they were assigned at birth” and are helped by the Gender Fairy? Or that in high school they will have a Minus 18 night? Many principals, never mind parents, don’t even know what is in this curriculum. The core issue is about teaching children that every type of sexual behaviour is normal or right. Right and wrong are moral issues, so the issue of parental consent is vital to any review of this program. Yet it has been barely explored.
Both sides of this argument are shying away from the truth. Bullying is not the issue here. It is the LGBTI education agenda that seeks to normalise behaviour that most parents do not consider normal. This is a proxy for a bigger fight, an ideological one about normal sexual and family relationships. The real point is about parental control. The LGBTI lobby has sneaked this agenda into nearly 500 schools under the guise of anti-bullying, and parental consultation was not welcome because it knew how Australian parents would feel about it.
It is not a bad thing to teach empathy. Unfortunately, that is not what the Safe Schools program is doing. But it is what parents should be doing.