We Must Keep #Scomophobia Out Of Our Classrooms

I’m not sure why their skin would “curl”, but mine was certainly crawling after hearing their conversation.

Yesterday morning shock jock Alan Jones asked Prime Minister Scott Morrison his thoughts on the Building Respectful Relationships program, which he referred to as “a fancy word for Safe Schools”.

In doing so, he confused the Building Respectful Relationships curriculum -- which is specific to Victorian government schools and aims to teach students in Years 8, 9 and 10 about healthy relationships, power dynamics and consent -- with the nationally-debated Safe Schools program, which focused on creating safer and more inclusive environments for same sex attracted, intersex and gender diverse students, staff and families.

Jones took umbrage at one exercise in the curriculum in which students use character cards and role-play various scenarios related to sexual health, relationships, sexuality and gender. He referred to two of the characters that students have to role-play. The first is 17-year-old “Megan” who has had 15 sexual partners and describes herself as bisexual. The other character he referred to, “Kelly”, is 14 and thinks she might be a lesbian.

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Jones neglected to share other pertinent details about these two characters and the way they are depicted within the curriculum. For example, he did not mention that the role-play activity related to “Megan” largely focuses on her decision-making around safe sex, presumably to encourage students to learn from her experiences, while her sexual orientation is barely discussed.

Clearly, Jones did not take similar offence at some of the other characters detailed in the curriculum, such as “Reece”, a 16-year-old boy who engages in consensual sex with girls, mostly within the context of relationships, or “Steven”, a committed Christian who believes sex should take place within the context of marriage.

Monday’s Daily Mail frothed at the bit, claiming “Students as young as Year 8 [are] required to role-play bisexual teenage characters”.

Jones told Morrison that “all this is going on in the classroom” and asked him if it made his skin curl.

Morrison replied, “It does, Alan, for this reason. The values I have as a parent, that Jenny and I have as parents, that’s where you get your values from”, and explained that this is not happening in his daughters’ private (Baptist) school “and that’s one of the reasons I send them there.”

Morrison also appeared to be unaware that Building Respectful Relationships was never part of curriculum in New South Wales where his daughters attend school.

I’m not sure why their skin would “curl”, but mine was certainly crawling after hearing their conversation.

The original Safe Schools program, developed by the Safe Schools Coalition Australia in 2010, was never part of Australian Curriculum. Rather, it provided much-needed support and curriculum-aligned resources to teachers who may not feel skilled in teaching about gender or sexuality, let alone sex. It also provided vital support for LGBTIQA+ students, parents, teachers and principals.

Jones also confused the Building Respectful Relationships curriculum with the Safe Schools program back in May 2016, when he interviewed Turnbull about “Megan” and “Kelly” in the same role-play scenarios. “You’re a grandfather, you’ve got kids going into schools,” Jones said at the time. “Do you want a 15-year-old daughter embracing this stuff as education?”

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In October 2017, the federal government announced it would not renew funding for the Safe Schools program. The program was removed from all states and territories except for Victoria, where it is now managed and delivered by the Department of Education and Training rather than the Safe Schools Coalition.

Jones and Morrison are not alone in their confusion. This could be due to a lack of public knowledge around both the Building Respectful Relationships curriculum and the Safe Schools program as it stands now.

It’s worth reading about both and the resources are readily available online, so that unlike our shock jocks and conservative politicians you can understand what is really happening in our schools.

Their discussion particularly bothered me because I relate to the characters “Megan” and “Kelly”. I’m bisexual. I wondered whether I was a lesbian in high school. I could easily have faced their ‘dilemmas’ when I was a high school student and so could many of my friends.

If students in Victorian schools, or any schools for that matter, are learning how to navigate safe sex with their partners, to feel more confident communicating about sex with their parents, guardians or teachers, to make sense of their sexuality and gender identity, and are exposed to the idea of sex being related to pleasure rather than only danger, disease and death, that is something to celebrate, not fear.

In another interview on Monday, 3AW’s Neil Mitchell asked Morrison his position on gay conversion therapy. The fact that gay conversion therapy still exists in Australia, and is prevalent enough to need to be addressed by the Prime Minister, reinforces the need for programs like Building Respectful Relationships and Safe Schools.

Morrison said he had “never really thought about it” and that people should “make their own decisions” about their lives. It is evident that his use of “people” does not include those forced into conversion therapy.

I was disturbed to hear such a weak response from our new leader on this toxic “therapy”. Morrison can’t sit on the fence on this one.

Morrison is right that people should make their own decisions about their lives. This should apply to all people -- including the Megans, Kellys, Reeces and Stevens -- in our classrooms.