Article Title:The Awkward Brigade?
Author or Credit:Craig Young
Published on:22nd March 2016 - 12:13 pm
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Story ID:18090
Text:So, as expected, Australian federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham has completed his review of the Safe Schools LGBTI anti-bullying curriculum, and vindicated it. However, predictably, the backbench religious social conservative "Awkward Brigade" seems intent on challenging the authority, neutrality and expertise of that review in the interests of social conservative ideological purity. Such antics are not restricted to Australia, either. The good news came on Wednesday, 16 March. Hardly had that review been tabled when the Awkward Brigade gave notice that their social conservative ideological purity campaign against Safe Schools still wasn't over. Queensland National MP George Christensen is still unsatisfied, stating that he would prefer suspension of funding for the programme until a full-blown parliamentary inquiry can be mounted into the programme. Anonymous critics have rounded on Birmingham and called for his resignation. It was condemned by these anonymous critics as "too hasty", "too narrow" and limited to a narrow cross-section of schools. University of Western Australia Emeritus Bill Louden concluded that the programme was effective, targeted and met its objectives of education retention and LGBT school student safety. However, he did recommend that gender transitioning materials be made available only through counsellors. The programme is being defended by ALP Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, as well as Birmingham and Ewen Jones and Warren Entsch, Liberal MPs and LGBTI allies. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews stated that the Victorian ALP State Government would financially and logistically back the Safe Schools programme even if Turnbull pandered to the federal Coalition's religious social conservative faction. One wonders if this agitation and bloody-minded is deliberate on the part of these factional malcontents, all of whom supported former Liberal Prime Minister Tony Abbott at the time that he was dumped as Liberal leader last year. Do they deliberately want to destabilise the Turnbull administration? Meanwhile, Christensen dredged up ephemeral material from the publicationGay Information, back in 1982 and argued that one of the backers of Safe Schools, Professor Gary Dowsett, Director of La Trobe University's Australian Research Centre on Sex, Health and Society of "endorsing pedophilia" using parliamentary privilege. Dowsett is not replying to this propaganda. If Christensen repeats these allegations outside Parliament and there turns out to have been a subsequent retraction of Dowsett's alleged earlier views, however, defamation proceedings may be possible against Christensen and anyone who repeats such questionable allegations. In any case, this is rather hypocritical, given that Australian Christian Right publications likeMercatornetare calling for clemency when it comes to current investigations into whether Australian Catholic Cardinal George Pell neglected his pastoral responsibilities as a bishop within the Catholic Diocese of Ballarat when it came to prevention and curtailment of Catholic clergy pedophilia. And predictably, right-wing talkback radio demagogues are getting into the act as well- such as Sydney 2CH 'shock jock' Kel Richards, who parroted the 'awkward brigade's' factional line. Whether or not Richards was in violation of Australia's Commcercial Radio Code of Practice when he made this outburst remains to be seen. I must pay tribute to the high standard of coverage of this issue in Sydney'sSamesameLGBT online service, especially that by my former Gaynz.Com colleague Matt Akersten. The Queensland ALP State Government is also defending the programme and has launched a new petition against its attackers. Unfortunately, despite the clean bill of health, the Turnbull administration sought to placate the Liberal religious social conservative extremist contingent another way. Liberal Education Minister Simon Buckingham has now placed conditions on the programme's continuation. It will not be renewed after 2017, although the resources will continue to exist on the Ministry of Education's Safe Schools website. The names and websites of Australian LGBT youth support organisations will be removed from the website and the Ministry of Education will take over operational control of the programme from the Safe Schools Coalition. Parental consent will be required to participate within the programme, and religious social conservative parents have an opt out clause. Gender identity references will be pulled from the programme. However, Christensen, Abetz and Bernardi are still incensed about the halfway measure, as they wanted the programme wrecked altogether. Meanwhile, this religious social conservative agitation is not restricted to Australia. In Canada, their Christian Right antifeminist group REAL Women is similarly attacking a transgender child safety and protection programme in Alberta, currently governed by a centre-left New Democrat Party provincial government. Traditionally, Alberta has been one of Canada's more right-wing provinces, so REAL Women is probably trying to harness conservative Christian activists there to build a base of resistance against the New Democrats on other narrow religious social conservative obsessions, such as abortion, euthanasia and LGBT concerns. The news alert media release cited encourages religious social conservatives to agitate against a recent Alberta provincial government report: "Guidelines for Best Practice: Creating Learning Environments That Respect Diverse Sexual Orientations, Gender Expressions and Gender Identities." The chief guidelines are these: An individual’s self-identification is the sole measure of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. No student may be referred for counselling to change that student’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. A student’s personal information and privacy must be protected, including, where possible, obtaining a student’s explicit permission before disclosing information related to the student’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, to parents, guardians or other adults in their lives. If a human sexuality course is organized by gender, students may choose in which class they wish to participate. Non-gendered, single-stall washroom is a matter of choice for students, staff, volunteers or visiting family, and not a compulsory requirement. They may also use any other washroom they wish. Family members may access washrooms that are congruent with their gender identity. School forms, websites, letters and other correspondence will use non-gendered language, (e.g., parents/guardians, caregivers, families, partners, etc. instead of Mr., Mrs., mother, father, him, her, etc.) This is 'unacceptable', argues REAL Women, because it usurps 'parental rights', which overlooks the reality that parents of transgender children want these reforms and policies in place so that it can encourage safe learning environments, educational retention and academic excellence amongst their children. REAL Women also cites the "American College of Pediatricians", a US religious social conservative professional group that broke away from the mainstream American Academy of Pediatrics, which supports transgender child and adolescent anti-bullying, child protection and safety legislation and policies. REAL Women's only allies appear to be the Alberta Catholic Bishops Conference and the Alberta Catholic School Trustees Association. The guidelines will become operational on March 31, 2016. Fortunately, the Alberta NDP provincial government has a large legislative majority within the provincial parliament. However, this goes to show that parroting the US Christian Right, Canadian and Australian satellite movements are attacking anti-bullying programmes in both countries. Unless we make it clear that such pro-bullying activism is based on nothing at all substantive and predominantly seems to consist of ad hominem abuse, one suspects our local New Zealand Christian Right groups may parrot the same set of lies. Caught on the hop, Family First publicised a disabled youth anti-bullying programme. As someone who has a disabled nephew himself, I warmly welcome the Yes Disability programme in Auckland, in which several young disabled leaders talk about their experiences of bullying, surviving and thriving within a peer programme. Of course young disabled people get bullied at school too, and it is no less reprehensible and it should not be tolerated either. That is why we need comprehensive and specifically targeted antibullying programmes focused on LGBT, disabledandany other vulnerable group of school students. Any such legislative reform and public policy should develop resources that deal with all such constituencies. Recommended: Michael Koziol: "Backbench launches second revolt against safe schools programme cleared by review"The Age: 16.03: 2016: u/federal-politics/political- news/backbench-launches- second-revolt-against-safe- schools-program-cleared-by- review-20160316-gnkm4n.html Shalailah Medhora: "George Christensen accuses Safe Schools advocate of promoting pedophilia"Guardian:16.03.2016:http://www.the political-news/backbench- launches-second-revolt- against-safe-schools-program- cleared-by-review-20160316- gnkm4n.html Matt Akersten: "Radio host says Safe Schools is disgusting propaganda, bordering on child abuse"Samesame:16.03.2016:http://www. Radio-host-says-Safe-Schools- is-disgusting-propaganda- bordering-on-child-abuse Commercial Radio Australia Codes of Practice and Guidelines (September 2013):http://www. chment/Legal/Regulation-Codes/ Commercial-Radio-Codes- Guidelines-September-2013.pdf Jordan Hirstl: "Where to sign the Qld petition to support Safe Schools"QNews: 16.03.2016:http://www.qnews. petition -to-support-safe-schools/ Ces Busby: "Victorian Premier vows to keep Safe Schools programme funding safe"Gay News Network:16.03.2016:http:// national/victorian-premier- vows-to-keep-safe-sc hools-20696.html "Government reveals changes to Safe Schools Programme"The Age:18.03.2016:http://www.theage. al-politics/political-news/ government-reveals-changes-to- controversial-safe-schools- program-20160318-gnlyhj.html "Bullying makes you feel cold inside"New Zealand Herald: 19.03.2016:http://www. article.cfm?c_id=1  
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