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"It needs to begin at the policy level. We
need to name homophobia as we name
racism and other forms of discrimination.
Principals need to take a very firm stand
-- they need to state openly that there are
GLBT students in the school. Teachers
should do this too. They need to be more
upfront," argues Pallotta-Chiarolli.
All too often schools shy away from
doing good work in this area because they
are paranoid about negative publicity,
parents' complaints and the relevant
Education Department's response. But
some schools -- some really 'cool schools'
-- are doing amazing work in this area.
Princes Hill Secondary College, a public
co-ed school in Melbourne, paraded for
the first time in the Pride March this year,
sending an important message to the
community: "This is where we stand. This
is the school culture. We are very focussed
on making this school gay friendly. No
negative behaviours are welcome,"
explains Elizabeth Healy, Student Welfare
Coordinator at the school.
Healy organised the march with the
support of two Principals (former and
acting). Around 30 students, teachers and
parents, both gay and straight, represented
a school community that took a very
public stand to be gay friendly. There has
been overwhelming positive support from
students and teachers at the school and
from parents and the community.
Jamal is in year 8 at Princes Hill and has
lesbian parents. "We have an out teacher
here ... it helps. It feels like you won't be
laughed at for having lesbian mums.
Also, we have a good welfare coordinator
-- the Pride March helped too. At my
school I haven't heard of kids getting
bashed because they're gay. Kids get
hassled like any other school, but not
because they're gay. We kinda have an
alright atmosphere," says Jamal.
And despite the flurry of media attention
recently, both here and in the US, about
cartoons and children's television
introducing gay characters, Newtown
Public School in Sydney isn't fussed
about alarm bells being raised. This
school proudly displays posters in
every classroom welcoming families
of all descriptions including lesbian
and gay families.
Recently, the school invited Tanya
Plibersek, Federal Member for Sydney
and spokesperson on families, women
and children, to read one of the new
Learn to Include books to a group of
students. A 2GB journalist asked her
whether these children were too young to
hear about gay people.
"I think it's important for all children to
know that families are different ... the
earlier we start to tell children this, the
better for those kids," said Ms Plibersek
whose four-year-old daughter is a big fan
of the Learn to Include books already.
Janet Walker, Deputy Principal at
Newtown Public, proudly describes her
school community as very diverse. She
believes parents and prospective parents
feel relieved when they discover that the
school doesn't fuss about who makes up a
family, rather, the focus is on what makes
a family work -- love, care and respect.
"Who looks after you, who loves you,
who respects you -- these are concepts
that kids are never too young to learn
about. There's no suggestion that we are
teaching the younger children about sex. I
have taught year six children and, looking
at the research, I am very concerned
about youth suicide and eating disorders
and how they relate to homophobia. It's
pretty scary. By the time they get to year
6, if they are already comfortable with the
terminology of two mums and two dads,
it means we can talk about these issues at
a much more serious level more easily,"
There are clearly some individuals
working in supportive schools doing great
work. And, unfortunately, there are
schools that remain unsafe for lesbian and
gay students and teachers, like the
Victorian school which reportedly
terminated a lesbian student teacher 's
internship late last year because when
asked by her students whether she was a
lesbian, she said 'yes'.
"We recognise the importance of role
models and mentors but we don't apply it
to GLBT issues. We need more out
lesbian and gay teachers! The Education
Department needs to get its policies
together and take a strong stand. It should
let Principals know that they have the
backing of the Department," says Dr
Recent data from the UK supports
Pallotta-Chiarolli. A review conducted in
2004 found that providing a context
where staff are open about their sexuality
encourages a greater appreciation of
diversity and can help in the development
of policies to address homophobia and
can ameliorate feelings of isolation
amongst lesbian and gay students.
Policies are an important start, but what
makes some schools 'cool' for GLBT
students, teachers and parents are the
brave and creative teachers, principals,
deputies, welfare coordinators,
academics, politicians and parents who
take a stand. People who take risks and
don't fall victim to negative media,
parents' complaints and the inevitable
Departmental response. 'Cool schools'
make it possible for Alex and Jamal to fit
in, be proud of who they are and where
they come from, and to flourish.
The resources mentioned in this article
are available from gay/lesbian friendly
bookshops throughout Australia. e
"We need more
out lesbian and
to get its policies
together and take
a strong stand."
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