The debate over the Safe Schools program to combat anti-bullying may be further marginalising the very people it was designed to help, according to a youth advocate.
Safe Schools is a program aimed to help lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and/or intersex (LGBTI) students and create a safe school environment.
Launched by the federal government in 2014, last month Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull ordered a review into the program after Coalition MP Cory Bernardi objected to its content.
Illawarra Legal Centre Youth Advocate Georgina Pike condemned the language being used by some federal politicians in discussing the issue.
This week, Federal Coalition MP George Christensen compared links to other sites provided on the Safe Sex Coalition website – but which do not form part of the program under review – as akin to paedophile grooming.
The links to information about chest-binding or gay sex “sound a lot like grooming work that a sexual predator might undertake”, Mr Christensen said.
“There is a lot of melodrama and misinformation being spread by public figures about Safe Schools,” Ms Pike said.
“The language used to criticise the program feeds into the bullying of young LGBTI people which can have tragic consequences.”
Ms Pike said there are other anti-bullying programs in schools, and “they don’t seem to get reviewed in this same manner”.
“When a government singles out a particular program that is aimed at combatting bullying and says ‘we need to subject this to particular scrutiny’ it sends a message to LGBTI young people that their needs are less important and less worthy of being protected,” she said.
“When you’re looking at a group of people who experience the highest rates of suicidal thoughts in the country, it’s vitally important that schools support those young people and provide a safe space for them to learn.”
Ms Pike said there were three schools in the Illawarra that have adopted the program.
“We think that is fantastic - schools need to be doing all they can to support the rights of LGBTI young people to an education free from bullying.
“The Safe Schools program gives schools the tools and training to be able to do this.”
Ms Pike said Mr Turnbull had to take action to change the tone of the debate.
“Such change starts at the top,” she said.
“Prime Minister Turnbull needs to stand up for young people and tell his MPs that criticism based in fear and ignorance will only further marginalise an already vulnerable group of people.”