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MY children are now of the age where we have to start considering where to send them to school.
Often these decisions reflect a parent’s own background and experience. For me, I was a public schoolboy all the way. Torrens Primary, Melrose High and Canberra College. There are always challenges growing up but, overall, I received a stellar education in a healthy environment with outstanding teachers.
Therefore, I wouldn’t hesitate to have my children go through the same wonderful institution.
But there’s one factor holding us back and that is the new “Safe Schools” program that is being rolled out into Canberra public schools.
First launched in 2010 and offered to primary and high schools, its notional aim was to create “safe and more inclusive environments for same-sex attracted, intersex and gender-diverse students, staff and families”.
This aim seems a reasonable one and its advocates have been at pains to paint it as simply an “anti-bullying” program, but lately some serious problems have been uncovered.
Prof Patrick Parkinson, one of the top family law experts in the country, released a report in September that showed not only were the program’s statistics “unscientific”, but it presented contested theories on gender fluidity and sexual orientation as fact.
Not only that, but it encouraged transitional pathways from a boy to a girl (or girl to boy) without medical or psychological guidance, or even parental knowledge or consent.
In addition to this damning report, a video emerged of the Safe Schools founders stating that the program was not about stopping bullying, but instead promoting sexual and gender diversity to children.
It also caught them gloating that “parents don’t have the power to shut this down”. This prompted people such as transgender activist and Order of Australia recipient Catherine McGregor to withdraw support from Safe Schools, referring to it as Trotskyist Queer Theory that “leads trans people into a blind alley”. Former Labor leader Mark Latham saw the danger as well, calling it a “Trojan horse” for indoctrination.
There is clearly support needed for children struggling with identity and attractions, and bullying for any reason is unacceptable, but this particular program steps well over the line. Prof Parkinson even went so far as to say that although the program may have benefits to some young people, it also had the potential to cause harm to others by encouraging them to experiment sexually and treat gender as fluid.
The Federal government became aware of these issues and put new guidelines in place removing some of the more extreme sexualised content and links, and making sure that parents have an option for their children to opt-out. It left gender fluidity in but made clear it would not be funding the program again.
The NSW government also acted, deciding there was enough evidence of concern to call for an independent inquiry into the program. While the report unfortunately remains confidential, it has resulted in a statewide ban from teaching gender theory of affiliate programs in public classrooms.
So, in light of all this, what has the ACT decided to do about Safe Schools? Obviously taking into consideration the academic reports, various independent reviews and significant public and parental concern, it has decided to ignore all of this and fund the program out of Canberra parents’ pockets for an extra $100,000 per year.
It will, of course, rebrand it (in order to avoid the bad press of Safe Schools without removing the contentious content) and ensure that parents once again do not have the option of “opting-out”.
This is all part of the journey towards what is now being called the “rainbow ideology”. Primarily, it involves the deconstruction of gender, as well as a shift away from “heteronormativity”. You will have surely seen the taxpayer-funded rainbow flags plastered across the city lately, signalling the government’s commitment to this ideology. All we are seeing is the next stage.
First is the removal of “male” and “female” from marriage, and now removing “boy” and “girl” from our education system. Soon the ACT may even follow the Victorian path and make the program compulsory in all ACT public schools, ultimately replacing Australian flags outside schools with rainbow ones.
So where does it leave our schooling decision with our own children? Well, unless there are significant changes to the program where gender fluidity teaching is dropped, where older boys are not using the same change rooms as my daughter and where parents are made fully aware of what is being taught and are able to opt out, then doubt arises entrusting my five-year-old to the ACT public education institution that I love. As parents we may not have the power, but we still have a choice.
Nick Jensen is the director of the Lachlan Macquarie Institute, which helps develop leaders in public policy (lmi.org.au).