On 5th October, the activist group ‘Reclaim Australia Canberra Inc’ held a rally outside the Department of Education, Employment and Workspace Relations on Marcus Clarke Street, protesting the safe schools program.
Police moved the rally to a pathway across from Lena Karmel UniLodge, as the protesters were causing distress to a nearby childcare center.
The Safe Schools Program seeks to foster tolerance and understanding of LGBTI* peoples. As LGBTI* people may often experience discrimination at school, the Program is aimed at teaching children to respect and celebrate the diversity of others.
The Australian Government Department of Education and Training describes the Program as “creating safe and supportive school environments for same sex attracted, intersex and gender diverse people by reducing homophobic and transphobic bullying and discrimination in schools.”
Opposition to the Program suggests that the Safe Schools Coalition has alternate motives in the nurturing of this vital Program. The rally mobilised support under the assertion that the Coalition is manipulating children, politics, media and popular opinion under the guise of tolerance.
Michael Turvey, an ANU student confronted by the protesters said, “I thought it might be possible to engage these people in an actual conversation about the issues, unpleasant as their take might be to me, and I very quickly found out I couldn’t.
Given the Facebook event, titled “Rally Against the ‘unSafe Schools Program’”, rally-goers seem to have been motivated by the idea that the Program teaches children to be ashamed of their identity, as it is constructed through a “hetero-normal upbringing.”
Fred Hanlin , ANUSA Queer Officer, had been aware of the rally as a small gathering, not wanting to draw attention to it. ANU students organised a counter-rally, external to the Queer Department.
Hanlin said, ‘by our presence there and noise, their inner nature came out… they’re interested only in not having kids educated about this at too young an age, they began shouting, calling us pedophiles in signs and screaming that at us
“We had one of their main people say being gay isn’t something we’re born with, we’re sick degenerates trying to push this on kids”.
The rally was also founded on ideas that educating children about concepts to do with LGBTI* rights and gender diverse people will cause children ‘gender confusion’.
Hanlin stressed the importance of the Safer Schools Program, stating that children should be educated about different identities and “that kids know that this is okay, is just so important for kids being able to accept their peers being queer, and also that schools can be a space where they’re able to exist.”