In recent months the Safe Schools program has come under attack. In coming together to resist these attacks the LGBTIQ rights movement has taken an important step forward. Recent actions have begun to shift discussion away from a narrow focus on gay and lesbian marriage rights towards the need for a broader, more inclusive campaign.
The Safe Schools anti-bullying program literally saves lives. Studies have shown that LGBTIQ young people are six times more likely to attempt suicide than their non-LGBTIQ peers. Tragically up to 50% of trans people have attempted suicide at least once.
The greater understanding and acceptance of gender and sexual diversity that Safe Schools promotes has been demonstrated to reduce the level of bullying and physical violence that young LGBTIQ people face.
Despite a recent federal government review finding no justification for winding the program back, the government is pushing restrictions which will make it harder for many vulnerable LGBTIQ students to access this lifeline. They are also not ruling out cutting funding entirely when the current funding arrangement expires in 2017.
The Turnbull government is deeply divided and this has opened up space for extreme right-wing elements within the Liberal Party to exploit these divisions and push their reactionary agenda.
The attacks on the Safe Schools program have been led by the hard-right Senator Cory Bernardi and MP George Christensen. Along with the unrepresentative Australian Christian Lobby and the Murdoch media these groups work to amplify conservative views which are at odds with the views of the majority of society.
In recent decades both major parties have scapegoated many minorities in this way, including refugees, Indigenous Australians and Muslims. Coalition and ALP governments have consistently enacted policies designed to force ordinary people to shoulder the burden while allowing big business to profit at our expense.
We should answer the latest round of finger pointing at young trans and gender diverse students by uniting all ordinary people to resist the major parties and their socially destructive agenda. If they get away with making cuts in one area it only encourages them to go further!
These parties constantly tell us that there is not enough wealth to fund necessary public services. The truth is that there is plenty of wealth in society but it is controlled by a tiny minority of profiteers. If big business and the rich were taxed appropriately we could free up billions of dollars to fund all public services including an expanded Safe Schools program.
In addition a program to expand public housing would not only create jobs and help wipe out waiting lists but it would also help provide shelter for vulnerable LGBTIQ youths who face homelessness due to abusive parents or social exclusion.
The LGBTIQ movement will be strengthened by broadening the scope of what we are fighting for. Recent protests to defend Safe Schools are a welcome step in this direction as is the demand to extend the Safe Schools program. Fighting for concrete reforms with a range of tactics including large protests and direct action will help win improvements to living conditions while also undermining systemic transphobia, homophobia, and hetero-sexism.
Much of the discussion and planning for actions to defend Safe Schools is taking place on social media at this stage. While this is good for keeping in regular contact, it can be confusing, amorphous and lacks democratic safeguards. LGBTIQ activists should aim to hold regular open meetings for all those who want to build the campaign.
The aim should be to facilitate a democratic discussion about tactics and strategy, and to allow all groups who want to fight inequality and discrimination to work together on developing a concrete program for the movement to fight around.
Already the campaign to defend Safe Schools has forced the Victorian state government to commit to covering the funding gap if the federal government cuts the program. This is a great win but we must ensure that we do not allow the wind to be taken out of our sails. There is much more that we need to win so developing a broader platform of demands to fight around would help safeguard against that.
It is clear that we desperately need a new political movement to unite all ordinary people – including young people, LGBTIQ activists, feminists, anti-racism campaigners and the unemployed to challenge the major parties and their big business backers. Side by side with helping to the build the LGBTIQ rights movement, the Socialist Party is working towards that goal.
By Ben Convey