Australian Victoria state’s premier, Daniel Andrews, has condemned a New South Wales decision to ban a documentary on gay parenting from high school classes, calling the controversy “cruel rubbish”.
Pupils at Burwood Girls High, one school that planned to screen the film, have also spoken out, saying “we pride ourselves on our support of diversity” and are “leaders in the push for equality and acceptance for all people”.
Andrews said he had taken his family to see Gayby Baby, an Australian documentary highlighting the unique and ordinary challenges faced by four children with same-sex parents. “But apparently the NSW government thinks it’s all too confusing and distressing a subject for high school students,” the premier said on Facebook. “I’m getting really sick of this stuff.”
Last week, NSW education minister Adrian Piccoli directed the state’s schools not to show the documentary in class time. “During school hours we expect them to be doing maths and English and curriculum matters,” he told 2GB Radio. “This movie is not part of the curriculum and that’s why I’ve made that direction.”
His orders followed a front-page story in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, which alleged there had been a “backlash from parents” over the planned screening.
A comment piece on the story claimed there had been “numerous complaints” and said Piccoli should be sacked if he allowed the screening. But the education department confirmed last week that not one complaint had been made by parents.
Asked whether Piccoli was aware no parents had complained when he pulled the film, a spokesperson for the minister said his decision “was not driven by complaints of any nature, but rather a need to adhere to policy and procedure, and for class time to be used to teach the curriculum”.
“The minister was made aware by the department that departmental policies and procedures had not been adhered to in the school’s decision to screen the film. He directed the department of education that the film Gayby Baby must not be shown in school time so it does not impact on delivery of planned lessons.”
The NSW premier, Mike Baird, said he supported the ban on the film. “I understand the intent of that is to provide an example of tolerance and that’s something I absolutely support,” he said. “Should it be in class time? No, I don’t think so. Should it be optional? Yes, I do think so.”
In a Facebook statement, prefects from Burwood Girls High condemned the media coverage that contributed to the screening being stopped. “As Burwood girls, we pride ourselves on our support of diversity – in whatever form it takes,” they said.
“When it is considered that the LGBTI community has the highest rates of suicide of any population in Australia and experience significantly higher rates of mental health issues, we consider our support to be just one small step in creating better understanding in the community.”
The pupils said events were regularly held “which aim to support and celebrate the diversity of our school community”, including lunar new year celebrations and dinners to break the Ramadan fast. “We consider ourselves leaders in the push for equality and acceptance – for all people,” they wrote.
An activist group, Community Action Against Homophobia, plans to protest outside the Daily Telegraph‘s office over its coverage. The film was to be screened as part of Wear it Purple Day, a campaign aimed at supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) pupils.
Parents of pupils at the school told Guardian Australia they had been “delighted” at plans to show Gayby Baby. One said parents were clearly advised they “had every opportunity to stop our children seeing it”. “It’s PG-rated, and from what I understand it’s about families and parents and there’s nothing overtly sexual about it, or offensive.” Nor was she concerned about the film being screened during class. “That’s exactly where they should be learning stuff like this,” she said.
Writing for Guardian Australia, federal Labour senator Penny Wong said the need to show support for same-sex-attracted and gender-diverse people “couldn’t be greater”. She said a survey of young LGBTI Australians had shown 64% had been verbally abused, 18% physically abused and 16% attempted suicide. She added: “Behind these statistics are stories of deep personal hurt. The young people and teachers who work to reduce harm in our schools deserve support, not condemnation.”
Burwood High’s prefects added: “We are a proud school. We are proud of our culture. And we are proud of the leadership our school shows in supporting all views and the right for all people to be accepted.” – © Guardian News & Media 2015