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Teens face 'degrading' sites as Safe Schools shelved

SEXUALITY SERIES: The way we see each other - who we are and who we love - is changing.

Through a four-part series in collaboration with the University of the Sunshine Coast, the Daily is exploring sexuality, gender and politics in the Sunshine Coast region.

In this third part, a gay Coast teenager talks about life as a student in 2017 and we explore the controversy that keeps the nationally-funded Safe Schools program away from our classrooms.

 

PART ONE: A life more ordinary?: Bill Darby on coming out on the Coast

PART TWO: Why this Coast man could no longer live as a woman

PART THREE: Teens face 'degrading' sites as Safe Schools shelved

PART FOUR: How we feel about sexuality on the Sunshine Coast


STUDENTS are at risk of visiting "nasty and degrading" websites to answer questions about sexuality and gender while a government-approved program gathers dust after a storm of controversy.

More than 400,000 students Australia wide have access to lessons about sexuality and puberty under the Safe Schools program, but none on the Sunshine Coast.
 

Sam Bouzanquet has started a LGBTI group at his school. Sam is pictured with his father Jonathan.
Sam Bouzanquet has started a LGBTI group at his school. Sam is pictured with his father Jonathan. Warren Lynam


Safe Schools creators say the program was designed to support teachers looking for resources to help students who may face bullying, intolerance, or have questions about their sexual identity and gender.

Instead, students struggling with themselves are turning to the internet as a source of information.

Gay Sunshine Coast high school student Samuel Bouzanquet, 15, is one of those.

He asked that his school not be named.
 

Mr Bouzanquet said there was no support at his school for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex students.

"I do think it's just because they [the teachers] don't know how," he said.

"Someone told me once unless you come out, you are assumed to be heterosexual, and that's basically what happens at school."

The teenager said his search for answers led him to websites that were far from constructive or helpful.

He said not only were many inappropriate and misinformed, others were "nasty and degrading".
 

VIDEO: SBS's The Feed explores "Safe Schools" in Australia


The future of the Safe Schools program is currently unknown, as the federal funding ceases at the end of June.

A Department of Education and Training spokesman said the government was committed to ensuring state schools were safe learning environments for all students, regardless of their gender, race, disability, appearance or sexual identity.

"The department will continue to support Queensland state school principals to assist them to respond to homophobia and actively support gender and sexual diversity in schools," he said.

A Liberal National Party spokesman said if elected, an LNP government would consider a more comprehensive anti-bullying program for Queensland schools.

Parts of the Safe Schools' network online includes guides on how to deal with sexting, alcohol, drugs, sexuality, bullying and even safety tips about Schoolies.

Just two hours away on the Gold Coast, the independent Silkwood School has embraced the Safe Schools program.

Silkwood advisor Alicia Kent-Rooney said the information available from Safe Schools helped create an encouraging and supportive environment, but it needed to be done correctly.

"There is minimal impact from adopting the Safe Schools tools if there is a culture of care and support within the school space already," she said.

"It can be difficult but not impossible to create a safe space...if there is not systemic weight behind it."

A safe space is something of a sanctuary on school grounds where students who may face bullying or simply need a break from peers can spend time.

Ms Kent-Rooney said the program was often taken out of context.

"There is a lot of rhetoric and posturing around the Coalition about agendas and the positioning of students to 'adopt' certain lifestyles," she said.

"A gross misinterpretation of the intent of the program."

Queensland LNP MP George Christensen has criticised the program in the past, claiming the program pointed students towards potentially explicit websites.
 

A Safe Schools Coalition Australia spokesman said there had been a lot of misinformation spread about the program.

He said if students felt safe at school, they learnt better and had better mental health.

"Interest and support for Safe Schools remains strong, and the feedback we continue to receive from those using Safe Schools is positive," he said.

According to the Safe Schools website, the coalition offers free resources to equip school staff to create a safer and more inclusive environment.

Mr Bouzanquet, along with other students, trialled their own support group at school but had to stop due to parent backlash.

"I do think the difference in support is the different generations," he said.

As a result Mr Bouzanquet, along with the support of his parents, have created a similar group outside the school community and are working to develop a website to connect like-minded individuals globally.

"We have done it outside of school because we don't have to follow the school rules and because at school there is problems with parents, teachers and religion."

NEXT WEEK: We hit the streets to ask the Sunshine Coast its views on gender, sexuality and politics.
 

 

FAST FACTS:

What is safe schools?

A national network of organisations working with schools to create safer and more inclusive environments for same sex attracted, intersex and gender diverse students, staff and families.

How do they help?

Safe Schools Australia offers a suite of free resources and support to equip school staff with knowledge, skills and practical ideas to create safer and more inclusive school environments for same sex attracted, intersex and gender diverse students, staff and families.

What does it include?
Tailored professional learning - sessions can be adapted to the needs of the school and range from introductory sessions through to in-depth training around more complex issues.


Guidance and consultation - This includes assisting school staff to explore the school climate and make improvements to school policies to be more inclusive. Safe Schools also assist school communities that request support in the process of affirming the gender identity of a transgender or gender diverse student at the school.


Resources for school staff - Safe Schools provides resources that help school staff to respond to homophobic and transphobic behaviour and actively support and include gender diversity, intersex and sexual diversity in school communities.

Can I see it for myself?
Yes, visit the website here