The Core Issues
To really break down barriers facing young LGBTI people, we must get to the heart of the matter, implores Ben Cooper.
So another Wear It Purple Day has passed and we hear reports of all the great things that have been achieved by the day: students making a pledge not to use homophobic terminology in school; school leaders and politicians embracing diversity; and more people than you can poke a stick at wearing purple. Whilst these achievements should be celebrated, it is important that we acknowledge that Gay Pride days and anti-homophobia education programs are not the whole solution.
It certainly isn’t any secret that despite the increase in the visibility of, and support for, LGBTI youth, and the broad support for marriage equality amongst young people, homophobic bullying is getting worse, particularly in our schools. As illustrated in 2010 Writing Themselves In Again 3 report, we have seen an increase in verbal, physical and sexual violence towards LGBTI students by their peers. LGBTI youth still remain 6 times more likely to attempt suicide.
If we are going to bring about change then we need to do more than just teach students to accept LGBTI youth and explain how homophobia is harmful. We need to actually go to the root of the problem and replace the heterosexist beliefs around gender, sexuality and evolution that normalises the idea that we aren't normal.
When students sit in an anti-homophobia workshop and then walk into a biology class and are taught an understanding of evolution that simply has no place for same-sex attraction, how can we truly expect young people not to view homosexuality as abnormal and unnatural?
When kids are ingrained with an understanding of gender, sex and sexuality that is built on the belief that your biological sex determines which sex you are attracted to, how can we expect young people to view same-sex attracted men as men and same-sex attracted women as women and acknowledge us as cis-sex (people who identify with the biological sex that they are born with)?
When kids are not taught about the history of the LGBTI civil rights movement, how can we expect them to understand the discrimination and persecution that we face and where our communities have come from?
When kids have not heard words such as ‘gynosexual’ (people irrespective of sex and gender identity who are attracted to women) and ‘androsexual’ (people irrespective of sex and gender identity who are attracted to men), how can we expect them to discuss sexuality in ways that are inclusive and accurate?
And if kids are unaware of the diversity of sexualities that exist amongst trans and intersex people, how can we not expect people to conflate sexuality with gender and sex?
The simple answer to these questions is that you can’t expect them to. They cannot possibly accept same-sex attracted people as normal and equal when they have, and continue to have, misinformation installed into them on a daily basis. Without major changes to the curriculum in schools, these kids will continue to be taught the misinformation that breeds homophobia. Equality isn't going to be won by only challenging homophobia with humanitarian arguments.
Some homophobic students are fully aware of just how cruel their behaviour and attitudes are and they know that the gay kid they are bullying is contemplating suicide and they simply don't care. The battle against homophobia in our schools must also be won logically and that cannot happen as long as we do not challenge the cultural and scientific inequalities and misinformation that currently exist in the curriculum in our schools.
We can celebrate purple wearing pride and hold anti-homophobia workshops until the cows come home, but if we don’t eradicate the heterosexist beliefs that are embedded in curriculums, the Marriage Act and many other areas of society, then not only will homophobia remain a reality for LGBTI students, but so will the idea that accepting LGBTI people as normal is nothing more than just a case of adhering to political correctness.
We as a community have to ask ourselves: do we want people to treat us equally or as some sort of politically correct cause?