Yesterday, I assisted in launching and distributing to media a letter to the Prime Minister and Education Minister that sought funding to be allocated by the Turnbull government to roll-out a national anti-bullying, anti-violence program across Australian schools with an LGBTI focus at its core.
I launched and organised this letter as a personal, unpaid project and there was no ill-will or malice intended - just good intentions.
The idea came about after I saw that the NSW government had dropped Safe Schools for a broad anti-bullying program. As a gay person who went through the Christian and Catholic education systems, it made me think about what I could possibly do to help out as someone who had been bullied and had homophobic taunts yelled at them. Then the idea of a letter signed by LGBTI people and their allies — many of whom ended up being high-profile — which attempted to de-politicise the issue and call for federal funding for a program with a focus on LGBTI people, came about.
One of the biggest mistakes I made— and it was made by me alone — was in the drafting of the letter, with the word “acceptance” omitted from the framework proposed for teaching, and the letter referring to not seeking “approval” of the way certain members of our society live.
Instead, the words “tolerance” and “mutual respect” were used. Acceptance was removed during the drafting after confidentially consulting a Canberra decision-maker on what they believed the government would potentially back to fund such a program. I approached them regarding the letter.
Given the purpose of this letter was about achieving an outcome that would help LGBTI youth — which would require the federal government to fund it — I made the decision to omit the word highlighted above. This is a decision I deeply regret and I am truly sorry for. I am sorry to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex community, many of whom have told me that by doing this represented the letter pandering to conservative views.
I wish to unreservedly apologise to them. I realise now that the above, by its very nature, could be perceived as the letter becoming politicised.
I also unreservedly apologise to those who signed up to the letter who have had to bear the brunt of this and other ill-conceived decisions made by me.
In good faith, they put their trust in me.
Some of those who identify as transgender or intersex — and their parents — also took issue with the letter referring to gay people being 14 times more at risk of committing suicide while not also referring to transgender or other LGBTI peoples’ statistics. Another statistic, for instance, shows that 40 per cent of those who identify as transgender have attempted suicide.
Some who identify as transgender also remarked that there were few signatures on the list from those from within the transgender and intersex communities. They remarked further that the group of signatories was not diverse enough, highlighting that while there were many LGBTI allies on it, there were not enough from the LGBTI community itself.
Meanwhile, some people connected with the Safe Schools Coalition, who have worked for years to craft their program — which was rolled out on an opt-in basis across Australia but didn’t get its federal funding renewed — felt betrayed that a separate group would advocate for a different approach than what they have. From what I have read in the past 24 hours, they have generally argued that the letter’s approach is too much of a weakening.
I don’t wish to say anything more that could hurt anyone.
I take full responsibility for the letter and its wording.
If I had my time again, I would have done things differently, chosen better words and consulted more widely with the LGBTI community on how the LGBTI youth of Australia can be helped before getting people to sign up.
I have learned many lessons from this endeavour and have been counselled by many of my closest friends over the past 24 hours, some of which have been very honest with me about either respectfully disagreeing or agreeing with the letter’s contents.
Of all of the people I approached to participate in the letter, I was warned by about four of them that the approach I was taking was not one with which I should go down. These red flags should have been warning signs to me.
If anything good can come from this, it is my hope that LGBTI kids in Australia are looked after and that it starts a necessary conversation about what happens next for LGBTI youth and anti-bullying education in schools on a national basis.
Out of respect to those who have highlighted the above issues and more, I will today request for the letter to be removed from the Change.org petition platform, which was used to gain further signatures for it.
Further, as the organiser and distributor of the letter, I withdraw it.
Organiser and distributor of the letter