SENATOR THE HON PENNY WONG

LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE

SHADOW MINISTER FOR TRADE AND INVESTMENT

LABOR SENATOR FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA

OPINION PIECE

27 August 2015

GAYBY BABY

The one benefit of yesterday’s manufactured furore over a Sydney high school’s participation in “Wear it Purple” Day, including a screening of the film Gayby Baby, is that it leaves us all in no doubt as to the priorities of some of the protagonists.

A Presbyterian minister claimed the film is “trying to change children’s minds by promoting a gay lifestyle”. A News Limited columnist told a 12 year old girl she wasn’t part of a normal family and attacked an organisation dedicated to reducing bullying in schools as a “political front”.

Talking about others’ sexuality or attacking 12 year olds are priorities for some, but it’s hard to comprehend how either could be more important than preventing bullying and keeping our children safe.

“Wear it Purple” is a youth suicide prevention initiative.  It was created in response to the death of Tyler Clementi in 2010. Tragically, Tyler took his own life following his outing by a roommate.

On “Wear it Purple” Day young people wear coloured clothing to show support for their LGBTI schoolmates, promote tolerance and understanding, and raise awareness of the tragic consequences of bullying.

The need for the “Wear It Purple” initiative couldn’t be greater. Many schools remain confronting places for young people – especially students who are ‘different’.  A recent Australian survey of LGBTI young people showed that 64 per cent of young people had been verbally abused, 18 per cent had been physically abused and 16 per cent had attempted suicide. Behind these statistics are stories of deep personal hurt.  The young people and the teachers who work to reduce harm in our schools deserve support, not condemnation.

State schools have been amongst the strongest supporters of anti-bullying and anti-homophobia initiatives.  That’s why it is disappointing the NSW Education Minister has directed schools not to screen Gayby Baby during school hours.

Gayby Baby is a documentary about children growing up with gay and lesbian parents. The children in the film have heard plenty of other people express an opinion about what it means it grow up with two mums or two dads.  The film gives them a voice. As filmmaker Maya Newell says, “Everyone seems to have an opinion about what’s best, but no one was asking those kids.”

Almost none of the people complaining about Gayby Baby have seen it – including, I suspect, the Education Minister who banned its screening.

I’d encourage them to turn down the outrage and watch the film.

They might learn something from these kids about respect, love and tolerance.

This article was originally published on The Guardian on Thursday, 27 August 2015.