Sunday, April 17, 2016

Safe Schools saves lives

[This article by Farida Iqbal first appeared in the Perth Voice 15 April 2016.]

FARIDA IQBAL is a founding member of Save Safe Schools WA and a Socialist Alliance candidate for the Senate. Her political views do not necessarily represent Safe Schools WA, a broad coalition encompassing people of all stripes.

ON March 18 this year the federal government announced devastating attacks on the Safe Schools Coalition.

Safe Schools is not a “paedophile grooming” program, as it has been so horrifically described. It is the opposite. It is a program that protects young people and saves lives.

Schools can join the Safe Schools Coalition to access resources, such as training and educational materials. These resources help schools combat bullying effectively, by challenging the culture that underpins it.

We must recognise that school bullying isn’t just kids being mean to each other. Bullying is an expression of homophobia, transphobia and sexism. Bullying comes from a culture of macho boys and mean girls who pick on anybody they decide doesn’t fit into their gender norms.

Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex students face the most severe consequences of this culture. This is clear in the harrowing suicide rates.

Yet it is important to recognise that homophobia and transphobia impact on the entire student body. How many straight boys are beaten up because they are accused of being “fags”?

As well as the bullies in school, we have to take on the bullies in parliament. The Safe Schools Coalition began without controversy under the Abbott government. How is it possible that transgender children will now be denied this life-saving program, because it can’t be taught in primary schools?

How is it possible that parental consent is now required for the program to be implemented, denying it to LGBTI kids with prejudiced parents?

How is it possible the entire program will be defunded after 2017?

This would not have been possible under a truly democratic political system. A government of the people would not pander to the Australian Christian Lobby. It would act in the interests of the community.

What would such a government even look like? We have been living for so long under lying, cheating, manipulative politicians that it can be hard for Australians to imagine things could be any different. But it is getting easier.

Bernie Sanders, who is seeking the Democratic nomination in the US presidential race, has given us a powerful message. We can’t leave it up to the politicians. The community needs to take things into its own hands. This is socialism, not in the Stalinist sense of the word, but in the original sense of the word.

Taking things a step beyond Bernie, we can say the community needs to take political power. That’s ordinary working class people like you and me. We need to put politicians on an average working wage, and we need to be able to recall them once elected.

It is precisely the community that is now starting to come forward. In the past few weeks I have been inundated by parents, teachers, high school students, primary school students, LGBTI people, and countless others wanting to stand up for safe schools. We have formed a new campaign group: Save Safe Schools WA. We will hold a rally at 1pm on April 23 in the Murray Street Mall.