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We Must Look Behind The Glitter To See The Violence That Still Exists

29/02/2016 5:29 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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Mark Metcalfe via Getty Images
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 07: Jessica Mauboy performs on stage during Mardi Gras Party at the Entertainment Quarter on March 7, 2015 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Last week, police urged caution after two separate attacks on gay men in Sydney. One of them was particularly savage, with the man beaten twice in a day.

On the same day, Malcolm Turnbull ordered a review of the Safe Schools program.

Safe Schools is an opt-in program that serves as an anti-bullying initiative for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) students. So far it's been taken up by 500 schools and around 15,000 teachers have accessed its resources.

These teachers aren't trying to indoctrinate kids with "Marxist cultural relativism", as suggested by Cory Bernardi. They've seen a real problem in their schools and, as responsible educators, have tried to address it.

As a former high school teacher, I can attest to homophobia being rife in schools. Casual use of the word 'gay' as a derogatory term is an hourly occurrence. Very few of these words are motivated by pure hate, but, as Macklemore says, "gay is synonymous with the lesser".

More worryingly, LGBTI students are the targets of cyber bullying, exclusion and harassment. I know LGBTI teachers who live in fear of being 'found out'. Violence still occurs against 18 percent of queer teens. This all leads to higher drop-out rates and alarming rates of depression, anxiety and suicide.

The Safe Schools program addresses all of this, while simultaneously working to prevent the horrific outcomes of homophobia, such as the attacks seen on Sydney streets last week. Safe Schools isn't just for LGBTI students. Students who don't fit traditional masculine and feminine roles, or those who deviate from the norm, are often called "gay" or "faggot", regardless of their orientation. While Cory Bernardi claims Safe Schools isn't age appropriate, teachers will tell you the dangers are real and they are happening in our schools, regardless of students' age.

This is why it's disappointing to see Turnbull, a supposedly progressive Liberal who supports marriage equality, giving in to party pressure in order to appease forces on the right.

It's beyond comprehension that in 2016, in one of the most LGBTI-friendly cities in the world, gay bashings still occur. But I march at Mardi Gras every year and we're always warned of a rise in hate crimes around the time of the parade.

This, for me, is a reminder of why we march.

For the last 11 years, I've choreographed a float for an amazing support group, Free, Gay n Happy, which was born out of an extraordinary story of love and acceptance. We theme our float every year to highlight a LGBTI issue. This year, we're highlighting unequal ages of consent laws around Australia with our float "Heavenly Encounters, Legal Hell". We'll be dressed as angels and devils.

People often ask why I march. I'm in a heterosexual marriage; Mardi Gras doesn't happen for me. A lot of people assume I go for the costumes and glitter. I'll admit I love the glamour and excitement, and a lot of political movements can learn from this style of activism.

But I march every year because our streets are still unsafe for LGBTI people. Discrimination is still rife. No Australian government has managed to treat homosexual love as equal to heterosexual relationships, no matter how much they decry homophobia. And the rates of depression and suicide among LGBTI youth are too high.

This year at Mardi Gras, by all means enjoy the show. But look behind the glitter to see the hurt, violence and inequality that still exist.

Safe Schools goes a long way to addressing all of these things. But it won't be able to do so if the politics of fear to control the agenda.

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