The West

Let kids express their gender
Let kids 'express their gender'

An anti-bullying program that challenges schools to overhaul their policies for dealing with homosexual or transgender students says teenagers should be allowed to "express their gender" through aspects such as which uniform they can wear or which toilets they use at school.

Safe Schools Coalition Australia, which also urges schools to include specific references to homophobic bullying, transphobia, gender diversity and intersex status in their school policies, was launched nationally last month by Liberal senator Scott Ryan.

The Federal Government has put $8 million into the scheme, to be rolled out in WA by the middle of next year, which builds on a model operating in Victorian schools.

FamilyVoice Australia has organised a petition calling on the Government to stop the funding, saying it is a waste of taxpayers' money.

FVA research officer Ros Phillips said all bullying was harmful so it was unhelpful to focus just on homophobic bullying.

Ms Phillips said the program taught students there were no "gender norms" and could increase their identity confusion and anxiety. "To tell them, 'If you feel you're a girl and you're really a boy, dress the way you feel like' - we don't think that is helpful," she said.

SSCA national program director Sally Richardson said schools that joined would get support for students and staff who were lesbian, gay, bisexual, intersexual or transgender. Ms Richardson said if a student was born a girl but identified as a boy, they would be supported to live as a boy, which might include using boys' toilets.

"It's not a case of anyone using any toilet they feel like on a given day," she said.

"The program is not about sex.

"It's about helping a school to change its culture."

The WA Education Department said it was happy to look at ways it could work with the coalition.

LJ Goody Bioethics Centre director Father Joe Parkinson, who has worked with Catholic schools for the past three years on providing protection for same-sex- attracted students, said the Catholic Education Office was unlikely to back any strategy that re- inforced gay or lesbian identification.

He said all Catholic schools opposed bullying and several high schools which had students with intersex conditions had made special arrangements for toilets and showers.

The West Australian

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