Advocates for regional Victoria’s same-sex attracted and gender diverse communities have again pushed for Bendigo schools to become members of the Safe Schools Coalition.
While a federal government in March resolved to adjust some components of the anti-bullying program,Victorian education minister James Merlino announced last week his state would leave the program intact and mandate its teaching across all state schools by 2018.
But despite schools in some regional cities already committing to the coalition, still none inside the City of Greater Bendigo have become members.
Damien Stevens, a community development worker at Kildonan Uniting Care, has been instrumental in signing up five Shepparton schools to the program.
Mr Stevens was surprised by Bendigo’s absence from the coalition, and believed a lack of funding for LGBTI projects in the area could be responsible.
He said his organisation had cultivated relationships with schools over the past 10 years through its Diversity Project, a state government-funded program reaching out to young people in his community who identify as same-sex attracted, or sex and gender diverse.
“It's been a no-brainer that when I bring up Safe Schools Coalition, after planting these seeds for many years, most (principals) are instantly keen on the idea,” he said.
He urged Bendigo to adopt a community-wide approach to wiping out bullying of LGBTI youth.
“Eventually it trickles down to the schools,” he said.
Last month, the principals of both Bendigo South East College and Bendigo Senior Secondary College told the Bendigo Advertiser no students had expressed interest in their school joining the coalition, and they created a safe environment by other means.
But Bendigo man Jakob Quilligan, who runs Friends Alike of Bendigo – Central Victoria, said it remained difficult for young people to discuss sexuality and gender diversity without formal programs in place.
“The conversations don't happen,” he said.
“A young person who might be struggling with sexuality or their gender can’t have a conversation with their teachers in a small town.
“Making people feel comfortable enough to talk is the biggest step towards progress in this area.”
Growing up gay in Wedderburn, and then attending Bendigo Senior Secondary, Mr Quilligan said he would have benefited from the Safe Schools content.
He still heard examples of transphobia and homophobia in the community and believed mandating membership of the Safe Schools Coalition would “bring the issue to the forefront”.
“There's still going to be some resistance to making it happen,” he said.