When I was in high school, I took media studies as an elective. Our teacher was an unusual one; very forgetful, argumentative and full of strange rules. I remember walking to class carrying an unopened drink and being marched outside and told angrily to stay there until I had opened and finished my drink. She was an unusual person, Mrs A.
However, my main recollection is a film. Dead Poets Society. Back in my day, we were still all about the VHS. Mrs A agreed to let us watch the tape in media studies class. I’m not sure why- I don’t recall doing any kind of work to do with it. We’d watch it then press stop until the next class when we’d rewind it a fair bit and then rewatch it, over and over. We literally spent weeks watching it. Mrs A would look puzzled but let it go on. I loved that film. It was awesome and it got me out of doing anything on the curriculum. I still managed to pass, somehow.
So it was with interest that I read the news about another school wanting to watch a film not strictly on the curriculum. Burwood Girls High was planning on screening a documentary for their students called Gayby Baby, about growing up with same sex parents, as told by the kids. The idea was to wear purple, watch the film and eat purple cupcakes. Why the purple? Because today is Wear It Purple Day:
“Wear it Purple is a student run, not-for-profit organisation that exists to support young people who identify as sexuality and/or gender diverse.”
The documentary was directed by Maya Newell, an alumnus of the school. Burwood Girls High planned to show Gayby Baby in class time, however, journalist Piers Akerman wrote a piece in the Daily Telegraph voicing his objections. His piece even specifically addressed a 12 year old girl featured in the film. She worries about whether or not her life is normal. Akerman addresses her specifically in his article, saying: “Statistically, you are not in a ‘normal’ family, no matter how many LGBTIQ-friendly docos you may be forced to watch by politically driven school principals,” which I’m certain the young girl in question would have found extremely comforting.
According to Akerman, showing Gayby Baby at school is in breach of NSW Education Department guidelines because, he says, it advances the interests of a particular political group, doesn’t serve a curriculum objective and fails to take into account the ages of all of the students. Firstly, what political group would that be? I have yet to see a political group whose interests only lie in giving the children of same-sex parents an opportunity to tell their stories. If one exists, I’d love to know who they are. As for curriculum objective, I’m pretty sure tolerance, understanding and acceptance are all encompassed by various parts of the curriculum. Especially when discussing things like bullying. If teaching kids to be accepting of diversity and understanding of those with different life experiences is truly not part of the curriculum, perhaps it bloody well should be! And failing to take into account the ages of the students- let’s just think about that for a minute. This is a PG rated documentary starring children talking about their lives. Children who are aged 10, 11, 11 and 12. They walk us through what they are dealing with. A 12 year old child talking about her school aspirations and an upcoming audition is somehow inappropriate for high school students? A boy struggling to learn to read and living in a conservative place is too much for high school students to handle? A 10 year old boy desperately trying to convince his Mum that going to a wrestling show would be great- too traumatic for teens? An 11 year old boy questioning faith and religion- too much for high schoolers to deal with?
Seriously, can we not give our young people a bit more credit than that?
What is he even implying with that last bit about ages? If we show films about gay-parented families to young people they will somehow catch gay and grow up to have children with their same-sex partners? He can rest assured that it won’t happen. I know, because plenty of gay people grew up watching heterosexual couples and their families on t.v. and they’re still gay. Go figure.
The NSW Minister for Education, Adrian Piccoli, weighed in, ordering the school to move their screening to outside of school hours, apparently because it’s not part of the actual curriculum. Which I could maybe understand but… Apparently the same school recently took time out from their curriculum to have a visit from Julie Bishop. The Minister apparently didn’t mind that deviation from the routine. Schools have such things all the time, right? Mine sure did. My kid’s schools do as well- especially when it’s deemed to be of value to the students.
I couldn’t help but feel disappointed that people complained about this screening. Why are the parents of Burwood Girls High students so horrified, in 2015, at the thought of a film being shown that would promote tolerance and understanding? Why would they complain to the Department of Education over what should be a positive thing for their kids? Then I found out that, actually, they didn’t. The Department didn’t receive any complaints. Nor did the school. Seems the only one to complain did so on the front page of a newspaper. This was the complaint of a man with no personal stake in the matter. One can only guess why the Minister upheld this one complaint that appears to have been peppered with inaccuracies and sensational claims. For example, parents that spoke to the media said that Wear It Purple Day has been celebrated by the school for some time now and that they were advised that they could decide if their child saw the film. It was not to be the rigidly enforced indoctrination that Akerman described at all.
Where the students of Burwood Girls High School are concerned- I don’t think we have a lot to worry about. Whether or not they see the film, they’re already displaying an inspiring level of civic-mindedness and understanding as it is:
Same-sex parents may be a statistical minority if you look at numbers. Those figures are increasing and I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all. Same-sex couples are already doing great as parents. This research has shown that to be true– in some cases they are doing a better job than heterosexual parents. LGTBIQ people aren’t going anywhere, despite how Piers Akerman or the Education Minister or anyone else might feel about it. Why should they? Surely what is needed is more allies; people who practice acceptance, understanding and tolerance in the wider community. The sad fact is, not everyone is on the same page. Plenty of people still think intolerance and marginalisation are they way to go when they encounter anything to do with the LGTBIQ community- the comments section on Akerman’s article demonstrates that quite well. If we can teach our children to be accepting, understanding and empathetic human beings, we could rid the world of so much hatred within a generation.
Gayby Baby looks like a great film. I can’t wait to watch it with our kids.
#FYBF @ With Some Grace
#WWU @ Melting Moments