A number of schools around Australia are planning to screen Gayby Baby today as part of Wear it Purple day (supporting tolerance of acceptance of sexual diversity). Gayby Baby follows four people (aged 10-12) whose parent’s happen to be gay.
Perhaps not surprisingly when the Daily Telegraph made some sensationalist claims on their front page about the film being shown at Burwood Girls High School (where the filmmaker used to go to school), it become a hot issue. Despite the school not having received any complaints from parents (according to the Department of Education), the debate was intensified when the NSW Minister for Education banned the film from being shown during school time. Schools were told that a screening could only be considered if “it is an integral part of the planned curriculum for an age-appropriate year group”.
Unfortunately, like most people who are joining the debate, I haven’t seen the documentary, so this post is based on reporting and commentary to date, watching the trailer and reading about the film.
Much of the outrage has focused on how schools should focus on education and not interfere with regular lessons. Speaking on ABC radio Fred Nile (a Christian Democratic Party member of parliament) claimed:
Schools are where children go to study, they don’t expect to see propaganda films promoting the homosexual lifestyle or same-sex relationships, especially while we’re having a big debate over same-sex marriage.
I hope he sees the irony of this comment considering his very strong support for students being offered weekly scripture lessons, which could be easily described as Christian propaganda, and his vehement opposition to ethics classes being offered as an alternative.
Schools cover a wide range of issues and frequently have special events or speakers. When the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop, recently spoke at the Burwood Girls High there wasn’t an outcry that it was taking students away from regular classes or that it was Liberal party propaganda. And there shouldn’t have been.
According to a student interviewed by the Sydney Morning Herald, the school is following the same process it uses for religious seminars held once a term – parents can request that their children do not attend. According to a letter sent home from the school,
Gayby Baby will be screened during periods 2 & 3 in the school hall. If parents wish for daughters not to attend this screening, please indicate this in writing to Deputy Principal… Students who do not wish to attend the screening may opt out and will be supervised in the Library, whilst they carry out independent studies.
It seems that some people think that children should shouldn’t be exposed to gays and lesbians. Quoting Fred Nile again
The danger is you’re going to confuse the great majority of children who are quite happy about their sexuality and about being part of a family.
I’m not sure what is confusing. Is it confusing that not all people are the same? That families come in all shapes and sizes? That some people love someone of the same-sex? These aren’t hard concepts to understand. Maybe he knows he’s fighting a losing battle and is simply desperate to prevent greater acceptance of sexual diversity.
To be fair I try to imagine how I would feel if it was a topic I was strongly opposed to. How would I feel if my daughters had to attend something that went against my values? Well I cope, and then talk about it with them. When my daughter went on an excursion to the Apple Store, I thought it was inappropriate, challenged the school, but still allowed her to go. I really don’t like the army coming and talking at schools, but I accept there are various views about social issues, and allow my children to be exposed to different ways of seeing the world. I want my daughters to be exposed to a range of perspectives and to critically think about their values and beliefs, and this means they will hear things I don’t like. That’s OK.
An important feature of Gayby Baby is that it explores the issue of children with same-sex parents from the perspective of the children. Maybe it could have had more diverse views, but at least it is bringing rarely heard voices into the public arena.
It is a real shame that sensationalist reporting and knee jerk reactions led to the film being virtually banned in NSW schools. I suspect, however, the opponents of the documentary have essentially kicked an own goal and that, while they may have prevented some students from seeing the film, they have provided the film with priceless free publicity and will encourage many people who may not have otherwise seen the film (myself include) to make sure they watch it.
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