Safe Schools Debacle Reveals Coalition’s Juvenile Delinquents And High School Bullies


OPINION: Right-wingers lining up to trash the program have exposed themselves as defective high school debaters. They’ll need more than a dictionary to understand what homophobia really means, writes Lucy Watson.

As the Liberal party grows increasingly defensive over its attack on the Safe Schools Coalition, the behaviour and rhetoric of some of its members is starting to resemble the high school bullies the program aims to defeat.

Yesterday in parliament, MP Luke Simpkins used the dictionary, like the good high school debater he is, to define for us all what homophobia means, labelling it “an extreme or irrational fear of homosexuality.”

Setting aside the fact that my dictionary defines it differently, instead calling it “a dislike of or prejudice against homosexual people,” what Simpkins and his high school logic miss is that words often evolve from their original meaning, and often from their dictionary definitions too.

My dictionary, for example, defines liberal as “willing to respect or accept behaviour or opinions different from one’s own; open to new ideas.” I don’t think the Liberal party use that definition anymore because if they did, the inquiry into Safe Schools would never have been ordered.

A few weeks ago, Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan referred to planes flying close together as “risky shit.” Risky faeces? Of course not.

The word awful, as you might be able to guess, once meant “full of awe.” But now, when I say, “I think Cory Bernardi is awful,” I’m certainly not saying he’s a top bloke.

So even if homophobia derives from two words that, when put together, would mean an extreme fear of homosexuality, to argue that this is still the case is to completely misunderstand how language works.

We use words to express actions, thoughts, and feelings, not vice versa. The English language is often inadequate, as demonstrated by this list of foreign language words we never bothered to find equivalents for. Homophobia has evolved beyond its origin.

Even if we return to my dictionary’s definition of homophobia (I use Google, it’s this great new thing): “a dislike of or prejudice against homosexual people,” it remains vastly different to Simpkins’, and very much explains Cory Bernardi.

But for the sake of Simpkins, and other Liberal party backbenchers, let’s do a little class on homophobia 101.

Homophobia isn’t just fear (though sometimes it is, and Lyle Shelton is a case in point). It’s the othering, and demonising of a person on the basis of their sexuality. Quite often, homophobia is ignorance: it’s assuming that everyone is straight, which then others anyone who isn’t.

Structural homophobia is everywhere and our inherent bias toward heterosexuality ensures this. There’s very little research on the prevalence of STIs among lesbian women. Gay men still can’t donate blood, because of a perceived risk of HIV transmission (despite thorough testing practices of the blood donated).

Religious schools and hospitals still have the right to fire gay teachers and doctors. Even if this right isn’t exercised often, it still means that gay members of staff have to think before putting up pictures of their family, a simple act heterosexual staff members wouldn’t think twice about doing that could put their own career in jeopardy.

new matilda, luke simpkins
Coalition MP Luke Simpkins.

Married couples still aren’t recognised in death. And of course, couples still can’t get married in the first place.

Homophobia exists in daily microaggressions, too. Every time I go to grab my girlfriend’s hand in public, I have to think twice about where we are, in case we’re abused. A lot of friends are never invited to their partner’s family events, even when the partners of heterosexual family members were welcome.

And of course, there’s still overt, aggressive homophobia. In 2016, people are still bashed for being queer. 80 per cent of young LGBT people report experiencing homophobia, and 18 per cent of that is physical.

Politicians like Cory Bernardi use their nationwide platform to tell kids that a program designed to help them cope with daily struggles is bullying other kids into forced acceptance of the ones struggling.

Bernardi, Simpkins, and others recognise that being called a homophobe is not a good thing. And they’re right, it’s not. But when someone spend their days pushing arguments that drive more and more queer kids to mental health services you have to call a spade a spade, and a homophobe a homophobe.

The only thing the Safe Schools Coalition [hopefully]indoctrinates kids into is acceptance. It’s a program that will help fight structural homophobia at its core by teaching kids that gay people exist, that you can’t ignore them, and you shouldn’t demonise them.

These Liberal politicians can accuse Shorten, and everyone else, of bullying them, but the only bullies in this situation are themselves – and the school bullies they enable by publicly demonising Australia’s queer youth.

Homophobia is not an irrational fear of homosexuality. It’s a daily slog that 80 per cent of LGBT youth face, and it got a whole lot worse this week.

Lucy Watson is Archer Magazine's online editor, a queer columnist for The Brag, completing a PhD in the media department at the University of Sydney, and an amateur DJ/pool player