Education Minister Peter Garrett calls gay “a choice”

pic by Life@Microsoft

pic by Life@Microsoft

Q&A isn’t my cup of tea. It used to be fun, when you had a range of people on the panel, rather than just ‘expert’ talking heads and politicians. So until a reader pointed it out to me, I wasn’t aware of this little exchange..

Towards the end of the show Monday night a young man asked about support at schools for LGBTI kids.

HUW DUNCAN: When I was 10 and younger I was scared, alone and depressed. I knew I was gay. To find out that I liked boys when everyone and everything around you was telling you this is wrong was far beyond upsetting. I felt like a mistake and I felt unloved. I believe not enough is being done to prevent youth depression and suicide as a result of schools and parents not giving enough information about who they can love. My question is: should information be provided in primary schools for children to understand that who they are, who they love, whether it be a boy, a girl or both, is normal?

Christopher Pyne’s answer was pretty reasonable, if somewhat vague.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, I founded Head Space . . .  to address mental health issues particularly amongst young people. We need to extend that further and further to younger and younger ages and headspace is doing a great job. . . . .  In terms of primary school kids, life education does very good work across schools talking to them about drugs and sexuality and so on and there is a need in primary schools for young people to be given all the information and equipment necessary to make decisions that they need to make and feel entirely confident about themselves.

I was a little concerned about that “decisions they need to make”, but . . . .so far so good. Peter Garrett also began well . . . .

PETER GARRETT: Yeah. Look, I agree with what Christopher Pyne has said and  . . . one of the things that I think is especially important for us is to recognise that sometimes the question of sexual identity can become an issue within a school setting and can result in bullying and students feeling alienated or left out or victimised. And so we have put a lot of effort and a lot of thought into what a national safe school strategy would be. We have developed this strategy. It’s the world first of its kind. It is informed by very good medical advice and we would like to see that as a part of every centre. Some schools do it, some don’t but we think it should be done in every school. And I think under the national curriculum, which we haven’t talked much about tonight as well, there are opportunities for teachers to raise and talk about these issues as they deliver the curriculum.

Not so happy with that: anti-bullying and safe schools are great programs, but they’re essentially negative. They’re against bullying – and who isn’t. But what about things like positive affirmation and role models for GLBTI kids? Where does that fit in, I wondered?

And then the wheels fell off.

But for Australians as a whole, and particularly young Australians, to know that someone making a choice of this kind is as legitimate as any other and it shouldn’t be a reason for them feeling victimised or bullied in any way.

Making a choice, Peter? Young people don’t make a choice to be gay. Though it’s nice to know you think it’s ‘legitimate’, I suppose.

It may seem like a small thing, but there’s a big gulf between treating homosexuality as a choice, and what the questioner was asking for: that gay, straight or bi should be considered as simply natural variations, equally normal. Especially when the man speaking is Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth

It’s not often you catch a glimpse of the committed born-again Christian Peter Garrett: normally he keeps that side of himself out of sight, and mainly out of politics, too. He toes the party line on abortion, and supports marriage equality. Let’s hope Tony Abbott can manage the same level of separation.

About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)