Uniting Communities is backing the efforts of the Safe Schools Coalition Australia to create safer, more-inclusive school environments for young people.
The Coalition is a national group of organisations and schools working in collaboration to protect the welfare and wellbeing of same-gender attracted, intersex and gender diverse students, staff and families.
‘We’re proud to be among the first group of South Australian organisations to get behind the work of the Coalition,’ says Chief Executive, Simon Schrapel. ‘Uniting Communities is committed to creating strong and supportive communities, and this is particularly crucial for the communities in which our children and young people are developing, learning and forming their identities.’
Studies show that for many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) young people, school is the most common place for bullying, discrimination and abuse, with 80%* reporting having these experiences. Research has also established that a supportive and inclusive school environment is essential for all students to be healthy and happy, and achieve their potential. Experiences of bullying, discrimination and abuse can have serious consequences for a young person’s health and wellbeing, their attendance at school and their academic achievement.
‘Embracing and celebrating diversity and promoting inclusivity is especially important during the often-turbulent years of adolescence – both as an approach for supporting young people and also as we encourage them to show respect for and acceptance of others,’ says Mr Schrapel.
Uniting Communities’ Bfriend program was the first LGBTIQ-specific service in the state, starting in 1995. As it celebrates its 21st birthday this year, the service continues to provide activities to support the LGBTIQ community in South Australia, including one-to one support from workers, a peer mentoring program, training and community development.
Spokesperson for Bfriend, Cheryl Hillier, says that the service is contacted daily by South Australians of all ages seeking a safe space to explore questions about their sexual or gender identity.
‘While our community is certainly a lot more understanding and accepting of its LGBTIQ members, it is still commonplace for LGBTIQ South Australians to experience discrimination and harassment,’ says Ms Hillier. ‘Questioning one’s sexual or gender identity is one of the leading causes of youth suicide in our country, which is why it is vital that programs such as the Safe Schools Coalition exist to ensure that young people struggling with these issues have positive messages about their identity and their future.’
Simon Schrapel, 0411 643 132
Cheryl Hillier, 08 8202 5275
* Hillier, L., Jones, T., Monagle, M., Overton, N., Gahan, L., Blackman, J., & Mitchell, A. (2010). Writing themselves in three: The 3rd national study on the sexual health and wellbeing of same sex attracted and gender questioning young people. Melbourne: Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society.