When you’re walkin’ down the street and the man tries to get your business… Debating Safe Schools

I doubt that there’s any good faith opposition to the Safe Schools programme.  The Government’s inquiry into the programme which is designed to increase tolerance of LGBTI children in schools is clearly a case of caving to the religious extremists in the Australian Christian Lobby.  Media organisations should be ashamed of themselves for giving that group a platform.

There should be no place in a civilised country for their homophobia.  It’s morally odious and abhorrent.

Can there be good faith objection to the Safe Schools programme?  Yes, and it’s actually worth exploring that argument to test the limits of some liberal beliefs.

One of the motivating factors of liberal philosophy was religious freedom, particularly the freedom from State interference with religious beliefs.  Let us accept, for the sake of argument, that people think homosexuality is a major religious issue.  The question is then whether it is acceptable or not to teach particular values as part of State-funded education programmes (specifically, values which directly contradict religious values).

We can distinguish this from the ‘Should we teach creationism in science class?’  The Safe Schools is clearly about values.  We should be tolerant.  We should be accepting.  We should think about how difficult it is to be a sexual minority in the face of heteronormativity.  But none of these is, in the strict sense, a fact.

It’s from this platform that a person could launch a fairly reasonable attack on the Safe Schools programme: why is the State funding attacks on my deeply held, very authentic religious beliefs about the morality of homosexuality?

We can change the scope of this argument to show that something is fundamentally wrong with it.  There are religious people who very seriously believe that other ‘races’ exist as a result of some supernatural punishment.  The white race is morally superior because God said so in the Bible, and all other races are incapable of reaching equality.  It would be very strange to see somebody argue that multicultural tolerance programmes in schools are morally objectionable because they interfere with those religious beliefs.

Perhaps what we really want to say is that religious liberties are no longer a significant concern for modern liberals.  Even without getting into the absurd question of ‘secularism’, perhaps our position is one of pure agnosticism towards people’s religious sentiments.  The State will teach particular values regardless of their consistency with this or that religious belief.

For my part, I quite like the Safe Schools programme because it teaches the sorts of values that I want to see taught.  One of the exercises is to think about whether or not a person would feel comfortable expressing parts of themselves if they were not heterosexual.  The exercise focuses on the way people self-censor their sexual identities in order to fit in and this, in turn, normalises the heterosexual experience for everybody.  I think that’s a valuable lesson to learn.

I have found it rather odd that the rebuttal of the anti-Safe Schools programme has resorted to weird slogans about human sexuality.  Homophobic opponents of Safe Schools have claimed that the programme teaches children to be gay or genderqueer.  That is an absurd statement because it is objectively false.

Instead, the rebuttal has been ‘This is false because it is impossible to encourage somebody to be gay’.  The assumption is that homosexuality is biologically determined and not able to be influenced by the environment.  Which is nutty.

There’s nothing authentic or natural about human desire.  Human desires are fundamentally disgusting, and a direct product of our culture.  We are taught to desire.  The guy who fancies girls with purple lipstick or the girl who fancies boys in leather jackets, they’re not expressing these preferences due to evolutionary pressures, or genetic sequences, or hardwired mental states.  They’re expressing these preferences because they’ve been taught, through the subtle reinforcements of culture, that these are attributes that are desirable.

The extreme example is furries.  Nobody thinks that furries are born that way.

Contemporary rhetoric states that you have two options when discussing sexuality: either it’s biologically hardwired or it’s a choice.  Not only is it a nonsense dichotomy (the answer is that it’s extremely complex and not really either), but it also suggests that mere choices are somehow illegitimate.  If homosexuality were a choice, homophobia would still be evil.

Conversely, if homophobia, racism, sexism, libertarianism, and other social evils have some biological element to them, they’re still evil.  The ‘choice’ or ‘biological determined’ aspect are immaterial to the rest of the moral reasoning about them.

I would expect that the Safe Schools programme encourages more people to come out as being homosexual, or even experiment with the possibility that they are homosexual, or whatever.  And that’s a good thing regardless of whether or not they’re ‘really’ (on some deeper biological level) queer.


Author: Mark Fletcher

Mark Fletcher is a Canberra-based blogger and policy wonk who writes about conservatism, atheism, and popular culture. Read his blog at OnlyTheSangfroid. He tweets at @ClothedVillainy

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