“After a series of articles, op-eds and editorials in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph claiming community “outrage” over a Sydney high school’s plan to screen Gayby Baby, a documentary about the kids of same-sex families, the NSW government banned schools across the state from showing the film during school hours.
By day’s end, the issue was beginning to take on a life of its own that neither the Tele nor the government could have anticipated. Everyone from Senate Opposition Leader Penny Wong to the students of Burwood Girls High themselves (the school at the centre of the original Tele coverage) heavily criticised the Tele‘s claim that the movie was “propaganda,” as well as the Baird government’s decision to ban the film. The backlash even started gaining the attention of Tele sister sites like News.com.au and RendezView, and other outlets like the Guardian began finding some pretty serious holes in the Tele‘s original assertions about the extent of the so-called “outrage”.
To air out all sides of the debate, last night The Project hosted a debate-slash-interview between openly gay Sydney state MP Alex Greenwich and Presbyterian Minister Mark Powell, and it got pretty heated. Powell was instrumental to the Tele‘s foundational claim that the Gayby Baby screening had provoked community outrage — in the original Tele story he claims that “many parents” were upset by the prospect of their kids watching the movie at school, and declared Gayby Baby is “trying to change children’s minds by promoting a gay lifestyle.”
For people watching at home, it didn’t take very long to figure out where Powell stood on the issue of teaching LGBTI acceptance in schools more generally; he argued that the timing of the film’s release was “propaganda” designed to promote “a political ideology being enforced on our children,” and repeated his claim that the Burwood High screening had resulted in a substantial amount of upset to students and parents.
“We’ve got all these girls in tears coming to us and saying they feel victimised, like if they don’t participate in this they’re basically ostracised from their peers and even from some of their teachers at the school, and that’s the nub of the issue,” Powell said. When pressed by Project co-host Carrie Bickmore, though, Powell was unable to provide any details:
Carrie Bickmore: “Mark, how many girls have come to you? How many parents have come to you?”
Mark Powell: “Look Carrie, there’s been heaps. And the thing is, is that –“
CB: “What’s ‘heaps’, Mark? ‘Heaps’ is three or ‘heaps’ is a hundred?”
MP: “Well, ‘heaps’ in terms of more than students at Burwood Girls that actually identify with being gay.”
How Powell knows the number of Burwood Girls High students who identify as LGBTI wasn’t explored; given his views on the film, which he admits he hasn’t seen, it’s unlikely they would confide in him. But he was equally strident in claiming that screening the film was tantamount to “forcing” a certain ideology on kids.
“In a liberal free democracy, good education is about seeing alternative views. But don’t force those views onto other people, making them do things,” Powell said. “If we’re in a really good educational environment and we want to create and develop critical thinking, why don’t we show the film in one hour, and then show an alternative view in the next hour and let girls decide?”
In response, Greenwich pointed out that schoolkids “get that alternative view every single day of [their] lives, when [they’re] told about heteronormative relationships,” and said the film was important to show in schools because “young LGBTI people are one of the highest risk groups for youth suicide and mental illness.”
“What does that do to a kid who’s in a family with same-sex parents who are told that they’re not normal? Or a kid who’s raised by a single parent? Or by their grandparents?”
But Powell was seemingly unmoved, interrupting with: “It’s not about saving lives! It’s not about saving lives! It’s about promoting — it’s about political –” before Greenwich fired back, saying that Powell “obviously [doesn’t] understand how hard it is to be a gay kid in a high school.”
“I find it sad that you think families are political, that families raised by loving same-sex parents are political,” Greenwich said. “They’re not. They’re part of everyday society.”