A prominent Co-educational Anglican school in Melbourne’s North-West promotes awareness and celebration of the LGBTIQ community, despite criticism and barriers from the broader population.
Overnewton Anglican Community College is one among many Victorian schools that sees a need for the Safe Schools Coalition program to continue in the classrooms, contrary to recent Federal Government proceedings that reviewed its content as ‘inappropriate’ for younger students, and subsequently cut all funding for the program.
The school’s Anti-Bullying group, ‘Stand Out,’ run by School Counsellor Jan McNamara and Senior School students, was founded in 2013 under the Safe Schools program to educate the school community on those that fall under the category of LGBTIQ.
According to Ms McNamara, herself and other educators at the school, including school principle, Jim Laussen, acknowledged Overnewton wasn’t as safe for those who identified as same sex attracted or gender diverse as they had previously thought.
“We needed to implement a program within the classrooms that would create a more inclusive learning and social environment for students who had previously been marginalised and ostracised for being ‘different’ by the community,” says Ms McNamara.
The group uses the classroom programs, created by former director Roz Ward, and resources provided by the Minus18 organisation, to deliver topics such as heteronormativity, gender fluidity and sexual preference in a cohesive and comprehensive manner to students in year’s 8 and above.
Sarah Cadzow, a student at the college and ‘Stand Out’ group member, can testify that Overnewton and every school needs a program in place for LGBTIQ students.
Prior to the formation of the ‘Stand Out’ group , Miss Cadzow , as an openly trans student, experienced severe harassment and discrimination from her peers; her locker was tagged with offensive language , her books were burnt and she was often on the receiving end of discriminatory harassment.
“It was horrible… I was going through one of the hardest things I will have to experience in my life time and the lack of support I received from students, and even some teachers made it even harder,” says Miss Cadzow.
According to Miss Cadzow, three years on since the program was introduced at Overnewton, perceptions in the school community have changed drastically.
“People will say that’s not ok in reference to derogatory language, such as ‘that’s so gay’,” said Miss Cadzow.
School Principle, Jim Laussen, introduced a uni-sex uniform for students who weren’t comfortable in the traditional gendered uniforms, as well as creating more support systems such as allowing special consideration for those undergoing a medical transition, such as Sarah.
Alex Tyndall, another member of the group, can also see the impact the Safe Schools program is having in the community. Alex, who identifies with being gender fluid, attended Overnewton’s annual presentation ball last year with a partner of his choice and in a tuxedo, rather than a traditional ball gown.
Despite these changes, Mr Tyndall reports that he was still met with some resistance. The venue where the ball was held did not change his name in the booklets to Alex for most tables. In fact, only his family’s table had the modified booklet, something that was described as a “bit of a hassle” to do by the event organisers.
“There are still those in the community who are opposed to change… I still will receive the odd comment here and there that’s pretty offensive, but its no where near as bad as before,” says Mr Tyndall.
The group hopes to continue to bridge the gap between the wider community and those that identify as LGBTIQ through the introduction of uni-sex bathrooms in the school in the near future.