Photo and words by Shelby Brooks.
A landslide win in the Legislative Assembly was not without heated debate when Hoppers Crossing Secondary College presented their bill at the YMCA Youth Parliament yesterday.
The Sex and Gender Education Bill 2018 was passed 45 to 14, sponsored by Jagveer Singh with his team Harley Lewis, Abubakari Irakoze, Brianna Pert, Caitlin Delaney and Pauline Nay Aye.
In his opening remarks, the Honourable Jagveer Singh acknowledged and thanked his current teaching staff at Hoppers Crossing Secondary College but was quick to point out the most obvious and significant gap in the current education system; sex and gender.
The bill aimed to standardise and regulate the way topics of gender and sex are taught in schools and to be more inclusive to LGBTQI+ education.
Armed with the alarming statistic that 80% of homophobia events occurs in schools, Hon. Singh suggested that children are safer on the street than in schools.
“For too long, people with varying sexual and gender identities have not had the same recognition as other people in the community. This sends the message that they are somehow less equal and second-rate citizens,” he said.
The opposition was quick to fire off rebuttals, with the main refuter, the Honourable Jack Mendes of Wonthaggi Secondary College, calling the bill “preposterous” and “too flawed to work”.
Hon. Mendes said school children were already stressed and have “overloaded brains” so did not need to spend valuable teaching time on such topics.
He suggested Google as a substitute.
Hon. Mendes recalled that he has not learnt other necessary life skills such as tax returns at school and perhaps efforts should be spent on teaching more “worthwhile” skillsets.
Hon. Singh did not hold back in his right of reply, responding to Hon. Mendes by stating “people do not die because they don’t know how to do their taxes.”
He went on to explain that without proper sexual education, young people are not equipped to perform safe sex which could lead to STIs that do endanger people’s lives.
Hon. Swathi Shanmukhasundaram also refuted Hon. Mendes’ argument, “it is a very privileged position to purse that everyone has access to the internet,” they said.
The Honourable Harley Lewis described the bill as a “matter of public safety”, hoping the bill would contribute to learning to allow young people to engage in sexual exploration “without fear of life altering consequences”.
Furthermore, The Honourable Pauline Nay Aye stated that the team believes in “equal education opportunities for all students” especially when the changes would teach young people be “happy and healthy”.
Notable arguments from the opposing side included The Honourable Jacinta Woodcock’s point that the bill lacked details on consequences for teachers and schools who did not follow the proposed law.
“For the law to be effective, it needs to be enforced,” Hon. Woodcock said.
The Honourable Georgia Martin’s comment that “A farmer with no training could literally teach this program in schools because it has not been outlined,” was a memorable one,
The comment was later refuted by the Government, suggesting the opposing side had no faith in currently trained teachers.
Two amendments were passed to clarify wording and a division was called to ensure the ‘ayes’ had the numbers.
They did, by 31.