The plan to enact the scholarship program for an LGBT student works on paper, but if it was available to me at 15, I would have rejected it.
So, Today Extra presenter Sonia Kruger has again caused outrage. As somebody who doesn’t even own a TV, I missed it. Last night, however, I did a bit of research and found out what she said, what others in the community have said, and what is actually being offered.
Kruger’s comments were in relation to the Australian Business and Community Network’s scholarship programme from for an LGBT year 10 student. My research led me to write about the actual programme and LGBT youth in general than waste too much space on the musings of television presenters and so-called “family” groups.
Where did I wind up?
I think the idea is fantastic until you get to the application process, where you’re met with a helluva doozy: the student’s principal must apply on their behalf.
But it’d be just as heavy if the student could apply for the scholarship and their school community be left in the dark about their sexuality or gender identity, until they were comfortable being open about it (if ever). Why? Well, let’s go back in time to me as a year 10 student. Here’s what I would have answered – even if afforded maximum confidentiality:
Tim, what is your gender?
Do you identify as Lesbian, Gay, or Bisexual?
No sweet scholarship money for me. Then again, I went to an all-boys Catholic school. I’m not even sure if they kick you out for being LGBT at those places. Sure, things have improved since I was in year 10, I’ll grant that. But have they improved to the point where a 15-year-old is comfortable being publicly labelled LGBT to the point where the whole school – or even just the faculty – knows about it?
The schoolyard isn’t the workplace.
While tolerance and then acceptance have flowed into offices and social settings around the country – except for maybe these so-called “family” groups – they have not flowed into the schoolyard.
The same reason everybody gets bullied in school is difference. Many young people who are LGBT in school are in the closet because they feel it is easier and they are safer if they stay closeted and focus on studies, sports, or superficial social circles (they’re 15, give them a break). For those young people, like myself at their age, the very mention of sexuality puts fear in the heart. These people do what they can to avoid the topic for fear of being found out as LGBT themselves. If I say I support marriage equality, will everybody know that I’m gay? If I don’t make “eww” sounds at those two guys kissing, will people think I’m bisexual? If I keep knocking back these guys asking me out will everybody think I’m a lesbian? Outside of my imagination, when I was in high school I carried myself as straight. I winced at the thought of two blokes kissing, I pretended I liked girls, and I even went on dates with them.
Inside, I thought about my schoolboy crushes and lamented what could never be. Any mention of anything LGBT around me would have petrified me. As an example, I remember back in PDHPE class in year 10, the teacher casually said that at least one of us in the class is likely going to be gay or bisexual. No judgement, just a prediction based on statistics. I lost concentration for the rest of the lesson, hoping nobody called me out, whilst devising strategies to talk my way out of it should they do so. It has been this long, and that is still one of my most vivid memories of high school. That is how much it affects you. In school, I turned my attention to my studies and did rather well. In Uni when I installed a window in my closet, I lived a somewhat double life: spending time with gay friends and straight friends separately and hoping the worlds would never collide.
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- With 20/20: International Transgender Day of Visibility
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Myself aside, however, this programme wouldn’t exist if there were no young people who have come out by the time they’re in year 10. And there are, mercifully, as it again shows how much progress we’ve made as a society. But they still do have to put up with the schoolyard bullying that comes with it because not all adolescents are mature at 15. This hardship does have a negative impact on people, be it through their studies or self-esteem; people sadly do respond to bullying and harassment. If an LGBT student has been able to scale academic expectations in the face of this adversity, then they deserve that scholarship.
Can you imagine if your choice was your gender or your education?
Or being told that you need an education, so you’ll just have to live in a body that isn’t you until you’re older. The naysayers don’t appreciate that young LGBT people do not start from the level playing field, and attacking the naysayers for not realising this is unhelpful. In my own way, I hope to have shone a light on mental weight borne by LGBT young Australians.
It’s a shame the ABCN scholarship won’t be available to the closeted, and I’d have been among them if I were that age, but I’m glad it’s available to some.