Wolf Creek 2

When Wolf Creek was released in 2005, the timing was impeccable. With the Australian and international media in a frenzy over the disappearance of British backpacker Peter Falconio in the Australian outback, Wolf Creek hit cinemas to take full advantage of the front page headlines about the dangerous types who lurk in the Australian wilderness. With the trial against Falconio’s killer Bradley Murdoch in full swing at the time, coupled with the canny decision to market the film as ‘based on real events’, it is no surprise that the movie proved a staggering commercial success. The fact that the narrative didn’t accurately reflect any actual events was beside the point. So, 2014 sees director Greg McLean and leading man John Jarratt returning to the source of their success with Wolf Creek 2. McLean has again turned to the headlines of the day to frame the story, however this time it is the frenzy of xenophobia being propagated by politicians and mainstream media that sits front and centre of the narrative.

Wolf Creek poster

It seems nothing much has changed for pig-hunting psychopath Mick Taylor (Jarratt), as the cache of bodies in his underground hideaway clearly attest. The film opens with Taylor being harangued by a couple of dodgy cops with nothing better to do and anybody familiar with the first film knows the fate that awaits them. Sure enough, it isn’t long before Taylor takes his revenge. From here, we switch to follow German backpackers Rutger (Phillipe Klaus) and Katarina (Shannon Ashlyn) as they hitchhike their way through Australia’s interior, landing ultimately at Wolf Creek where, unable to secure a ride, they set up camp for the night. Needless to say, they are duly discovered by Taylor, who is far from pleased to see a couple of ‘Nazi krauts’ in his territory. While Rutger is quickly dispensed in a typically brutal fashion, Katarina makes a dash for freedom, during which she stumbles across Englishman Paul Hammersmith (Ryan Corr). A chase ensues with Taylor utilising all means of transport to track his prey, from semi-trailer to horseback, mercilessly despatching anybody who happens to get in the way.

Wolf Creek 2

Other than the obvious evidence of a much bigger budget this time around – flinging a semi-trailer off a cliff is a luxury few Australian filmmakers enjoy – there isn’t really much that sets this film apart from the first instalment. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t seen the first film because this works as a stand-alone movie that doesn’t require any prior knowledge of what has gone before but, at the same time, it suffers from the fact there is so little that sets it apart from the original. Mick Taylor is the same character who does the same things he did before and we don’t really learn anything about how he came to be this hate-filled redneck. The film very much plays as an allegory for Australia’s border protection policies in that Mick possesses an irrational hatred of foreigners – referring to them as ‘vermin’ and ‘noxious weeds’ – seemingly for no reason other than they are from somewhere else. After all, what is the difference between a psychopath who kills foreigners because he doesn’t want them in Australia and a Prime Minister who facilitates the killing of asylum seekers in detention centres because he doesn’t want them in Australia?

Wolf Creek 1

The real shortcomings of the film lie with the lack of a real story and the absence of any character development. Mick Taylor kills some people, and then kills a few more, then tortures another and then that’s it. It isn’t the violence that’s the problem because it is often cartoonish and hard to take too seriously, it’s just the fact that none of the characters are particularly interesting. Most of what Mick does has been seen before in Wolf Creek and therefore comes as no real surprise. The very best sequels broaden our understanding of the key characters and the world in which they live and this is where Wolf Creek 2 fails to resonate. A lack of originality and the fact that the film doesn’t really expand our understanding of the sadistic central character prevents Wolf Creek 2 from appearing as anything more than a cynical bid to cash in on the success of the original film.

Le Week-End

Over the last 25 years or so, Hollywood has seemingly been afflicted with a severe case of gerontophobia; a fear of old people. Unless it is a washed-up action star desperately trying to cling to the last remnants of their credibility (The Expendables for example), Hollywood has little to offer actors over 60 beyond the whacky grandparent (Meet the Fockers) or curmudgeonly neighbour (Gran Torino) that are, more often than not, constructed as objects of derision. Such portrayals do nothing but propagate stereotypes and the various stigmas attached to getting older. As such, it is very much the independent and European filmmakers on whom we must rely for quality films in which older characters are front and centre of the narrative. In the last few years, the likes of Amour, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Away from Her have proven that films featuring lead characters of a more mature vintage can be as engaging, amusing and emotionally rich as any other. It all comes down to the material really. As such, Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan are splendid in Le Week-End as a British couple who spend a confronting and confrontational weekend in Paris.

Le Week-End poster

Directed by Roger Michell from a screenplay by Hanif Kureishi, Le Week-End offers a warts-and-all examination of the challenges and complexities of relationships as preferences and priorities change over time. For their 30th wedding anniversary, Nick (Broadbent) and Meg (Duncan) return to Paris, the city in which they spent their honeymoon. Meg immediately rejects the depressingly beige accommodation that Nick has acquired, impulsively checking them into swanky alternative digs, a decision that kick starts a weekend of revelations and ruminations that fluctuate from sharply comic to deadly serious. Nick is a pessimistic university lecturer who, having been forced into early retirement after daring to be honest in his assessment of a student’s work, is terrified at what the future might hold. Meg, on the other hand, wants to give up her job as a teacher and embrace the opportunities on offer now that their children have vacated the nest. We quickly discover that they are in conflict on most matters, with Meg unable to tolerate Nick’s insecurities and his reluctance to let go of the past. Nick is a blithering mix of resignation and desperation, while Meg possesses a directness that is cruel at times, yet seems her only means of waking her husband from his dreary delusions.

Le Week-End 1

Despite some extremely funny moments, many of which come via Jeff Goldblum as Nick’s ultra-successful but utterly insufferable college friend Morgan, this is not a genial comedy in which we simply laugh at old people being whacky. Goldblum is fabulous as a guy who, despite having achieved substantial success as an academic and author, holds the considerably less accomplished Nick in very high esteem, for reasons that neither Nick nor Meg can fully understand. It is a dinner party at Morgan’s lavish apartment that ultimately brings matters to a head between Nick and Meg, both of whom find themselves resenting everything about their host, albeit for different reasons. In its exploration of the nature of relationships, Le Week-End is rife with mood changes and tonal fluctuations that can be jarring at first until you settle into the rhythm of a couple who somehow remain connected despite seeming to exist in completely different worlds. Black humour permeates the narrative and it is uncomfortable at times, but Michell never resorts to condescension or mawkish sentimentality.

Le Week-End 2

Broadbent, who was so awful so recently in Filth, is great here as a doting companion struggling to come to terms with the upheavals in his life. Duncan is equally impressive as a woman frustrated to the point of despair and desperate to forge a new path for herself, with or without her husband. In their third big screen collaboration together following The Mother and Venus – both of which also happen to feature central characters of advanced years – Michell and Kureishi have produced a film that is funny and serious at the same time. Emotionally engaging and full of passion, Le Week-End is a well-scripted and performed British comedy-drama that delivers an altogether more interesting examination of love than the cookie-cutter romances that typically clutter multiplex screening schedules.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

There are some stories that are just too big to tell in their entirety within the confines of a motion picture. As a result, filmmakers are required to make choices about what to include and what to omit; determining which elements are most important, which aspects of the story are the most cinematic or which elements provide the most compelling narrative. Such decisions are further problematised when the story is about one of contemporary history’s most revered figures. Director Justin Chadwick was no doubt faced with such quandaries in his adaptation of Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, the autobiography of former South African president Nelson Mandela. A timely release following the recent death of Mandela after a protracted illness, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom focusses primarily on his political activism with the African National Congress (ANC) and subsequent incarceration on Robben Island.

Mandela poster

To his credit, Chadwick – who also helmed the Africa-set The First Grader in 2010 – has delivered more than just an obsequious celebration of Mandela’s considerable achievements and subsequent legacy. In fact, the film ends at the point in which Mandela is elected President of South Africa in 1990 after spending 26 years in prison. The film is presented in a straight forward, if somewhat truncated, narrative with Mandela’s childhood and adolescence given very short shrift. The story really kicks off with an adult Mandela (Idris Elba) working as a lawyer in 1940’s Johannesburg where he meets and marries Evelyn Mase (Terry Pheto). However, Mandela’s extended absences, infidelity and commitment to political action with the ANC leads to divorce. As the ANC becomes more hostile in their opposition to the government, Mandela is front and centre of several acts of sabotage. In 1958, Mandela marries Winnie Madikizela and it is this relationship around which most of the film is based. With Nelson in prison for much of their married life, Winnie takes up the cause on behalf of her husband, resolving to fight both his incarceration and his cause; the emancipation of black South Africans from white oppression. However, she soon finds herself subjected to surveillance, torture and imprisonment, including extended periods in solitary confinement, treatment that only serves to push her towards the militant resistance that ultimately drives a wedge between her and her husband.

Mandela 1

Elba presents a somewhat commanding presence as Mandela, a character played on screen several times before by the likes of Morgan Freeman, Terrence Howard, Danny Glover and Sidney Poitier. He is particularly strong as the younger Mandela, a firebrand crusader seemingly prepared to risk everything for his beliefs. In the later years, Mandela is a much more contemplative character and there isn’t as much for Elba to do here other than invoke the changing physicality that takes place over time as he becomes the image of Mandela with which we are now so familiar. A transformation that extends beyond the efforts of the make-up artists though to include the way he walks and the way he speaks. Whilst Elba executes this effectively enough, it is Naomie Harris as Winnie who steals the show. Perhaps most well known for her role in Skyfall, Harris inhabits Winnie with gusto and delivers a fine performance as a woman at loggerheads with her government and determined to avenge the injustices inflicted upon the black population; seemingly at any cost. It is her willingness to fight fire with fire, both figuratively and literally, that makes her a thorn in the side of both the government and her husband’s efforts to secure meaningful political and cultural change.

Mandela 2

From a political perspective, Chadwick has produced a conservative and balanced film which, whilst largely devoid of posturing or political point scoring, leaves you in no doubt about the significance of Mandela’s role in bringing an end to the apartheid regime. The film captures the energy and anger of the time without dwelling excessively on the bloodshed. We see the impact Mandela’s internment has on both his family, black South Africans and people around the world and we can understand how both Nelson and Winnie are transformed by the circumstances in which they find themselves. Ultimately, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is a solid, level-headed, earnest and uplifting biopic that is simply unable to cover all bases in sufficient depth.

Labor Day

Until now, second-generation filmmaker Jason Reitman has enjoyed an impeccable record as a director, with nary a bum note in any of his previous films, namely Thank You for Smoking, Juno, Up in the Air and Young Adult. Therefore, it has taken me a couple of days after seeing his latest offering, Labor Day, to compile my review because I have really struggled to understand how it all went so wrong. How can the man responsible for such fine films as those mentioned also be responsible for this turgid, laboured (no pun intended) mass of ludicrousness? Well, unfortunately, the passage of time has not proffered any great insights that have enabled me to change my assessment of a film that seemed blessed with the necessary ingredients to be something quite special. All of Reitman’s previous features have been loaded with crackling dialogue, revolving around characters that are brashly self-confident and somewhat likeable despite the ambiguity or outright unpleasantness of their actions. There is nothing remotely likeable about anybody in Labor Day and, with the story progressing at a languid pace, the whole experience left me cold.

Labor Day poster

Kate Winslet is Adele, a single mother who has, to be fair, endured more than her share of heartache, having suffered several miscarriages and a still-birth before being abandoned by her husband. Still wallowing in the misery of her losses, Adele has become a virtual recluse, only leaving the house on rare occasions out of absolute necessity. It is during one of these infrequent excursions into town that Adele and her teenage son Henry (Gattlin Griffith) are accosted and kinda kidnapped by prison escapee Frank (Josh Brolin). Adele and Henry are ‘forced’ to harbour Frank at their house amid promises that he will leave the following morning. Now, it is no great surprise that this never happens and, over the course of an extended holiday weekend, Frank and Adele fall in love. The unlikeliness of such a romance aside, there are a lot of things that occur in this film that are left unexplained or simply don’t make sense at all.

Labor Day 1

Firstly, there is no context for Frank’s decision to choose Adele and Henry, other than the latter is the first person he stumbles across when hiding out in a department store. I mean, Frank has no idea if Adele has a husband or other children at home, he has no idea where she lives and how suitable the house may be as a place to hide out and he has no idea whether Adele works at all or has any other commitments from which she might be missed. How lucky for Frank that he has stumbled across the perfect hostage; talk about convenient. Despite regular police patrols, wanted posters on every street corner and regular news reports about his escape, Frank has no qualms about playing baseball in the backyard and tending to various odd jobs around the house; inside and out. The whole scenario is unbelievable in the extreme as both Adele and Henry grow fond of Frank for reasons that are difficult to fathom. I mean, despite his claim that there is ‘more to the story’ of the murder for which he has been imprisoned, a series of bland flashbacks ultimately reveal that there is, in fact, very little ambiguity about his role in the death of his girlfriend and infant son.

Labor Day 2

Whether it is the ludicrous pie baking scene reminiscent of the equally preposterous Demi Moore-Patrick Swayze pottery moment in Ghost; or the romantic sub-plot involving Henry and new-girl-in-town Eleanor (Brighid Fleming); or the nastiness exhibited by neighbour Evelyn (Brooke Smith) towards her handicapped son, nothing really works. The performances from the usually reliable Winslet and the decidedly inconsistent Brolin are dull and uninspired, while J.K. Simmons is grossly under-utilised as the neighbourhood peach grower. James Van Der Beek’s appearance late in the piece as a creepy police officer is hilarious (unintentionally so I imagine) and by the time Tobey Maguire appears in the final moments as the adult Henry, any interest you have in these characters has long since dissipated. Other than a lovely opening montage of the rural locale in which the events take place, there really is little to recommend. Surprisingly given the pedigree of all involved, Labor Day is a major misfire.

Ellen Page Inspires

Any regular visitors to this site will have seen my previous declaration of respect and admiration for Ellen Page, which can be found here.

Well, Page has again proven herself to be a most remarkable young woman, delivering an incredibly personal speech at the Time to THRIVE conference in Las Vegas, revealing to the audience of LBGT youth activists that she is gay. More that just a coming-out moment, Page gave an impassioned presentation that cited the likes of Tegan and Sara as inspiration. She also discusses the difficulties in trying to maintain a sense of authenticity in the entertainment industry amid “crushing standards” and expectations of conformity. Page also acknowledges the daily struggle of young LBGT people who face “bullying, rejection, or simply being mistreated because of who they are.”

It is a powerful speech that will hopefully serve as an inspiration for young LBGT people everywhere. You can watch the speech in it’s entirety below:

Below is a transcript of the speech:

Thank you Chad, for those kind words and for the even kinder work that you and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation do every day — especially on behalf of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people here and across America.

It’s such an honor to be here at the inaugural Time to THRIVE conference. But it’s a little weird, too. Here I am, in this room because of an organization whose work I deeply admire. And I’m surrounded by people who make it their life’s work to make other people’s lives better— profoundly better. Some of you teach young people—people like me. Some of you help young people heal and to find their voice. Some of you listen. Some of you take action. Some of you are young people yourselves…in which case, it’s even weirder for a person like me to be speaking to you.

It’s weird because here I am, an actress, representing — at least in some sense — an industry that places crushing standards on all of us. Not just young people, but everyone. Standards of beauty. Of a good life. Of success. Standards that, I hate to admit, have affected me. You have ideas planted in your head, thoughts you never had before, that tell you how you have to act, how you have to dress and who you have to be. I have been trying to push back, to be authentic, to follow my heart, but it can be hard.

But that’s why I’m here. In this room, all of you, all of us, can do so much more together than any one person can do alone. And I hope that thought bolsters you as much as it does me. I hope the workshops you’ll go to over the next few days give you strength. Because I can only imagine that there are days when you’ve worked longer hours than your boss realizes or cares about, just to help a kid you know make it. Days where you feel completely alone. Undermined. Or hopeless.

I know there are people in this room who go to school every day and get treated like shit for no reason. Or you go home and you feel like you can’t tell your parents the whole truth about yourself. Beyond putting yourself in one box or another, you worry about the future. About college or work or even your physical safety. Trying to create that mental picture of your life, of what on earth is going to happen to you—can crush you a little bit every day. It is toxic and painful and deeply unfair.

Sometimes it’s the little, insignificant stuff that can tear you down. I try not to read gossip as a rule, but the other day a website ran an article with a picture of me wearing sweatpants on the way to the gym. The writer asked, “Why does [this] petite beauty insist upon dressing like a massive man?”

Because I like to be comfortable. There are pervasive stereotypes about masculinity and femininity that define how we are all supposed to act, dress and speak. They serve no one. Anyone who defies these so-called ‘norms’ becomes worthy of comment and scrutiny. The LGBT community knows this all too well.

Yet there is courage all around us. The football hero, Michael Sam. The actress, Laverne Cox. The musicians Tegan and Sara Quinn. The family that supports their daughter or son who has come out. And there is courage in this room. All of you. I’m inspired to be in this room because every single one of you is here for the same reason.

You’re here because you’ve adopted as a core motivation the simple fact that this world would be a whole lot better if we just made an effort to be less horrible to one another. If we took just 5 minutes to recognize each other’s beauty, instead of attacking each other for our differences. That’s not hard. It’s really an easier and better way to live. And ultimately, it saves lives.

Then again, it’s not easy at all. It can be the hardest thing, because loving other people starts with loving ourselves and accepting ourselves. I know many of you have struggled with this. I draw upon your strength and your support, and have, in ways you will never know.

I’m here today because I am gay. And because…maybe I can make a difference. To help others have an easier and more hopeful time. Regardless, for me, I feel a personal obligation and a social responsibility.

I also do it selfishly, because I am tired of hiding and I am tired of lying by omission. I suffered for years because I was scared to be out. My spirit suffered, my mental health suffered and my relationships suffered. And I’m standing here today, with all of you, on the other side of all that pain. I am young, yes, but what I have learned is that love, the beauty of it, the joy of it and yes, even the pain of it, is the most incredible gift to give and to receive as a human being. And we deserve to experience love fully, equally, without shame and without compromise. There are too many kids out there suffering from bullying, rejection, or simply being mistreated because of who they are. Too many dropouts. Too much abuse. Too many homeless. Too many suicides. You can change that and you are changing it.

But you never needed me to tell you that. That’s why this was a little bit weird. The only thing I can really say is what I’ve been building up to for the past five minutes. Thank you. Thank you for inspiring me. Thank you for giving me hope, and please keep changing the world for people like me.
Happy Valentine’s Day. I love you.

Time to Thrive

Short Film Competition for Students

The My Story, My Content Short Film competition is on again. Presented by the Intellectual Property Awareness Foundation (IPAF) and Australian Teachers of Media (ATOM), My Story, My Content invites students to make a 60-second short film that celebrates Australian screen creativity, with great prizes up for grabs.

My Story

The theme for 2014 is: ‘Movies … Make a Difference’. This statement, or a version of it, must appear as a spoken line or a caption or in some other way within each submitted film. Entries can be in any genre style, or a combination of genres, and must be no longer than 60 seconds.

The competition is only open to students of primary or secondary schooling age (ages 4–19) or students enrolled at a tertiary institution or equivalent (university, TAFE or private film school) during 2014. All entrants must be Australian or New Zealand residents. Each film may only be submitted once, although entrants may submit multiple entries. All entries submitted must have been made specifically for the 2014 My Story, My Content Short Film Competition. All entries must have been completed between 11 February 2014 and 8 August 2014. Entries close at 5:00pm on 8 August, 2014.

For more information, to view the finalist films from the 2013 competition or to submit your entry, click here.

The Intellectual Property Awareness Foundation (IPAF) promotes screen copyright by conducting research, creating consumer awareness campaigns and producing educational programs and resources for Australian secondary schools.

Australian Teachers of Media (ATOM) is an independent, not-for-profit, professional association that has been promoting the study of media and screen literacy for nearly fifty years. The membership of ATOM includes teachers and lecturers from across all subject disciplines at all levels of education, media industry personnel, a range of media and education organisations and members of the general public interested in the media.

How Our Schools are Perpetuating Ignorance, Intolerance and Sexual Violence

Over the last few weeks, I have stumbled across three articles that, whilst all addressing different aspects of sex, sexuality and/or sexualised behaviours, struck a chord with me in that they all emphasise ways in which schools and education can play a critical role in changing attitudes and behaviours in young people. It is then hoped, of course, that the attitudes instilled in these young people will persist through their adult lives and be transferred to subsequent generations. I have drawn upon these three articles and my own experiences as a teacher in Queensland secondary schools to examine where we are going wrong with regard to the messages being delivered to students in relation to sex, sexuality and sexualised behaviours.

The first article What is Rape Culture by Ryan Broderick, Jessica Testa and Heben Nigatu (Buzzfeed.com, 5 February 2014) suggests that today “sexual violence is considered the norm”. The article explores the lack of understanding, amongst young men in particular, about what constitutes rape or sexual assault. Furthermore, the article also discusses how there is too much focus on women being made to feel responsible for what has happened to them, whether it be because of how they dress or where they go and when they go there, as if to say that women and girls who aren’t locked up safely in their homes somehow ‘deserve’ what comes their way. The way in which rape and sexual assault cases are reported in the media is also interesting, with too many stories emphasising what the male perpetrators have lost when convicted, rather than what the suffering and harm inflicted upon their victims. One of the most interesting points raised in the article, I believe, is our acceptance of “street harassment or cat-calling” and how this allows men to “feel comfortable giving unsolicited sexual advances to women they don’t know”. It is these types of behaviours that are perhaps most prevalent within school environments and they only serve to perpetuate the notion that sexualised behaviours of this type are somehow acceptable.

What might start as the seemingly innocent flicking of a bra strap quite often evolves into more extreme types of harassment and unwanted attention. It is certainly common place for boys to feel that it is perfectly okay to grab the breast or grope between the legs of a female student. Of course, the reasons for such behaviour are many and varied. It could simply be to impress his mates; it could be because he sees such behaviour as a (misguided) way to show a girl that he likes her; it could be a ‘payback’ of some kind (a way of dealing with being upstaged in the classroom, for example) or it could just be because he has little respect for women. The problem is, in my experience at least, that such incidents are too often dismissed as ‘boys being boys’ and there is very rarely anything more said about it, the result of which is that girls simply won’t report such incidents to school staff. It seems to me that there is a direct correlation between this and the fact that a large number of women who are raped also fail to report the crime for fear of not being believed, fear of reprisals or a fear of no action being taken.

Sexual Assault

Similarly, teenage boys will think it perfectly okay to ask/challenge their female classmates about their virginity and/or sexual experiences. Furthermore, the boys will use any response (or even a refusal to respond) to allocate labels to the girls, such as ‘frigid’, ‘tease’ or ‘slut’. Such name-calling is often very public and, again, is often regarded by teachers and school administrators as simply part of the teenage experience. The problem is, of course, that when such behaviours go unchecked, they become normalised (in the eyes of the perpetrators at least) and set a precedent with regard to the acceptable treatment of women which ultimately manifests itself in other, more harmful, ways as these young men move into adulthood. A blogger responding to the Buzzfeed article identified a significant failing of educators when they asked, “That’s perhaps where the ‘culture of rape’ is rooted, girls are being taught over and over again ways to protect ourselves but where is the education for boys?” This education for boys must start with how we allow girls to be treated at school and make sure that any harassment and unwanted sexual overtures of any kind are dealt with in a way that makes it clear that such behaviour is unacceptable. This certainly isn’t happening at the moment and it is not surprising that we seem to be seeing more and more instances of young men engaging in sexual assaults on young women.

The article Why This Transgender Teen’s Big Victory Matters by Melissa Jeltsen (Huffington Post, 3 February 2014) identifies the inability or unwillingness, perhaps, of schools to effectively cater to the needs of transgender students. Moreover, it highlights the fear and confusion amongst teachers, administrators and other students with regard to transgender people. In this particular case, 16-year-old Nicole was born a biological male but had been identifying as female since the age of two and was using the girls bathroom facilities at school. Until, that is, a male student started following her into the girls’ bathroom, claiming that if Nicole had a right to be there, so did he. It is no surprise that the school’s reaction was to simply ban Nicole from girls’ bathroom, requiring her to use the faculty facilities, isolating her from other students and shining a spotlight on her that only led to her being made “an outcast, separated from her peers…bullied and harassed simply because she is transgender.” I’m not sure which is worse, the way the school handled the situation in the first place by excluding Nicole from the female bathrooms or the fact that they allowed (caused) her to be subjected to bullying and harassment. The fact that the issue was only resolved through court action – in favour of Nicole’s right to use the girls’ bathroom – is a reflection of just how out of touch education administrators are with the world around them and the students for whom they are responsible for a good portion of each day.

Whilst this particular case played out in America, Australia is not immune as a very similar situation occurred in Queensland last year when ‘Jane’, a primary school student born a boy but identifying as a girl, was instructed to use the disabled toilets at her school. How humiliating that must be for a young person already grappling with the challenges of gender dysphoria, not to mention the message it sends to the school and broader community. Ultimately, the school relented and Jane secured approval to use the girls’ toilets at the school, but not before the series of events had played out in the media. Now, of course, regardless of whatever course of action the schools took in these cases, the students themselves should never be subjected to abuse, harassment or ridicule because of their gender identity or any other aspect of their identity for that matter. Such behaviours are derived from ignorance and fear, which themselves are very often the result of a lack of information and education across the broad spectrum of gender identities, coupled with a tolerance by school administrators to allow such attitudes to manifest themselves as verbal and/or physical assaults on any student who identifies in a way that falls outside the very narrow scope of what is deemed ‘normal’.

In her article Shoot Straight on Sex Ed – It’s Time to Include LGBTI Experiences (SBS.com.au, 5 February 2014), Rebecca Shaw quite rightly points out that sex education in schools remains firmly focused on hetero-normative versions of sex and sexuality. It is no wonder then that students whose sexual identity falls outside of these simplistic and narrow definitions find themselves subjected to ridicule and abuse at the hands of other students. I mean, after all, if teachers and educators are telling students that only one type of sexual identification and associated practices are normal, is it any wonder there is such confusion and distrust towards those who do not fit within these so-called norms. If schools are about inclusiveness, then surely it goes without saying that sex education should acknowledge and embrace LGBTI experiences and developing a curriculum that is as equally relevant to LGBTI students as it is to all other students. Of course, the overriding problem is that very few schools deliver truly effective or comprehensive sex education programs at all. Whether it is due to pressure from parents, lack of funding/resourcing or simply embarrassment from students and/or staff about the content, a great number of schools seem reluctant to implement a comprehensive program that embraces the full spectrum of sexual identities and experiences. That is not to say that LGBTI perspectives and experiences could not also be addressed across a variety of other subjects without having to make any changes to existing curriculum.

That's Gay

The impact of the lack of education regarding LGBTI experiences within schools is evident every day in the interactions among young people, both within the school and the broader community. The most obvious – and no doubt quite trivial in the minds of many – is the use of the word ‘gay’ as a pejorative adjective. If only I had a dollar for every time a student declared ‘you’re gay’ or ‘that’s gay’ in reference to somebody or something they don’t like. Any attempts I have made to prevent the use of the term in such a manner have always been rebuffed by school administrators, usually with statements such as ‘it’s how kids talk these days, there is nothing we can do about it’, a response that I find utterly infuriating. What message does it send to LGBTI students when an accusation of homosexuality is an acceptable form of insult? Through their inaction, schools are endorsing the notion that there is nothing worse than being homosexual and that using the term ‘gay’ (or alternatives such as faggot) in such a way is perfectly acceptable. It baffles me why schools allow this type of vilification against LGBTI students and lifestyles to run rampant. After all, as Corey Lee Wren points out in her article You Just Can’t Take a Joke: The Privilege Behind “That’s So Gay” (Feminspire, 14 August 2013), “Derogatory language has the power to uphold inequality.” Needless to say, attacks on gay culture and lifestyle extend far beyond this to the point where so many homosexual school students are forced to keep their sexual orientation a secret. Of course, many students choose not to ‘come out’ for a variety of reasons, but they should never be forced to hide their sexuality or gender orientation simply because they are fearful of how they will be treated at school, the one place where they should feel safe.

It certainly doesn’t help matters when Dr Kevin Donnolly, one of two men appointed by Education Minister Christopher Pyne to review the national curriculum, has been critical of any efforts by schools to “enhance understanding and acceptance of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.” Furthermore, Donnolly has also declared that “many parents would consider the sexual practices of gays, lesbians and transgender individuals decidedly unnatural and that such groups have a greater risk in terms of transmitting STDs and AIDS.” Donnolly’s statement demonstrates his ignorance of LGBTI people and it certainly suggests that he has no interest in serving their interests in his role. Furthermore, I’m not really sure that the views/opinions of parents are really that important anyway. After all, for many young people, schools are often the only place where they can secure access to balanced and informed perspectives on a wide range of issues, whether it is history, politics, science, the media or sex and sexuality. It is the only opportunity for many young people to access alternative views to the often dangerous and ill-informed information espoused by parents or others in the community.

Teachers and educators have a moral obligation to ensure that all students are treated fairly and equally every day. This includes ensuring that students have access to information that will enable them to make informed choices in their own lives and better understand the lives and circumstances of others. It also includes making sure that students are not engaging in behaviours that denigrate other students, student lifestyles or sex/gender orientations in any way. Telling transgender students they have to use staff toilets or disabled facilities is unacceptable. Allowing boys to sexually harass girls (or any other student for that matter), simply because that is ‘how boys behave’ is unacceptable. The failure to include course content across the curriculum that enhances understanding of LGBTI people is also unacceptable. If the way that schools treat people, or allow others to treat particular individuals or groups within the school community is not driven first and foremost by notions of equality and respect, then that school is failing in its responsibilities to all students. Furthermore, any school that is not presenting students with informed, balanced perspectives in all areas – from academic disciplines to social development to pastoral care – is also failing in their fundamental duty to students. It is never too late to get this right, but we need to start now to ensure that the young people of today are the mature, intelligent, objective, compassionate adults of tomorrow.