Thirty-seven years ago I graduated from Balwyn High School’s Year 12 class of 1986. I left the school with mixed memories.
On the one hand I came away with a fine appreciation for maths and science, made a lifelong friend, and passed my HSC with decent results that got me into college.
On the other hand I had been the victim of homophobic bullying and torment throughout my time there, and suffered greatly as a result of it, and of my fear of being gay. The school had no support for gay students, at least that I was aware of. It was a topic that simply wasn’t spoken about.
I am thrilled beyond belief to find that in 2023 my alma mater not only supports gay students but is committed to providing a safe, nourishing and inclusive space for all LGBTQI+ students.
When invited to submit a contribution for their Lion newsletter on the occasion of receiving my Order of Australia, I had no idea it would be intentionally included to time with IDAHOBIT Day on May 17.
Students at Balwyn High are most fortunate to have a school environment that values diversity, particularly under the leadership of Principal Deborah Harman.
Thank you Balwyn High School.
Our Alumni Spotlights continue – Malcolm Speed AO and Michael Barnett OAM
This week we feature international sporting administrator, Malcolm Speed, who was inducted into the Sport Hall of Achievement in 2012, and Michael Barnett, who was recently awarded an OAM in the New Year’s Honours List. The spotlight on Michael deliberately coincides with this week’s celebrations for IDAHOBIT Day that we marked on Wednesday.
Both Malcolm and Michael are marvellous ambassadors for our school community, and we congratulate them for the impact they have made in their careers. I hope you enjoy reading their stories.
As a resilience coach I am adamant that, in any bullying situation, you must own your part of the problem, no matter how small, no matter how unfair it may seem. No one is lily-white and blameless.
As a wise person once said – you must clean up your side of the street.
Earlier this year, I employed a gardener to do some work in our backyard. For 2.5 hours he worked but stopped many times to chat to me. In a short period I heard his life story – his marriage breakup, how his children were not talking to him, how he lost everything, how he had a breakdown, how he doesn’t have many friends, how hard it was to find a girlfriend. His life narrative was all negative and I heard not one moment of self-reflection or the taking of responsibility. He also asked not one question about my life. Such self-absorption may explain a lot.
This gardener was a bore. He was no people magnet.
Importantly, he appeared to take no responsibility for his situation. So, nothing for him will change.
You can only change what you are prepared to acknowledge.
If your son is currently being bullied, in the spirit of cleaning up your side of the street:
Is he part of the problem? Even 5%?
Is he a whinger, a complainer, self-absorbed, an exaggerator, loose with the truth, a passive doormat, displaying negative body language, an approval addict, a try hard, critical or a bad sport?
Of course, you might say but how can my son clean up his side of the street if he is the target of cruel taunts because he has buck teeth, acne, a disability or a lisp. That’s not his fault.
Of course, it’s not his fault, but owning his small part of the unpleasant problem may be learning to stand up for himself, developing grit, steely self-belief, strong self-esteem, choosing his friends wisely and reminding himself that the bullies are dealing with their own demons and that the problem lies principally with them and not him.
After having been bullied myself for most of high school, it was only when I was brave enough and self-aware enough to ‘own’ my part of the problem that the bullying stopped. I earned respect whilst building self-respect.
Time to own your part, and stop playing the victim.
An update from the Headmaster of Brighton Grammar You may be aware of the media coverage today concerning the article, Bullying: helping your son be the victor, not the victim written by Melissa Anderson. There have been some strong responses to Melissa’s bullying article in all forms of media today, some of them expressing great distress and others, interest in the views. Bullying is an extremely sensitive issue and we understand that. As a result of publishing Melissa’s article, it is clear we may have caused upset and distress to some people. We unreservedly apologise for that. Out of respect for people who may have been victims of bullying, and in particular for those who were upset by Melissa’s article, we have made the decision to cancel her presentation tomorrow night at our school and will have further discussions with her about today’s response to her views. However, I would also like to make it clear that I believe it is a school’s responsibility to be proactive about bullying. As well as having a clearly articulated and publicly available policy on bullying (here), we run many programs for the boys about respectful relationships, bullying and such issues. We also like to provide parents with information about a range of issues through parent seminars, weekly tips in our eNewsletter, information nights and online. I apologise for any inconvenience caused by the cancellation of the presentation tomorrow night. Please also know I am available and welcome anybody in the community who would like to discuss the issue of bullying with me. Please do not hesitate to contact me directly by email Ross Featherston, Headmaster
Mount Scopus Memorial College is not offering the safest schooling experience possible under its principal Rabbi James Kennard.
Come on Mount Scopus, it’s 2013 and it’s ok to say the words GAY, LESBIAN, BISEXUAL, TRANSGENDER, INTERSEX and QUEER. Really, it is.
It’s also ok to teach kids about homophobia and transphobia. Offering a safe environment for students goes well beyond a basic anti-bullying program. Telling students it’s not ok to tease or bully another student because they’re “gay” or “fat” or “stupid” is only the start in educating them about diversity, inclusion and acceptance. It goes well beyond that, something that any educationalist worth their salt should know.
Parents, watch this video and then ask your Principal, Rabbi James Kennard, why he is refusing to give your students the safest possible schooling your hard-earned money can buy when he says he won’t join the Safe Schools Coalition Victoria (web site / Facebook page). You are currently paying for a SECOND RATE school while many others, including King David School, are offering a far safer environment for their students than Mount Scopus.
Sign Daniel Baker’s petition too and leave a message about why a safer school for your precious children is so important. They only get one chance. As parents, ask yourself if you and your school are doing the absolute best to make it the safest chance possible?
Update (Mar 6 2013): Bialik College signed up as a member of SSCV on March 1 2013. Read the Aleph Melbourne media release.
FRIEND Film is about a gay & transgendered teenager dealing with coming out in 2012.
Please Watch & Share
Joseph’s Story of almost committing suicide & overcoming being bullied.
I would be forever grateful if you would share this amazing story of a young teen on your Facebook Page. I met Joseph in Tennessee while interviewing LGBT teens across America. His story changed my life and inspired me to really honor him in my writing. Our goal is to get the video viral by October 11 for Coming Out Day.
Director Elliot London Wants You as Friend to LGBT Youth through
National Awareness Campaign
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
(LOS ANGELES – OCT. 2, 2012) – It’s no doubt difficult being a teenager in today’s society, especially a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered teen.
But through it all, having strong allies and friends does tend to make it easier.
Once a victim of childhood bullying and homophobia himself, film director Elliot London (The Wedding Dance) has embarked today on an empowering and eye-opening campaign across America, hoping to bring awareness to the plight of LGBT youth bullying, and the importance of support systems.
The “Friend Project” is a new campaign showcasing two separate, yet thematically connected digital vignettes from two teenagers in different parts of rural America sharing their raw and tear-jerking stories of growing up gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered in the conservative heartland of America.
Starting today, each week for the next two weeks, London will share a new video with the public, with the ultimate goal of bringing these stories and others to life through an upcoming feature film entitled Friend.
In a completely hands-on and hybrid approach, both teenagers are also acting as creative liaisons on the project, having helped integrate their own life stories into the script.
“It’s a film that will bring the narrative and the reality into one,” says London. “We will be integrating a point of view from real life teenage experiences, rather than from a room of writers in Hollywood.”
He continues, “It’s so important that we continue to support and foster true independent American cinema. Unlike many other influential nations, we do not have the luxury of much government funding, grants and support they do for indie cinema, especially in a niche market.”
In the first film, viewers will get to meet Joseph, a timid, yet courageous 16-year-old boy from Tennessee who once thought suicide was the only way out from the pain and torment that bullying carved into his impressionable young soul.
Anyone interested in becoming a part of Friend is encouraged to visit the project’s IndieGoGo campaign page at indiegogo.com/friendproject All donations are tax-deductible, as this film is being supported through Fractured Atlas, a registered 501(c)3.
The Jewish community is a funny animal. Two weeks ago, on February 10, I brought to the attention of senior community leadership news of a story that was going to break that would put a spotlight on the Jewish community. After some resistance, a statement was issued by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry distancing the Jewish community from the distasteful views of a certain ‘respected’ rabbi.
The following week saw the story get the front-cover on both the Melbourne commuter newspaper mX and gay community newspaper Star Observer. Sydney’s Gay News Network also comprehensively covered the story as it unfolded. GLBT community radio JOY 94.9FM and veteran journalist and broadcaster Doug Pollard was also swift on covering and helping to break the story both on air and online. Even bloggers Mike Stuchbery and Torrents of Scorn took a stance on the issue. The take-up and interest by these outlets was impressive.
This week’s edition of the Australian Jewish News sees a highly reactive cover-story response to the news that I brought to the attention of the Jewish community two weeks ago. I am of the firm belief that if I had not responded to a tip-off from Doug Pollard on this story and set into place a chain of events, including bringing the developing stories to the attention of the Jewish News, that the paper would not have given this story the high-profile status that it has received this week. Kudos to the AJN for the coverage of an important issue nevertheless.
The actual issue at play here is a deeply odious statement by Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen that challenges the ethics of an anti-bullying program that affirms homosexuality. So offensive is the stance of this academic that both the ECAJ, the Monash University Faculty of Education staff and the Monash University media office have distanced themselves from his views.
Adding an extra dimension to this story, Monash University has been found to have an adjunct/honorary association with Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen, ongoing to 2015. Monash University have advised that the academic is not an employee of the university and that they believe the association with him is meritorious.
I have petitioned the university to hold Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen to account for his homophobic views, such that he compares homosexuality to incest and bestiality, and put it to the university that they would not be so welcoming of an academic who’s speciality was Holocaust denial.
The issue of homophobia and bullying is firmly on the radar of the Australian Jewish community now. It will be interesting to see the response from the community to an issue that makes so much of it deeply uncomfortable. It will also be interesting to see how Monash University handles the uncomfortable situation they find themselves in.
The bullied anti-bullying campaigner joins ranks with the bully who wants to disband the life-saving anti-bullying program.
In September 2010 Ilana Leeds told us she was a victim of bullying. On Monday this week (Feb 13 2012), Ilana Leeds showed her support for Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen, a man who wants to delegitimise an anti-bullying program, simply because it affirms homosexuality.
The Executive Council of Australian Jewry has distanced itself from the toxic message of the homophobic Orthodox Rabbi, Dr Shimon Cowen. Whilst the it has issued statement is welcome, the message it conveys is far from sufficient.
Last Friday, February 10 2012, news came to me by way of Queer community journalist Doug Pollard that Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen had published a paper via the virulently anti-gay Australian Family Association, slamming homosexuality and along with it the Safe Schools Coalition Victoria. The SSCV web site describes itself as “Dedicated to supporting gender and sexual diversity in schools.”
Doug Pollard has a personal interest in the welfare of SSCV as he was instrumental in helping the program get off the ground. I have a personal interest in fighting homophobic intolerance in the Jewish community. So without delay I wrote to the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) and asked they intercede in this unpleasant matter, as they had made a commitment to countering hatred against GLBT people. Together with Doug Pollard and also Rob Mitchell of the RJM Trust we had a dialogue with the ECAJ, explaining our concerns and reasons why a prompt response from the ECAJ would be beneficial.
On Monday, February 13 2012 Peter Wertheim, Executive Director of the ECAJ, issued a statement indicating the rabbi’s views were not representative of those of Australian Jewish community and in doing so, distanced themselves from his toxic viewpoints. To the best of my knowledge this single acts sets a precedent for the Australian Jewish community (and perhaps even globally), as there has never been an organisation representing, in part, the Orthodox Jewish community that has spoken out publicly against an Orthodox Jewish rabbi.
I have to praise Peter Wertheim and the ECAJ for their professionalism, sensitivity and swift action in handling the concern presented to them. They have told the community that it is unacceptable to vilify homosexuals and attack organisations and programs that have been established to prevent young people from bullies, especially bullies of the likes of Rabbi Cowen and his cohorts.
In saying that though, there is ample room for improvement in the position taken by the ECAJ. Their cautiously worded statement lacked the necessary gravitas to tell the Orthodox Rabbinate that they must never again speak ill of homosexuality, that they must never refer to it as an illness, that they must never offer ‘reparative therapy’ as a ‘cure’ for homosexuality and that they must actually accept that homosexuality is a normal and healthy expression of human sexuality.
I have presented the ECAJ with a statement each from the Australian Psychological Society and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists. These statements are absolutely unambiguous in their message and leave no room for uncertainty as to what these two professional bodies believe is the best approach to the issue of reparative therapy. Yet the ECAJ has refused to publicly acknowledge these two statements. Why? It surprises me that an organisation that has access to a plethora of psychologists and psychiatrists in the Jewish community didn’t source one of each to help them understand and convey these plain language statements.
The presence of Professor Kim Rubenstein on the ECAJ executive adds the necessary relevant academic and scientific qualifications to the repertoire of the ECAJ, as she is the convenor of the Gender Institute at the Australian National University, and is well-connected on these matters. With her talents at hand, and access to a wealth of resources through the ANU, the ECAJ currently has no reason for saying “but it’s outside our area of expertise”.
I need to remind myself that the Jewish community, at its official level, is excellent at fighting hate from beyond its borders. However it is far from having perfected that art when the hate emanates from within. What is rewarding though is seeing that it is trying hard to get there.
This week the Australian Jewish News advised that the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) has launched a new reporting system for anti-Semitic incidents. They’ll be working with their Community Security Group and Victoria Police. That’s good news. This sort of hate needs to be identified and countered.
Welcoming the initiative, JCCV president John Searle said, “This is a great step forward in our relationship with the police. They will now have a much better understanding of the issues we face.”
No doubt they will. The JCCV are not shy at bringing “the issues we face” to the attention of the community and authorities, when they are so motivated.
I have a message for JCCV president John Searle. Next time you’re on the phone to Victoria Police, please ask them to transfer you to their Gay and Lesbian Advisory Unit.
Please tell the GLAU that GLBT members of the Jewish community face homophobia, intolerance, marginalisation, hate, discrimination and contempt and that the JCCV tolerates and contributes to these attitudes originating from both within and external to the community.
Please tell the GLAU that the JCCV sees GLBT people as inferior members of the community, to be feared, and does not believe they are worthy of being admitted as members of the JCCV because they are perceived to be a risk to community stability.
Victoria Police needs to know that the JCCV is a serial bully, constantly crying out against anti-Jewish attitudes, but simultaneously perpetrating anti-gay attitudes and intolerance.
The JCCV is not playing the game fairly. It plays by its own duplicitous rules, doing what it wants, when it suits it.
Time is up JCCV. The Jewish Community bully is a bad boy and it needs a really good spank.