EFAC Australia

The Controversy over the Safe Schools Program – Finding the Sensible Centre
Patrick Parkinson, Sydney Law School Legal Studies Research Paper No. 16/83 Sept 16

Patrick Parkinson is Professor of Law at Sydney University. At the time of the Louden Review he and Professor Kim Oates wrote a lengthy letter to Professor Louden about the research basis for statistics presented in the Safe Schools Program. Unfortunately the Review had to be completed in a short time and “No independent review of the veracity of the statistics cited in this document was undertaken.”

Parkinson’s paper is a critical review of some important aspects of the Safe Schools Program, especially of the research data.
The abstract includes an outline of the scope of the paper:

“This paper seeks to draw attention to various problems in the Safe Schools materials which ought to be rectified if a program like this is to continue to be offered in schools. First, the materials present statistics on same-sex attraction and transgender prevalence that have no valid scientific basis. Secondly, they present sexual orientation as fixed when for school-aged adolescents it is very volatile, and many same-sex attractions are transitory. Thirdly, they present gender as fluid when for about 99.5% of the population, there is complete congruence between sexual characteristics and gender identity. Fourthly, they promote gender transitioning without the need for any medical and psychological guidance and even without parental knowledge or consent. Finally, they offer potentially misleading legal advice to teachers.”

It is refreshing to read a rational discussion of these matters. Parkinson notes, “When a social issue becomes a contested matter politically, or support for, or opposition to, a program is seen as a marker of ideological identity, it is hard to have a rational discussion. Yet a rational discussion is badly needed about the Safe Schools program, based upon evidence.”

One of the values of this paper is that it reports on a wide variety of peer-reviewed research related to statistics and assertions in the Safe Schools material.  Having a collection of data of this kind, in itself, is a great help to those who would like to know reliable information about the numbers of same-sex attracted and other people.

Parkinson begins with a review of the Safe Schools Program, the extent to which it has actually been taken up (not much), and what is really mandated, in Victoria at least. He then clearly and helpfully discusses the five areas noted above. His view is that just about all the statistics are significantly exaggerated and have no valid basis in science. The ideas of fixed sexual orientation and gender fluidity are very helpfully discussed. Parkinson rightly identifies the origins of some of these ideas in philosophy and describes them as  “now quite a widespread belief system, especially in parts of the western world. This belief system is deeply held by some, and has many characteristics of being a religious belief.”

His comments on the fluidity of sexual identity in the period around puberty are very helpful. It seems to me that some of the reported methods of obtaining data by asking children which gender they felt attracted to, for example, was asking questions that weren’t the questions of young people of that age. Not just statistics but methodology also was a problem.

Overall the paper is a reasoned and careful critique, not only of the Safe Schools Program, but of significant aspects of the broader gender and sexual orientation discussion. He also identifies worrying extensions of the unreliable data and belief systems into policies and statements by government education departments.

At a wider level the issues discussed are not just, or even primarily, about valid research data. The issues concern idealogical identities that are not really based in science. In some ways it reminds me of Emma Kowal’s “Trapped in the Gap” which discusses the gap between the ideology of those who want to “close the gap” of indigenous health and the actual reality of a gap that is not closing. Part of her discussion concerns reforming identities. Maybe the ideology of gender and sexual identity may change under the pressure of reality and true data. Or a miracle may happen. In the meantime this is a very helpful and informative paper that ought to be widely read.

Dale Appleby [This paper can be downloaded without charge from the Social Science Research Network Electronic Library at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2839084]