IDAHOBIT. Understanding not Indoctrination

As a principal, the hate-fuelled response to the Herald Sun's reporting of Woodleigh's and other community organisations' plans to celebrate IDAHOBIT has left me sad and tired. IDAHOBIT is the International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia. The Woodleigh community has celebrated IDAHOBIT since 2018, and it was also a special day at my previous school.

IDAHOBIT is the anniversary of May 17, 1990. On that day, just 33 years ago, the World Health Organisation removed homosexuality from the Classification of Diseases. Now celebrated in over 130 countries around the world, IDAHOBIT exists to help lessen the stigma and discrimination LGBTQIA+ people still face. In Australia today, two in three LGBTQIA+ youth experience abuse due to their identity, 35% of LGBTQIA+ Australians have experienced verbal abuse in the past 12 months, and 58% of lesbian, gay and bisexual people in Australia report that they had been treated unfairly to some degree because of their sexual identity in the past 12 months.

Each year, IDAHOBIT reminds me of a meeting I had with a student from my previous school. Two years after graduating, this student contacted me to speak about their time at school, and since I had lost touch with them, I was curious to hear what they would say. When we met, I was surprised to find myself shaking hands with a young man. Throughout his time as my student, he was still identifying as female.

My initial curiosity quickly turned to heartache as he told me of his time at our school. He spoke of an adolescence filled with fear, of being forced to wear our girls' uniform and how he had hidden his identity for his entire school career. Being unable to live as his true self took an enormous toll, manifesting as significant mental health issues.

Our school had let him down.

In hindsight, while we celebrated IDAHOBIT and difference whenever possible, the culture at that school was not ready to fully embrace a transgender student. For him to be his true self would have been too difficult within that culture. Our gestures, whilst admirable, were not enough to create a space where students felt safe and comfortable being themselves within their peer group.

As a school leader, I wanted to work at Woodleigh for a long time. I believed that this school and this community were more progressive and able to create safe spaces for students.

I was not wrong.

I have joined a supportive, positive community that celebrates the individual and embraces difference whenever possible.

This recognition and celebration of one's unique traits and character begins the moment a new student walks into our school. From an early age, students are exposed to difference, and become comfortable with people who may be different to themselves. As a staff and community, we work hard to create a safe school culture where everyone feels welcome and included.

For our students, this is not a big deal. They see it as quite normal. In fact, I would wager that the majority of Woodleigh students are currently somewhat bemused by the conversations occurring among the adults. Conversations that, for whatever misguided reason, try desperately to spread hate and fear.

Have those determined to spread misinformation and hate ever walked in someone else's shoes? Have they taken the time to get to know people different to themselves and developed an understanding of their perspectives? Such an experience would no doubt surprise and surely develop a more balanced and informed worldview.

As a school, Woodleigh will always encourage students to consider multiple perspectives and to respect minorities and differing views. But to achieve this, you must first create a welcoming space where inclusion is the norm. We can do this at Woodleigh and, with it, spread such wisdom wider into the world.

Please help Woodleigh support IDAHOBIT 2023. You can do this by celebrating the difference in your homes, discussing the need for young people to feel safe and accepted at our school, and, on the 17th, bringing some colour into your own lives.