Kill the bill

3 June 2021 | Posted In: #139 Winter 2021,

On 17 April, trans protesters and their allies took to Taylor Square to oppose an anti-trans education bill. At the rally, queer non-binary primary school educator Sam Guerra delivered an impassioned speech.

Last August, I discovered Mark Latham had proposed a terrifying education legislation amendment bill in the NSW parliament. If passed, the bill would prohibit schools from teaching that trans and gender-diverse people exist, or that trans kids should even be treated with respect. It will prohibit school counsellors from affirming trans or gender-diverse students and prevent them from providing them with any support or referrals. It will put teachers at risk of losing their job when they support a trans or gender-diverse student.

When I heard about Mark Latham’s bill I knew I had to do something, so I started an online petition. After just one week, the petition had received over 10,000 signatures. (By the time it was delivered to NSW Greens and Labor politicians, it had amassed more than 112,000 signatures.) I created the petition in the middle of an important time in my life. I was in my final semester of my master’s degree and in the middle of a personal discovery: that I identify as gender non-binary.

Growing up, I struggled with gender. I was born male, but I never felt I fit within the binary of what is perceived to be male. I was made to feel wrong about my choices and as I navigated my way through school I was bullied and excluded because I was different. My educators in primary school thought the solution was to force me to play only with my male peers . . . but it only made me more confused. I was sent to an all-boys secondary school, which only made it harder for me.

I began to believe something was extremely wrong with me. I had no one to confide in and I began to feel very lost. Unfortunately, I made it all the way through my schooling life, hiding my identity in the closet as I never felt comfortable or supported enough to be my authentic self. As I stepped into adulthood, I realised no one could tell me how to behave, act or identify anymore. I tried it their way and it didn’t work and realised that now it’s time to do it my way. From that moment on, I’ve been able to become my fully realised queer, non-binary self — and love who I am.

When I chose to study education, I made it my mission to not only educate students on how to accumulate the knowledge and skills necessary for their later lives, but also to educate them, support them, and guide them through crucial developmental stages that will help them to also realise their true selves and identity. But if Latham’s bill passes, I am now afraid the law will prevent me from doing that.

A child spends much of their developmental years at school with a teacher as their guide. To have the law prevent educators from being able to support their students is wrong and inhumane. To have the law state that teachers cannot educate their students about trans and gender-diverse people and to respect them is cruel. To prohibit school counsellors from affirming trans and gender-diverse students and not be able to offer them support or referrals is evil. To threaten a teacher’s job because they supported one of their students who is coming to terms with their identity is heartless.

Our trans and gender-diverse students already suffer. They don’t feel safe, and they haven’t for way too long. It is the responsibility of teachers and schools to create a safe space for all their students — no matter how they choose to identify. No law should interfere with that. To Mark Latham and all your supporters, let it be known that if I was ever put in a position where a student of mine confided in me about their confusion with their gender or their identity and the law prevented me from supporting them, I would not hesitate to put my job on the line to support this student.

As I navigate my way through my new journey as a teacher, I will put in my all to create a safe and inclusive classroom and school — one that I needed many years ago when I was a student. To all the trans and gender-diverse students and community, know that I hear you, that I see you and that I am here for you. I will continue to speak and fight for you until we are treated equally and feel safe in whichever community we are a part of. Let’s continue to fight until this bill amendment is thrown out of parliament. Let’s send a message to people like Mark Latham that we no longer choose to hide. We will fight until we are seen and heard — and cannot be ignored.