UNE Researcher Urges Governments to Act on Discrimination Legislation and Homophobic Bullying in Schools

Published 04 March 2013

The recommendations of UNE Researcher Dr Tiffany Jones have recently influenced the recommendations of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Legislation Committee.  The Committee has released its recommendations to the Australian Government ahead of the consolidation and reform of Australia’s current state based Discrimination Acts.

 The recommendations supporting the reform have been informed in large by research undertaken by Dr Jones, based on her analysis of state education policies from a national survey of over 3,000 gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex (GLBTIQ) students (aged 14-21). 

From her  findings Dr Jones has recommended that the Australian government change draft law to offer more protection for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex and otherwise queer people and add ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ as protected attributes of the law.

Dr Jones said “Many people don’t realise that, unlike most other western countries, Australia does not yet have protection against discrimination on the basis of sexuality and gender identity in National law.”

“My work on education policy has underlined the huge impacts legislation and policy can make to safety issues and suicide rates for young people. This Act will offer greater protections from violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status for all students regardless of the type of school they attend.”

Dr Jones’ research revealed that Queensland doesn’t have a clear and explicit anti-homophobia education policy – only 11% of Queensland GLBTIQ students characterised their school as a supportive safe space for them to attend – an alarmingly low percentage given that state legislation requires these students to attend schools every day.

The report also revealed that Victoria has a comprehensive policy on Supporting Sexual Diversity in Schools and New South Wales has an anti-homophobia policy and coverage of diversity in their mandated sexuality education.

 Dr Jones has previously submitted a report to The Tasmanian Department of Education and Training, and as a result the Tasmanian DET released ‘Guidelines for Supporting Sexual and Gender Diversity in Schools and Colleges’.  Dr Jones has also submitted a report to the Western Australian Equal Opportunity Commission Policy Steering Committee and the WA EOC has responded with the release of guidelines for school staff, teachers and students.

The Senate Committee has also supported Dr Jones’ argument that it is inappropriate for religious schools to retain broad exceptions from anti-discrimination provisions around the bullying and harassment of their GLBTIQ students, quoting Dr Jones’ research findings in their inquiry report.

Her recommendation that the proposed ‘default’ model of exemptions for service providers – which simply granted the right to discrimination to religious schools and other service providers – be replaced by an ‘opt-in’ model of exemptions requiring a public justification of any intention to seek exception to anti-discrimination standards.

Dr Jones’ new book Understanding Education Policy: The ‘Four Orientations’ Framework is out through Springer in March. The book highlights the importance of policy in education systems and her theory of how it can be better understood and researched.