Opinion: Why I support Safe Schools as a principal

As a principal, providing physical safety for my students is usually straightforward. But when it comes to emotional safety, it's much more complicated.

In 2013, those of us at Overnewton Anglican Community College acknowledged that our school was not as safe for same-sex-attracted, intersex and gender-diverse students as we had thought.

Some students were avoiding school; others weren't able to participate fully.

We knew we needed a rigorous and well-researched program to support them.

That's why we joined the Safe Schools Coalition. The program has provided us with the practical ideas and staff support to make our school safe and inclusive for all: not just students, but their families and teachers too.

When our senior footballers tell their opponents not to use 'gay' as a derogatory term, we know that these changes are having an impact.

There's a lot of misinformation about what the Same Schools program involves. We have never been told what to do or how to do it. We have never been pressured to promote homosexuality as a preferred lifestyle, to encourage students to come out, to teach children about homosexual acts, to teach children how to bind their chests.

Instead, the Safe Schools Coalition has helped us teach our students how to better navigate the differences that they see each day. For instance, we have always encouraged our children not to use gender-based nor racist putdowns; now we are asking them to add slurs about sexuality and gender diversity to the list.

We were the 140th school in Victoria to become a member of the Safe Schools Coalition, joining a list of diverse schools within both government and independent sectors. Our focus has been on students in Years 9–12, with a small number of targeted sessions in individual Year 8 classes.

The Safe Schools Coalition helped us to identify what we were already doing well and where we could do with improvement. They then helped our staff to develop age-appropriate lessons that would, in simple and practical ways, educate our school about inclusive behaviour and language.

Over the past few years, we have also been fortunate to have some terrific people speak to our senior students about making our school a safer place for LGBTI students.

AFL players Jason Ball and Brock McLean as well as marriage celebrant Jason Tuazon-McCheyne have each talked about their own difficult experiences, or those of their loved ones, and have explained how simple changes in language and behaviour can make a real difference.

We are a faith-based school; our students can attend our school knowing that, regardless of their gender, faith, ability, ethnicity or sexual orientation and identity, they are loved and safe and that we have mechanisms in place to support each of these aspects of diversity.

Optimising young people's mental health is paramount. The resources of the Safe Schools Coalition are a small but valuable part of making Overnewton Anglican Community College a safer and happier place.

Jim Laussen is principal of Overnewton Anglican Community College.