A celebrity proposal for a national anti-bullying program focused on "tolerance" of LGBTI people has been slammed by LGBTI activists and community members as misguided and pandering to conservatives.
In a letter to prime minister Malcolm Turnbull made public on Tuesday, a group of prominent Australians – including Troye Sivan and Missy Higgins – called on the government to allocate $6 million to a broad anti-bullying program in schools.
Signatories included producer and songwriter Paul Mac, author and journalist Tracey Spicer, comedian Joel Creasey, actor Guy Pearce and former Australian Idol host turned political candidate James Mathison.
But the letter has caused a backlash, with some arguing that by seeking "tolerance" the bar has been set way too low.
"Make no mistake of our request: we do not seek a program that seeks approval of the way certain members of our society live," reads one line in the letter. "We seek only mutual respect and tolerance."
The letter also states that the new program should be free of controversy – unlike the previous LGBTI-focused Safe Schools Coalition, which was subject to a targeted campaign from far-right politicians, conservative media and Christian lobby groups.
"We understand and accept that programs implemented in recent history, such as Safe Schools, have become highly politicised and controversial," the letter reads.
"We wish not for controversy but for a program with a goal that everyone can agree on: an end to bullying and domestic violence in Australia."
Author of the children's book The Gender Fairy Jo Hirst has a transgender son. She told BuzzFeed News the signatories had "no idea what they're talking about".
"Can you imagine any other minority group, whether it's women, or people of colour, or children with a disability, who ask to be tolerated but not accepted?" she asked.
"For a child to feel comfortable in going to school, they would have to know they were as included as all the other children. That they were on equal terms with all the other children, they were as important as all the other children, that they were not different in any way.
"They would have to have their legal rights accepted – that's part of it – but it's more than that."
Hirst said that by calling for doctors to be consulted on any new program, the signatories were incorrectly implying that this didn't occur with the Safe Schools Coalition.
"It's playing into the idea that paediatricians and psychologists didn't approve of [Safe Schools], whereas the best paediatricians and psychologists backed the program 100%," she said. "It's insinuating there was something wrong with Safe Schools, and there wasn't."
LGBTI rights campaigner Sally Rugg described the letter as "some Kendall Jenner bullshit" – in reference to Jenner's recent starring role in a disastrous Pepsi ad that was accused of trivialising the Black Lives Matter movement.
"You cannot be a rich, cisgender celebrity and call for a programme to replace Safe Schools that seeks 'only tolerance'," Rugg wrote in a Facebook post.
"You can't throw LGBTI activists, the community and the ACTUAL SAFE SCHOOLS COALITION under the bus because you are a rich, cisgender celebrity and you think, despite not being part of the campaign, not speaking to politicians, academics, teachers, activists and young people and their families affected by this issue, that you have a better idea."
In an open letter, one of the organisers of the celebrity push, Ben Grubb, said the plea to Turnbull was a compromise based on what the federal government would realistically fund.
"After a confidential discussion with a key decision maker in Canberra about what the government would and would not fund, I set out to help in the lead up the budget, where the government decides what to fund and what not to," he wrote.
"No one likes to compromise, I know, but the fact is that LGBTI kids are committing suicide because they are being bullied by their peers."
"Respect and tolerance of LGBTI people — and others in society — is what kids in schools should be taught now. And I really do hope we can move to teaching them approval and acceptance sooner rather than later," he added.
Troye Sivan's mother, Laurelle Mellet, who also signed the letter, said the campaign was aware of the feedback and "taking it all onboard".
"It’s wonderful that we are all so passionate and concerned about such a vital matter that is so critically important to us all," she said.
"We will continue to push for safe environments in schools and other areas. We look forward to your input and support as we move forward in the hope that things will change for the better."
Lane Sainty is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.
Contact Lane Sainty at email@example.com.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.