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Youth Affairs Council Worried Safe Schools Takeover Will Leave Trans Kids Without Help

"Schools holidays are a peak time for transition processes for young people."

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The Victorian minister for education will meet with representatives from the LGBTI and youth services communities to discuss concerns over the "brutal" takeover of the Safe Schools program.

On Friday, staff at La Trobe University, where the Safe Schools Coalition Victoria is currently headquartered, were shocked to hear their funding would cease from March 2017 when the government will take over running the program.

The Andrews government has been one of the strongest supporters of the LGBTI anti-bullying program, which has come under intense fire from conservative opponents this year.

It has committed to rolling out the program in all Victorian high schools by the end of 2018, and says the change in management will lead to better support.

But community leaders have signalled serious concerns about how the program – which requires significant expertise in sensitive issues, such as helping children to transition gender at school – will fare under the Department of Education.

Education minister James Merlino will meet with advocates from the Youth Affairs Council Victoria (YACV), Rainbow Families, Minus18 and other groups on January 18, just under two weeks before the Victorian school term starts on February 1.

"You need nuanced expertise to know how to manage the fact that in December 2016, John finished school, and in February 2017, comes back as Jane," YACV CEO Georgie Ferrari, who will attend the meeting, told BuzzFeed News.

"At the moment, nobody in the department has [that]. I think it's unlikely they'll be able to recruit in a two-month time frame."

Ferrari said the unexpected change could leave transgender students who may have been transitioning over the school holidays without support.

"School holidays are a peak time for transition processes for young people. That's something we're really concerned about," she said.

Ferrari will also seek clarification on whether there will still be help available to children in primary schools, which was nixed in the federal iteration of the program following recommendations from federal education minister Simon Birmingham in March.

The Victorian program is entirely state-funded and so did not adopt the federal recommendations.

Safe Schools' presence in primary schools is politically controversial, as false claims about recruiting young children to be gay and transgender have been widely spread by right-wing opponents of the program.

"Safe Schools (doesn't) go and drum up business in primary schools," Ferrari said. "Primary schools reach out, because parents and children are struggling with these issues. Is the department going to have an appetite to do work like this?"

A spokesperson for the Department of Education told BuzzFeed News it would work closely with La Trobe and other stakeholders to ensure the program changed hands smoothly.

"The department will ensure the Safe Schools program continues to provide the same level of support currently provided to LGBTI students through Safe Schools, including for transitioning students," he said.

Ferrari praised the Andrews government for its strident support of the LGBTI community, but said she was "confounded" by the way the Safe Schools announcement had been reached.

"It feels brutal, the way it's been done," she said.

BuzzFeed News understands the Safe Schools staff found out during their Christmas party on Friday last week, and were not consulted about the change.

Lane Sainty is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.

Contact Lane Sainty at lane.sainty@buzzfeed.com.

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