A group of students from Burwood Girls High School in Sydney have hit back at a state government decision to ban a film about gay parenting being shown during school hours.
The controversy over Gayby Baby erupted yesterday after The Daily Telegraph reported that parents had complained about a planned screening of the film at Burwood Girls.
The film, which follows four children with same-sex parents and was directed by former Burwood Girls student Maya Newell, was set to be screened in schools across the country as part of Wear It Purple Day, which raises awareness of LGBTI issues in schools.
The state government was swift to act in the wake of the media storm, with education minister Adrian Piccoli banning all public high schools in NSW from showing the documentary during school hours.
However, the Guardian Australia later obtained a statement from the department of education and training confirming that no parents had actually complained to the school.
In response to the media furore, the prefects at Burwood Girls posted a statement to Facebook last night. It quickly amassed thousands of likes and shares.
"The Prefects of BGHS wish to express their disappointment at the media coverage of the school's intended showing of the documentary Gayby Baby," they wrote.
"As Burwood girls, we pride ourselves on our support of diversity – in whatever form it takes."
It was at Burwood Girls that the annual Wear It Purple Day began, started by former student Katherine Hudson in 2010. The school is also part of the Safe Schools Coalition, a group improving inclusion of LGBTI kids in schools.
The statement went on to list other events celebrating diversity that the school takes part in, including International Day, an annual Iftar dinner and Lunar New Year celebrations.
A representative of the prefect body told BuzzFeed News they were "saddened" at the backlash against their school for planning to show the film.
"We feel strongly about demonstrating our support for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer community," they said.
"We feel genuine concern for the mental health of all young people and will do what it takes to ensure that our peers feel supported."
The girls are "pleasantly surprised" about their post going viral, but "not shocked by the show of support".
"The fact that this post has now reached upwards of 300,000 people on Facebook with over 9,000 likes, in under 24 hours, is astonishing. This highlights to us just how much support there is for our cause not only throughout Australia, but on a global scale," they said.
The students also said that concerns about students who don't support same-sex marriage or gay families being ostracised were overblown.
"In our 6 years at the school and the running of the event, from what we have seen, we have never witnessed a student who felt ostracised because of their opinions or beliefs regarding our annual Wear It Purple celebrations," they told BuzzFeed News.
"There has definitely been debate amongst students on many issues, but surely this is a good thing as it shows that students have been encouraged to form their own views."
A petition calling for Burwood Girls to defy the government ban and screen the film during school hours has been circulated online, gaining over 1000 signatures.
Lucy Honan, a former Burwood Girls student who started the petition, told BuzzFeed News that she came out while at school and got "a lot of support" from friends and teachers.
She started the petition because she thought it would be "an excellent stand" if the school was to defy the government ban.
"It was just an extreme reaction from the Liberal government driven by cowardice," she said.
"I wanted to channel the message that a lot of us ex-students and current students have, that this shouldn't be the final word."
A teacher herself, Honan said she explains her identity to all her classes.
"I think it's important for students to know there are gay people, gay teachers, and it's fine and normal," she says.
The responses from kids vary from questions to excitement to confusion, but are always positive, Honan said.
"it's always a really useful and educational thing to do."
The prefects told BuzzFeed News they are "not planning to defy the government" by showing Gayby Baby during school hours, but they are organising an after-school showing of the film.
Lane Sainty is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.
Contact Lane Sainty at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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