Around the world, at least the English-speaking world, parents and politicians are under pressure to accept the scientific and moral validity of same-sex relationships and the transgender lifestyle. Fortunately, there has been a pushback from academics dismayed by the lack of academic rigour in many claims. Today we feature the main ideas of a report by University of Sydney law professor Patrick Parkinson. Tomorrow we will summarise the ideas of a landmark article by Kansas State University sociologist Walter Schumm.
One of the biggest setbacks for same-sex marriage in Australia has been the uproar around curriculum materials produced by the national Safe Schools Coalition (SSCA) for children in years 7 and 8.
These are supposed to stop bullying of homosexual and transgender students, but they also involve educating all students about sensitive topics, including sexual morality. Hundreds of schools, mostly government-run, have signed up. After noisy protests from parents, religious groups and politicians, the Federal Government stepped in and forced the SSCA to make significant changes.
However, the state of Victoria decided to forgo Federal funding and maintain the original program. Its Safe Schools group, based at La Trobe University, seceded from the national coalition and the state government plans to roll out its curriculum in all of its schools.
Perhaps because opponents are being painted as homophobes and knuckle-dragging right-wingers, there has been no comprehensive evaluation of the program (although MercatorNet did publish our own analysis last December.) The Federal Government commissioned a critique by a professor at the University of Western Australia, Bill Louden – but he had a mere two weeks to cobble his whitewash together.
Academically, he says, the Safe Schools program is so bad that it presents “a reputational problem for La Trobe University”. Medically, its guidelines are reckless. Legally, it offers misleading advice.
“There is certainly a place for an anti-bullying program that addresses the issues with which the Safe Schools program is concerned,” he writes, “but this program needs to be rescued from its progenitors.”
Professor Parkinson has several serious reservations.
Dodgy statistics. As MercatorNet pointed out last December, the Safe Schools program invents statistics about the prevalence of homosexuality and transgenderism. It claims that 10 percent of people are same-sex attracted, although only a few years before the La Trobe team reported that this figure was only 1 percent. The statistic, he says, “cannot be validated by any reliable research”.
The volatility of same-sex attraction. Parkinson says that the Safe Schools program is stuck in the psychology of the 1980s, when it was believed that a stable and fixed sexual orientation emerged in adolescence. But all the evidence suggests that most teenagers with same-sex attraction grow out of it. “It is not the case that someone who identifies as being same-sex attracted at 13-14 years of age has a fixed and stable orientation,” he points out. “Teenage same-sex attraction may or may not say anything about their adult sexuality.”
Insisting on a fixed identity could be dangerous. Most same-sex attracted children do not aspire to live as homosexuals. So insisting that they are doomed to live in the LGBTI lifestyle, never to have children of their own, could lead them to despair. Instead, they should be “assured that it is a very common, and normal, aspect of teenage psycho-sexual development which may or may not say anything about what they will grow up to be as adults.”
This may well be a message that is likely to prevent depression and suicidal ideation. Conversely, educational materials which are premised on the idea that sexual orientation emerges in early adolescence and remains fixed, so that it is sensible for young adolescents to identify as “gay” or “lesbian” as if this were a stable identity, should now be regarded as unscientific and irresponsible.
Transgender statistics are wildly exaggerated. The curriculum claims that 4 percent of the population is transgender or “gender diverse”. But this figure is based largely on surveys of high school students. “A gender identity disorder cannot be diagnosed by survey,” Parkinson writes. “It is a medical diagnosis requiring careful medical assessment.” The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5, the bible of the American Psychiatric Association, estimates that a maximum of 0.014 percent of the population have a gender identity disorder. This implies that the Safe Schools estimate is wrong by about 30,000 percent. “It is really not clear why it is thought that year 7 or 8 children need to learn anything about such rare conditions,” Parkinson comments acerbically.
Medical hazards. What if a student is thinking about transitioning to another gender? “Remarkably, nowhere in this document is there any reference to the need for any advice from a psychologist, doctor or psychiatrist, let alone anyone expert in the field,” he points out. “There is no requirement even to involve parents.” But international guidelines insist on the need for great caution and “careful and expert clinical management”. The Safe Schools program is throwing caution to the winds.
What’s behind the lack of common sense?
A number of critics have detected a Marxist plot to capture the hearts of school children. The manager and co-founder of Safe Schools Victoria, Roz Ward, is a La Trobe University academic and an unreconstructed Marxist (a species of intellectual which still flourishes in some Victorian universities). She told a conference last year, for instance, that “Marxism offers both the hope and the strategy needed to create a world where human sexuality, gender and how we relate to our bodies can blossom in extraordinarily new and amazing ways that we can only try to imagine today,”
So the Red label is tempting, but Parkinson prefers to describe the ideology of the Safe Schools movement as a religion, a bit like Scientology, with its own language and rituals.
The differentiation made between sex and gender, and the notion that gender is fluid and may be socially constructed, lie at the heart of the Safe Schools program … This is now quite a widespread belief system, especially in parts of the western world. This belief system is deeply held by some, and has many characteristics of being a religious belief …[It] is not the more rational because it is a belief that is sincerely held. Sincere people hold all sorts of strange beliefs.
Perhaps religious fervour explains the dodgy statistics. Convictions which are not based upon empirical observation do not need to be validated by facts. Parkinson continues:
Should such odd and unscientific beliefs, emanating from philosophy and gender studies departments rather than medical faculties, be taught as fact to primary and secondary school age children? There would be uproar if the beliefs of Scientologists that the personality or essence of oneself is distinct and separate from the physical body or the brain were being taught in state schools through state-funded programs. Yet the belief system that what gender you are is a matter for you to determine without reference to your physical and reproductive attributes may not be dissimilar in kind.
It will take more than one report to uproot an ideology which is defended so ardently by its supporters. But Patrick Parkinson’s attack on its academic credibility is a good beginning. A lot is at stake. Not only are young children being indoctrinated with ideas which would horrify their parents, but troubled young people may be shunted into a lifestyle which will make them bitter and unhappy adults.
Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.