I had known at the time that outing myself was transgressive and potentially dangerous; I have since taken care not to tell students these personal details when it can be honestly avoided. I would argue, however, that this work is always political. Still, this student had remembered and nurtured the knowledge. Disrupting notions of childhood innocence — and, by extension, childhood immunity to questioning or rebelling against normative pressure — is one of the main accomplishments of the program. Children are understood to be capable of supporting diversity but not of manifesting diversity. Queers all over Australia have, quite rightly, taken the attacks on this inexpensive program very personally. In Victoria, the state Labor government took a different tack: This is not all that unusual: I felt that I was a negative role model for the students, not a positive one — because they were seeing a pretty obviously queer teacher who felt that I could not stand up for queerness.
All of these professional practices are taken for granted; they are, in fact, invisible, like much of the work of teachers. There are people who regard my mere presence in a classroom as obscene; some of these people are our elected representatives. I would argue, however, that this work is always political. Although nominally supportive, the welfare officer had a multitude of blind spots when it came to LGBTIQ issues, forcing Avi to adopt the role of diversity worker. Its aim was simple: Like most educational initiatives, the responsibility to confront these forms of discrimination fell largely on teachers. Even though many queer teachers do not set out to change workplace culture, their very presence as educators has a political dimension. Others clumsily conveyed an understanding that teachers do work hard. Queers all over Australia have, quite rightly, taken the attacks on this inexpensive program very personally. Because diversity work creates trouble for institutions, diversity workers are often regarded as troublemakers. Straight teachers are spared this burden: Of course, underneath this pearl-clutching is a fundamental mistrust of teaching professionals and their judgement. This is true even in areas where same-sex couples can be safely affectionate on the street. Academic Anne Harris, a former secondary teacher, shared her frustrations: The foundation of the Safe Schools training program is the acknowledgement that every school has students who are same-sex attracted and gender diverse, and that most young people are well aware of their identities by late primary school. But it also revealed the invisible labour of those who work to keep schools safe. Teachers are now better informed in their efforts to tackle both the obvious effects of bigotry on individual students and the systemic effects of heteronormativity. We must not make the mistake of dismissing these actions as individual habits, but rather recognise them as a process of institutionalisation. Still, this student had remembered and nurtured the knowledge. Ahmed is right to reassure us that diversity work — though it feels thankless and endless — is productive. Parents and the public take for granted that a teacher may, for example, skip a chapter of a geography textbook and replace it with more up-to-date online resources and an excursion. Among the outpourings of confusion, bigotry, dismay and hopefulness generated by the attack on Safe Schools, there has been a conspicuous silence: Working on the frontlines of the debate about sexuality education is one way to protect our queer youth. In Victoria, the state Labor government took a different tack: Some of these were curt, parentally imposed words of unfelt gratitude. With media coverage of the Safe Schools inquiry smattered over the newspapers in every school library, and the ubiquity of celebrity news about Caitlyn Jenner, Miley Cyrus and other queer figures, there is no doubt that students are fully aware of sexual and gender diversity and impacts of pejorative language.
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