AS AN openly gay teenager, Samuel Rodda has endured his share of bullying over the years. Sometimes it's been verbal abuse, other times social exclusion - like the school camp where his classmates refused to share a room with him at night, simply because of his sexuality.
The 16-year-old nonetheless considers himself one of the lucky ones. He has never been bashed for being gay but knows of several teenagers who have or, worse still, attempted suicide when the homophobic attacks became too much.
But, having been to four different schools in four years, he knows that ''coming out'' can be brutally tough for young people without a supportive environment. ''There's definitely a lot of ignorance in schools when it comes to gay students. Some of the schools I've been to haven't even recognised that there are gay students there,'' he says.
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Samuel is now in year 10 at Princes Hill Secondary College, which he says is open and accepting of its students, regardless of sexual orientation.
Today, in a pre-election bid to tackle homophobia in Victoria's education system, Princes Hill will be one of 11 schools to form a ''Safe Schools Coalition''.
Under the program, schools will be encouraged to set up ''gay/straight student alliances'', share resources and provide teacher training that identifies - and stamps out - homophobia in the classroom. Students and teachers will get access to support networks and be encouraged to create posters, newsletters or forums that promote sexual diversity in schools.
Education Minister Bronwyn Pike said she hoped other gay-friendly schools would ''come out'' as well in a bid to raise the public's consciousness about homosexuality.
''If kids don't feel included and welcome on the basis of their sexuality, that's going to be a barrier to their education, intellectual and emotional development,'' Ms Pike said.
The initiative comes amid figures showing that about 60 per cent of same-sex attracted young people experience verbal or physical abuse, and that most of it takes place in schools.
The scheme has won the support of psychologists and gay support groups, but the Australian Christian Lobby raised concerns the government was ''normalising homosexuality as a lifestyle'' in schools. Victorian director Rob Ward said: ''Are they going to suggest that children who might be homosexual attend these schools?
''Are we creating a homosexual ghetto? You're talking about some young people who are struggling with their sexuality, and perhaps discovering themselves, and our concern is that some of these programs promote homosexual or lesbian behaviour, rather than allowing children the time to work these things out for themselves.''
Associate Professor Anne Mitchell, the director of Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria, said homosexuality in schools was an issue that many people found morally challenging and did not know how to deal with. But while Australian schools did not contain some of the ''red-neck violence'' seen in the US, there had nonetheless been ''extreme horror stories - verbal abuse, graffiti on lockers, bones broken, hair set on fire, and properties destroyed''.
The Safe Schools Coalition will be unveiled by Ms Pike today, less than six weeks before a state election in which the Education Minister, who has an openly gay son and is publicly supportive of gay marriage, is facing a threat by the Greens in her inner city seat of Melbourne.
The government has provided $80,000 to the coalition, and a further $20,000 for a training seminar, to be held next week, to help teachers confront homophobia. The coalition is overseen by the Rainbow Network and the Foundation for Young Australians.
Adolescent pyschologist Michael Carr-Gregg welcomed the initiative.
http://www.theage.com.au/national/educa ... 16u7r.html
For those who wanted to feel a little happier with the world. It's an election ploy, but a good idea is a good idea.