Another day, another front-page "EXCLUSIVE" in The Australian beating up the Safe Schools anti-bullying program. This one quotes a "leading family law and child-protection expert". Sounds very official. Strangely, though, the Oz forgot to mention that the good professor has a long history of writing against same-sex marriage, and he has previously been commissioned by the Australian Christian Lobby for work.
Patrick Parkinson's paper The Controversy over the Safe Schools Program -- Finding the Sensible Centre, released this month and reported in The Australian today, claims that statistics used in the Safe Schools material on LGBTI people are exaggerated in order to support the ideals of the program, particularly around issues of gender fluidity.
Parkinson argues classifying school children in year 7 or 8 as lesbian, gay or bisexual might be premature, as they might grow out of being same-sex attracted. He also says in the paper that gender fluidity is "a belief system" that began as a philosophy, and compares it to teaching Scientology in school (weirdly, though, he didn't mention the actual religions taught in school).
Parkinson also argues that "anecdotal evidence" suggests that children from religious households could be bullied for not supporting anti-bullying programs like Safe Schools or Wear it Purple Day.
But there are some omissions from The Australian's breathless reporting of this issue. Firstly, Parkinson notes at the start of the paper that he is not an expert in the fields of same-sex attraction, sexual orientation or gender issues. The second is that Parkinson himself notes that it is often up to the individual school what parts of the program it uses. The third is that Parkinson supports programs in schools to support same-sex attracted students, and students with gender identity issues.
Perhaps the most glaring omission is that Parkinson is far from an independent authority on the issue. The law professor has a long history of work on the conservative side of the debate, on issues such as religious freedom and family structures. Most notably, Parkinson was commissioned by the biggest opponents to Safe Schools -- the Australian Christian Lobby -- in 2011 to write a paper that was often cited by anti-marriage equality groups as proof children of same-sex couples would be at a disadvantage.
ACL managing director Lyle Shelton was thanked in the acknowledgements section of that 2011 paper for reading and commenting on the report's draft. Parkinson also appeared in an ACL webcast on marriage in 2012, making the usual slippery slope argument:
"Once you move away from the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman there is nothing to stop it. I have just come back from a conference. Guess what we were talking about? Polygamy. There are consenting relationships that will want to be recognised as marriage."
In 2012, Parkinson wrote an op-ed in Fairfax papers arguing allowing same-sex marriage would have a detrimental effect on the meaning of marriage.
Perhaps Parkinson’s most accurate statement came when he noted how the debate around Safe Schools had transformed from one about the program itself, to a debate about the program’s politics:
"When a social issue becomes a contested matter politically, or support for, or opposition to, a program is seen as a marker of ideological identity, it is hard to have a rational discussion."