Bullies told Tyrone to kill himself
Brisbane teenager Tyrone Unsworth told a friend "the kids at school keep telling me to go kill myself". Vision: courtesy ABC
Here's a tip, charities: maybe wait a few weeks after the high profile suicide of a bullied gay child before you start talking about how school anti-bullying programmes are oh-so-discriminatory.
On Monday, the Salvation Army thought it would be a good idea to release a public statement saying they don't support Safe Schools.
Under normal circumstances this would be a weird thing for the Salvation Army to announce at all, since their own Youth and Schools programs cover completely different ground. To do so nearly a year after Safe Schools was a hot button cultural issue seemed particularly odd. And to do it less than two weeks after the suicide of a 13-year-old child beggars belief.
But that's the position the Salvation Army have chosen to take in public, and I respect their decision to take it. And so I am following their example by making my own position public and making clear that I will no longer support the Salvation Army.
Many people choose this time of year to make their choices about the charities to whom they donate. I've done so myself, and I have chosen to put my resources toward organisations that don't put conditions on which children they deem to be worthy of love, respect, and protection.
Just over a fortnight ago Tyrone Unsworth took the advice of the kids at his Queensland school who had already broken his jaw as part of an escalation of violent bullying, and took his own life.
Normally a suicide is accompanied by questions about how someone could have possibly come to this conclusion, but this time around there wasn't any doubt as to why it happened. This child had been told by bullies at his school that he should kill himself.
When words failed to adequately hurt him, they upgraded to sticks and stones: specifically, attacking him from behind with a fence paling and bashing his face in. Following this attack he finally gave in and did what he had been told to do, over and over, by his fellow students.
Earlier this year the federal government gave in to a moral panic whipped up by conservative commentators and aggressive members of its own right wing to cripple the national rollout of the Safe Schools program, an anti-bullying initiative specifically designed in acknowledgement that LGBTIQ kids suffer much higher rates of bullying, as well as far higher rates of self harm and suicidal ideation than the general population.
Said members of the government and the media pretended that Safe Schools was somehow indoctrinating children into catching gay, or worse yet – in the particularly meaningless words of senator Cory Bernardi – "Marxist cultural relativism", which is apparently somehow scarier, if rather more imaginary, than actual bullies attacking actual children.
And now the Salvation Army has chipped in.
"Every person regardless of race, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or religion has the right to feel safe so they can achieve their full God-given potential," its statement makes clear. "We emphasise that the alarming high rate of bullying and suicide among LGBTIQ school students evokes deep concern within The Salvation Army … We recognise the program's intent to address bullying. Whilst acknowledging such positive outcomes, The Salvation Army cannot unconditionally support the Safe Schools programs in Australia in their current form."
This is followed by a piece of astonishingly brazen doublethink: "We believe the availability of support services for every vulnerable student including those identifying as LGBTIQ is vital. We also believe the provision of a government approved anti-bullying program needs to consider all high risk student groups."
In other words, while they acknowledge that LGBTIQ children are at greater risk of being bullied, the problem with Safe Schools was that it was discriminating too much in favour of addressing LGBTIQ kids rather than "all high risk student groups".
It's a point which elements of the federal Coalition were also keen to make during their gleeful attacks on Safe Schools, while being similarly coy as to who exactly are these other "high risk student groups" apparently being so cruelly neglected by Safe Schools.
There's also the not-unreasonable point that right now is not exactly a great time for the Salvation Army to give the impression that they're more concerned about signalling a particular conservative political position than advocating for the welfare of children. After all, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse were downright scathing as recently as September in their assessment of the Salvation Army's failure to protect children under their care.
But we need to take the Salvation Army at their word. After all, it's one thing to be a religious organisation which presumably has a particular moral and political outlook, and it's quite another to deliberately create a press release in order to explicitly and unambiguously express that point of view on a specific subject to the wider public.
And that public statement is about making clear that they feel that a program designed explicitly to save lives like Tyrone's isn't worthy of their support.
And while they include the face-saving statement that "The Salvation Army is open to working with state and federal governments and other agencies to develop a program that more comprehensively addresses the issues associated with bullying within schools," it's worth pointing out that this comprehensive and imaginary program doesn't appear to be in any sort of planning stage, much less be ready for implementation. Yet it's supposedly more successful and worthwhile than the one which actually exists.
We can't bring Tyrone back. But we can tell our children that they are loved and valued, and put our money where our mouth is.
Lifeline 13 11 14, Kids Helpline 1800 551 800, Q Life 1800 184 527