Kate’s Corner – Aussie Lesbian Teen banned from taking partner to “Ivanhoe Girls Grammar” dance

By Kate Doak

Hannah (L) and Savannah (R) - Courtesy of The Age - Video linked to Image

The Australian media went into hysterics Wednesday morning over the story of Hannah Williams, an Ivanhoe Girls’ Grammar student who was barred from inviting her 15 year old girlfriend, Savannah Supski, to the school’s annual formal dance and dinner for senior students. Within hours of the news being announced, social media, radio and even the newspapers went into overdrive, with a range of comments calling the school’s decision an act of bigotry, through to “Oh boy…. Here we go again” from LGBT advocates and conservatives alike.

Being a “Teacher’s Brat”, I can partially see where Ivanhoe Girls Grammar is coming from. Having seen my Mum organize similar events in the past, I agree that disruptive events are to be avoided at such functions, particularly when minors are involved. More often than not, students will attempt to sneak either alcohol or cigarettes into the venue, or try to disappear into a secluded area for a “pash”. In that regard, schools have got to be on their guard, as they are responsible for the duty of care of students during such events.

On the other hand, I think that the administration of Ivanhoe Girls have a lot to answer for. Like it or not, Teenagers are sexual beings and no school should have the right to enforce either a sexual or gender identity upon students. As evidenced by medical science, hormones will often start influencing a child’s mind and body from the age of 10 onwards. By the time that they are 15, they normally have a firm grasp of what their sexual identity is and how they would like to pursue it. Everybody is born with a per-determined sexual and gender identity,and no amount of formal events or private education will ever change that.

In light of the recent spate of teen suicides amongst the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community in the US, it is crucial that we give all kids the same opportunities, regardless of their sexual, gender or ethnic identity. Soon after The Agepublished this story, Hannah’s father appeared on Melbourne radio via 3AW Breakfast, claiming that the school’s heterosexual students were allowed to attend the function with their dates, regardless of their age. Meanwhile, Ivanhoe Girls Grammar claimed that it was a co-educational, age-restricted event specifically for Year 11 students, where Girls are supposed to bring “Guests” rather than “partners”.

That raises the question: Is a student being open about themselves disruptive to the students around them, or is only disruptive to a conservative private school that requires Anglican donations to survive?

In many ways, Hannah’s story is just the latest battle of a war that’s being fought worldwide within the Anglican Communion over the issue of LGBT rights. If Ivanhoe Girls Grammar had allowed Hannah to take her date to their annual dance and dinner, many parents and alumni would have undoubtedly heard about it. That in turn would have resulted in a short-term drop in funding to the school, which for the school’s administrators would have been like having a nightmare for Christmas.

Furthermore, if Ivanhoe Girls Grammar had have truly wanted such an event to be co-educational, they could have made the function a co-educational event with an all-boys school within the Melbourne area, such as either Melbourne or Brighton Grammar for students between years 10 and 12. In doing so, neither straight or gay students would have been discriminated against, while students in a relationship (as well as supervising staff) would have been less likely to have been involved in any incidents. When you take all of this into consideration, the school’s argument that it was supposed to be a co-educational event without “partners” doesn’t hold water.

From a personal perspective, I think that Hannah’s story also highlights the level of institutionalized bullying within Australia’s academic system. As many of my regular readers would know, I am openly Transgender and have been so for the last 3 years. Having grown up within a conservative social environment where I wasn’t allowed to explore who I was as a person, I can say with certainty that having something forced upon you that doesn’t feel personally normal or natural can be extremely traumatic. A school should be a place where everybody feels safe, rather than alienated or abused.

I sincerely hope that the youth involved in this story both directly and inadvertently, haven’t been traumatized as a result of the school’s decision. Life is too short to be unhappy, and as even President Obama has said: “It Gets Better”.

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Kate Doak is a Postgraduate student at the University of New England, Australia. Since 2004 she’s changed career paths twice, genders once and has developed a major interest in radio. These days, Kate mostly focuses on Modern History and International Politics.  Kate tweets regularly on Twitter via @KateDoak



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Kate’s Corner ~ Being “Outted” in Australian Society

By Kate Doak.

As a young Transsexual woman, I’ve experienced what it’s like being “outted” to people in a way that doesn’t feel comfortable or safe. I’ve been bullied, sworn at, assaulted, lied to and ridiculed by others, purely because I’m supposedly something “different” to what they are used to. It’s not a pleasant feeling having somebody take control of your life in some way shape or form, and use it against you in order to suit their own ends.

As many of you within the Australian political tweets fraternity would know, a public servant who writes under the pseudonym “Grogs Gamut” was “outted” earlier this week by James Massola, who writes the “Capital Circle” column for “The Australian”. James Massola decided to publish Grogs Gamut’s real name under the supposition that Gamut is now a political figure, given his comments on media coverage of policy announcements during the recent Federal Election campaign, as well as his acceptance of an invitation to the recent Media 140 conference in Canberra. This last point is particularly strange given that there were numerous public servants at the conference.

James Massola has argued throughout the week since Gamut was “outted” that he did so with the interests of the public in mind. With arguments ranging from “the public should know when a public servant is biased”, through to “Grog put himself in this position”, James Massola has been gently stoking the flames within the volunteer and academic media, in order to promote the circulation of his own work online. That’s typical of most print journalists within the political confines of Canberra, as the more hits your stories are getting, either online or otherwise, the safer your job becomes.

James Massola has been claiming  that going after Grogs Gamut hasn’t been about getting revenge on a critic whatsoever. If you believe that line, then I’ve got a Pelican for sale that knows how to tap-dance as well. By it’s very nature, the Canberra Press Gallery is a conservative institution. Unlike many other parts of the media industry, change isn’t welcome to many of those who have clawed their way from obscurity into the nation’s limelight. Nor is criticism, especially when it’s constructive.

Ontop of that, James Massola would have had to of known that Grogs Gamut was invited to the Media 140 conference by it’s Australian convenor, Julie Posetti. Possessing one of the finest journalistic and academic minds around, Julie is nobody’s fool when it comes to anything of a political or media nature. If anyone were able to verify whether somebody has a political agenda or not, it would be a prominent Journalist, who just also happens to teach Journalism students for a living.

While Massola was well within his rights to “out” Grogs Gamut, was it the morally right thing to do so? Grog hasn’t lost his job (yet), so no harm done, right? It’s cavalier attitudes like this that either get people hurt, or end careers. In more than a few situations, it’s resulted in both. What would have happened if Grog had of lost his job over this? If you look through his entire blog, Grog has been meticulous in making sure that he only blogs on issues that are already in the public arena, and never on anything that could possibly come across his desk at work.

Around midday on Friday, James Massola did a live audio interview via a web-stream on “The Australian”’s website, with fellow Canberra Reporter Latika Bourke, and his editor, Geoff Elliot. In an attempt to justify the actions of “The Australian” over the past week, Massola said why he published details about Grogs Gamut, while Latika Bourke was coached into saying why she disagreed with some of the characteristics of online Bloggers. What followed to this “Journalistic Threesome”, was a diatribe as to why the “established” media were right on this issue, while everyone else, including journalism academics, are wrong.

What’s surprising is that no one with a Blogging background was included as a part of this broadcast, even though the topic was “Blogging” itself. While some might argue that Massola’s background with the pro-Catholic “Eureka Street” during his early career might qualify him as a blogger, there’s a difference between “writing for work” like journalists do, and “writing for fun”.

That in itself raises a question: why did James Massola and Geoff Elliot choose Latika M. Bourke to be a part of that interview? As many of you (from Australia that is) are aware Latika Bourke is employed by 2UE, which is owned by Fairfax. Fairfax owns both “The Sydney Morning Herald” and “The Age”, which are in direct competition with “The Australian”. Given that News Corporation have their own journalists who have just as much experience in Canberra as Latika (some of whom are also more experienced in social media), it’s surprising that she was called in for this “interview”.

Now if you listen closely to the recording, nearly every time James Massola said something Latika Bourke was in complete agreement. Now nothing against Latika Bourke, as I think that she’s one of the smartest young journalists to have covered Canberra in a long, long time, though something stinks about this. Latika Bourke is normally rather blunt with both her questions and her answers, so seeing her act pretty much as a “yes-man” to everything that Geoff Elliot and James Massola were saying is just plain weird.

During the conversation, I tweeted the following to James Massola which he then proceeded to read out on-air:

Massola then proceeded to state that I’d missed the point and that he’d praised Grogs Gamut during the early part of the campaign. While that much certainly is true (the praise), it doesn’t explain why he suddenly thought that Grogs Gamut was instantly newsworthy now. Media 140 is predominantly an education-orientated organization, rather than a professional one in the sense of the National Press Club. The conference run by Julie Posetti was designed to benefit both professional journalists and bloggers alike, regardless of politics. In that regard, Grogs Gamut had as much of a right to attend Media 140 as anyone else, particularly given the apolitical insight that he gave on the coverage of the 2010 election. If “outting” Grogs Gamut’s identity wasn’t newsworthy at the time of the election, then it can only come across as an act of spite by “The Australian” now.

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Kate Doak is a Postgraduate student at the University of New England, Australia. Since 2004 she’s changed career paths twice, genders once and has developed a major interest in radio. These days, Kate mostly focuses on Modern History and International Politics.