Oh settle down, nobody said 50% of kids are gay

OPINION Journalists, opinion writers and commentators are up in arms this morning over reports that Roz Ward, one of the founders of the Safe Schools program, suggested that 50% of kids are gay.

Except Ward never said that at all.

The latest ‘clutch your pearls’ moment from the mainstream media began with a report from Rebecca Urban at The Australian.

Urban reported on a talk that Ward gave at Victoria University recently as part of Pride Week.

Urban highlights that Ward was critical of News Corp publications including The Australian over their coverage of the Safe Schools Coalition program and noted that Ward said the oft-quoted figure that 10% of people experience same-sex attraction was a joke, and it is more likely that up to 40-50% of young people experience some level of same sex attraction.

While the article reports the quote as being about same-sex attraction, the front page headline and social media posts report the news as ‘Up to half of all kids are gay’.

Over at another News Corp publication The Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt highlighted the article in his blog, with the title ‘Safe Schools Founder: Up to Half of Child are Gay’.

The grammatically questionable title left many on social media wondering which half of a child is the gay half?

Some suggested it was obvious that the left was far more likely to be the queer friendly side, while other quick-witted observers suggested that gay people were usually separated by being ‘tops’ and ‘bottoms’.

Bolt suggested that the latest claims attributed to Ward showed that the Safe Schools program was looking to be more of a recruitment drive than an anti-bullying program.

Bolt doesn’t really say what he thinks the program is recruiting children into; homosexuality? Being nice to each other? Respect for other people? He does however suggest that the program is leading to parents removing their kids from government schools and signing them up to a Catholic education.

Actually, Bolt says a third of children at Catholic Schools are now not Catholic, so given that children can be half gay, and only a third Catholic, this is beginning to sound a lot like one of those difficult maths questions from high school.

There is space in this debate for a totally wacko conspiracy proposal that the church is behind the anti-bullying program to bolster enrollments. If you want to go full tilt tin foil hat.

The Daily Mail has picked up the story describing Ward as a “Marxist lesbian academic”. We’re pretty sure that’s not what it said on their office door or business cards.

While The Daily Mail offers Academic who taught children they could choose their own gender in controversial Safe Schools program claims HALF of all kids are attracted to their own sex. as a title.

Within the first few lines it’s reduced to a claim that half of all kids are homosexual, rather than experience some level of same-sex attraction.

The Daily Mail says Ward’s reported quote that 50% of kids experience some level of same-sex attraction is a contradiction of figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics that show that only 0.7% of couples are homosexual.

Well I’m not sure how many school kids listed themselves as couples in the census, and it doesn’t take much knowledge of statistics to realise these two numbers are completely different things. In breaking news, surveys have found 100% of apples are not pears, and oranges are not the only fruit.

Neil Mitchell from Melbourne radio station 3AW has jumped on the bandwagon, quoting Ward as claiming that 40 – 50% of young people are gay or bisexual.

Mitchell spoke to LGBT councillor Matt Rogers who questioned the accuracy of the figure, but highlighted that studies can be very unreliable because people might not be comfortable reporting their sexuality.

Mitchell questioned if the Safe Schools program might have been funded over a claim that 40% of school kids were gay.

“Was the Safe Schools program structured on a basis that 40 to 50% are gay or bisexual?” Mitchell asked.

Figures about what percentage of the population are gay have often been disputed. A popular figure of 10% came out of the studies of Alfred Kinsey in the 1950’s. Other reports have put the figure as low as 2%.

It’s fair to say if you’re talking to a conservative body the number will be low, remember Queensland politician Bob Katter said there were no gay people in his electorate, and more recently the government of the Chechen Republic has denied the existence of all gay people in their region.

Every day there are arguments put forward against marriage equality, because there aren’t that many same-sex attracted people, and concern about bullying over sexuality is dismissed on the basis that there are more red-heads than queer kids.

Queer organisations are more likely to support figures that are on the higher end of the scale, the bias works on both sides of the fence.

Last year a study in the UK reported that 1 in 2 young Britons said they were not 100% heterosexual. The report found that younger people were more open about their sexuality, and more likely to acknowledge some level of bisexuality, or attraction to someone of the same gender.

The study was completed by 1,632 people, 60 per cent of heterosexuals and 73 per cent of homosexuals supported the idea that sexuality is a scale.

While older age groups saw sexuality as been ‘locked in stone’, younger people were far more likely to accept the idea that sexuality is fluid, may change over time and in different situations. The report was widely reported, in both the mainstream media and in the queer press.

As we understand more about sexuality and what percentage of people experience same-sex attraction there are serious implications.

As the level of homophobia, stigma, violence and bullying around sexuality is reduced it makes sense that more people are comfortable opening up about their same-sex attraction and experiences.

Increasingly we’re understanding that sexuality for many people can be fluid, at one point in our lives we might find ourselves attracted to a man or a woman. This is why it is important that people in the LGBTIQ communities be aware of bi-erasure, where bisexual people are dismissed as being confused and undecided, or treated as invisible.

Terms like ‘Gold Star Gay’ which denote a person who has only ever had sexual experiences with someone of the same gender, are also not helpful.

For decades the coming out process was seen as a one way street, but today an enlightened mind would recognise that sexuality is not as simple as gay, straight, bi. It is far more nuanced, adaptable, flexible and fluid. That’s why we need all those letters and many more.

While conservative voices and publications will freak out at the thought that 50% of people might at some point in their life find a person of the same sex attractive, the idea is also challenging for the queer community.

Religious groups will seize the idea that sexuality is fluid and argue that it’s just a phase, you haven’t met the right person yet, a little electro-shock therapy will help, solid prayer can save you. They will argue that we are not ‘Born This Way’, it opens the doors to the worst kinds of homophobia.

There are people who have previously identified as being gay and have gone on to find partners of the opposite gender, if they’re happy, good for them. But their pathway doesn’t have to be everyone’s pathway.

An intelligent discussion about sexuality has to acknowledge that sexuality is complex, different for each person and people’s lives are best supported when they are free of judgement, bullying and ridicule.

That’s what the Safe Schools program is. Not a recruitment drive to homosexuality, as education is a modern understanding of sexuality and mutual respect.

It’s important, because when 50% of young people at some point have the thought, ‘Hey! That girl or guy is cute, the next thought should be ‘and that’s okay’.

Graeme Watson


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