Natalie and Colin’s story
Natalie came out as bisexual in year 11, and by her final year of school was an active member of Stand Out, her school’s LGBTIQA+ alliance group.
But being 18, out, and doing year 12 during the 2017 postal survey on same-sex marriage was difficult.
“Back in 2017, around the time of the plebiscite, everyone was divided at my school in a way I hadn’t really seen before,” she remembers.
As part of Pride Week, the students in Stand Out had organised an out-of-uniform day with a gold coin donation, to raise funds for a community organisation that supported gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
However, a group of students tore down posters advertising the no-uniform day and replaced them with posters saying Wear black to support the straights.
“Because of the divide that was happening around the plebiscite that year, people used it as an opportunity for anti-yes rhetoric, and things became a bit awful,” Natalie says.
Then it got even worse. “Some members of Stand Out were yelled at and insulted on campus. I had a student yell some awful things at me.”
The next day, Natalie chose to skip class. It was the first time she’d ever felt unsafe at school. “I felt scared because people knew that I was queer, and it seemed like people had been given a voice for hatred because of the plebiscite.”
Later that week, at a school open night, Natalie was approached by Vice Principal, Colin.
“Colin came and found me and apologised profusely for what had happened,” Natalie remembers. “He said, You hear stories of other schools where this happens and you think this will never happen here. I’m so sorry that I’ve allowed this to happen, how can I do better? What can I do to support you?”
Natalie was overcome with emotion. “When he apologised to me, I burst into tears. He had come to me in such a human way – he’d really reflected on what had happened, and asked me for guidance about it. It really meant a lot.”
In the weeks following, Colin rallied the rest of the teaching staff, and spoke at school assembly in support of queer rights. Soon the school was covered in posters that said I stand with my LGBT+ students.
“From all the teachers, there was a complete stamp-out,” Natalie remembers. “Suddenly non-supportive behaviour was not acceptable.”
Colin’s reaction was swift. “Some of our students at that time were very homophobic, transphobic and derogatory, and really detrimental to our student culture. The response from the school seemed obvious, that we had to jump on this,” he said.
“The most important thing was to be really clear, in every possible way, that homophobia, transphobia and hatred is just not OK on any level, especially in a school environment.”
The fast response from the school, and Colin’s humble and meaningful approach, meant the world to Natalie.
“It was great to have that support from teachers, and to know that even when students were being horrible, the administration had our back. That was really important to me. When people in positions of power speak out, they can save lives.”