NSW Education Minister bans schools from screening gay film

A still from the film Gayby Baby Photo: Gayby Baby Students at Burwood Girls High School are among those who participate in the Proud Schools program. Photo: Janie Barrett

Comment: Burwood Girls High School students find hypocrisy in debate

The NSW Education Minister, Adrian Piccoli, has banned every public school in the state from screening a documentary about children with gay parents during school hours.

On Wednesday afternoon Mr Piccoli issued a memo to the state’s principals ordering them not to show the film Gayby Baby so as “to not impact on the delivery of planned lessons”.

Up to 50 schools across Australia, including 20 in NSW had organised a simultaneous broadcast of the film as part of a nationwide Wear it Purple day campaign of sexual inclusion in schools.

A spokeswoman for the minister said he did not object to the content of the largely crowd-funded film.

She said the decision was taken to avoid students missing out on class and that screening the film may be considered if it is an integral part of the planned curriculum for an age appropriate year group.

The state-wide ban comes after the Minister personally intervened to prevent Burwood Girls High in Sydney’s inner-west screening the film to 1200 students on Friday morning, in the wake of a front page Daily Telegraph story about the controversy on Wednesday.

Fairfax Media understands four emails from parents were sent to the school expressing concern about the screening.

The film’s director, former Burwood Girls High student Maya Newell, said that minister’s decision had sent the wrong message to children who may be feeling ostracised.

“This is a film about kids who are growing up, they just happen to have gay parents,” she said. “The minister could have told all these families that they are equal and respected. He chose not to do that.”

Mr Piccoli has previously been a vocal supporter of programs that target homophobia, transphobia and heterosexism.

Wear it Purple day founder Katherine Hudson said she could understand the film being banned if it showed “grotesque sex scenes or violence”.

“But this is a film about families. Even for conservatives, this stuff would be easy to swallow,” she said.

On Tuesday the film screened inside NSW Parliament as part of the opening for the LGBTI ( lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) friendship group at the state legislature, after sell-out sessions at the Sydney Film Festival, and in Canada and New Zealand.

The ban follows complaints from some parents and religious groups including the Presbyterian church, which criticised the school for planning to screen a film which “promotes a gay lifestyle”.

Sydney MP Alex Greenwich said the minister’s decision to prevent the film from being shown during school hours was “absurd and deeply disappointing”.

“From a personal perspective, if I had seen a film that showed that gay and lesbian people can have loving and stable families and are just as normal as everyone else, that would have a positive and profound impact on my confidence and self identity.

“It is not a controversial film. It just shows that rainbow families are just as normal as any other,” he said.

The NSW Department of Education guidelines on film screenings do not prohibit showing films with homosexual themes and advise that films with an M+ rating can be shown at the discretion of the principal. Gayby Baby has been rated PG.

The department’s policy on controversial issues maintains schools should avoid creating “arenas for opposing political views or ideology”.

On Wednesday the NSW Premier Mike Baird said he did not believe the film belonged in the classroom.

“I think tolerance is a good thing. But I think there should be some parameters around it,” he said. “This is something that can be provided but done outside class time.”