On November 23, a 13-year-old student of Aspley State High School in Brisbane took his own life after experiencing severe bullying, including physical assault, over his sexuality.
Tyrone Unsworth had suffered from homophobic bullying for years and was hospitalised a month earlier with severe injuries after he was violently assaulted with a fence paling.
Tyrone was not the only student at the school to experience bullying, but the cause of his bullying and subsequent death have reignited demands for a properly funded Safe Schools program.
Safe Schools is an anti-bullying program specifically designed to educate young people and create safer environments at school for young LGBTIQ people. But Tyrone’s school was unable to run the program after the federal government removed funding as a result of a concerted campaign by far right conservatives to remove the program and discredit people involved in creating it.
LGBTIQ people are more likely than their heterosexual and cis-gendered peers to experience poor mental health. According to a 2013 report, same-sex attracted Australians have up to 14 times more suicide attempts than their heterosexual peers and up to 50% of trans-gendered people have attempted suicide at least once in their lives.
Tyrone’s death is not the fault of the school, those who bullied him, or the parents of the kids who bullied him because homophobic attitudes and toxic masculinity are not confined to that school or those people alone.
Those attitudes and ideas are prevalent across all of society and just because we have a prime minister who marches at Mardi Gras and claims to be a friend of LGBTIQ people, does not mean that damaging views and ways of socialising people disappear.
Simply put, the Safe Schools program is needed to save the lives of young people who are most at risk. It is quite literally life or death.
It is time for other state governments to follow the lead of Victoria and fund the program. But it is also time for the community to show solidarity with those most at risk and demand the Safe Schools program be implemented in every school, demand marriage equality and demand a comprehensive properly funded Medicare system and more so that other 13-year-olds like Tyrone see some hope for the future.