The feisty conservative columnist for Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, Miranda Devine, had a bucket tipped over her by Media Watch last night. But the ABC show failed to knock her out of the ring. Instead they confirmed essential details in her story, giving her a win or a draw, but inflicting real damage on the anti-Safe Schools Coalition cause she has been championing.

It has been a classic media stoush. Beginning with a Daily Telegraph front page, “School bans girls” with the kicker (smaller headline) “Teachers told to talk gender neutral”.

Devine’s story began: “Teachers at a leading Sydney all-girls school have been asked to stop calling students “girls”, “ladies” or “women”, but to use “gender-neutral” language instead.”

In the days that followed, the school – Cheltenham Girls High – and the NSW Education Minister issued denials as detailed by Media Watch. “The school has not, and will not, change the way students’ gender is referred to,” read a statement by the school on Facebook last week.

“No member of the school staff has ever been directed, or requested, to refrain from using terms such as ‘girls’, ‘ladies’, ‘women’ or other gender specific terminology when addressing students or staff,” said the NSW Department of Education in an email to Media Watch.

However, a teacher from the school confirmed to Media Watch that there was a meeting at which “a request was made, they claim, it was by a junior teacher.

“And that it only suggested gender-neutral language be used where students requested it.

“It was not endorsed by the school.”

Devine tweeted today: “The gender-neutral truth from a most unlikely source.”

I think she means Media Watch. She adds extra detail in her column:

So Devine’s story – the bit she wrote – actually holds up, but not the headline. Call it even.

“At that staff meeting last term, two teachers leading the implementation of Safe Schools at CGHS instructed their colleagues on what was expected of them under the program, as explained in the Safe Schools resource “All of Us”, which states: ‘Gender: Where possible, avoid using gendered terms. For example, use words like ‘workforce’ instead of ‘manpower’, and ‘police officer’ instead of ¬‘policeman’. Phrases like ¬‘ladies and gentlemen’ or ‘boys and girls’ should be avoided.’ Gender-neutral language is integral to the Safe Schools program so it is no surprise CGHS teachers were asked to use it.”

As a colleague for a short time of Devine’s, I found her to be a very careful and conscientious journalist – as well as a highly opinionated one.

So Media Watch and Miranda Devine agree that there was a meeting. Teachers were asked to use gender-neutral language at least some of the time (we are not sure how much).

So Devine’s story – the bit she wrote – actually holds up, but not the headline. Call it even.

This sadly is not the first time that conservative Christians wanting to talk to a school about the Safe Schools Coalition have been outflanked by abusers.

This column has sympathy for using the personally preferred pronoun for transgendered people. It’s what I have done for decades, because it is simply polite. It is not the bit of the Safe Schools Coalition that is the most difficult for conservative Christians.

Eternity republished our story on children “made to feel like they are the enemy” because they don’t wear purple on ‘Wear It Purple Day’, for example. We were accused of making that story up. We did not.

All people deserve respect, not just the ones you are most in sympathy with on this issue.

But respect was lacking in the emails to the school principal that Media Watch published. For example:

“…full of sicko dyke and poof indoctrinators – LEAVE OUR KIDS ALONE! — Email to Susan Bridge, Principal, Cheltenham Girls High School

“Once again caving in to the minority of the hairy underarm lesbians and skinny little gay boys of lbgti or safe schools!” — Email to Susan Bridge, Principal, Cheltenham Girls High School

This sadly is not the first time that conservative Christians wanting to talk to a school about the Safe Schools Coalition have been outflanked by abusers.

Last week Scott Stephens, editor of the ABC’s Religion and Ethics website, made the point that the same-sex marriage plebiscite debate was already too toxic for a reasonable “no” campaign to be made or heard. Media Watch has underlined his case.

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