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Daniel Witthaus has spent the past two decades challenging homophobia one cuppa at a time in schools, rural communities and, occasionally, developing countries like Sri Lanka, Poland and Indonesia. He is the author of Beyond Priscilla: one gay man, one gay truck, one big idea… (2014), Beyond ‘That’s So Gay!’: Challenging homophobia in Australian schools (2010) and the Pride & Prejudice educational package (2002, 2012) – which won three Tasmanian schools Human Rights Week awards.
In 2013 Daniel founded the National Institute for Challenging Homophobia Education (NICHE), which focuses on the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people in regional, rural and remote Australia. NICHE has had success with both the YourStory cartoon series and the oi! challenging rural homophobia campaign.
In the rough and tumble of the northern suburbs of Geelong or, as I like to call them, The Bronx of Geelong. Dad was the local policeman, so most neighbours turned up on our doorstep at some stage.
After a physical start mowing the lawns and ovals at the local police station and primary school, I progressed to flipping burgers at a fast food chain. From there it’s been a blur of local government youth work before taking on training roles with Kids Help Line, VicHealth and the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission. In recent years I’ve worked in male family violence prevention, including a stint as Victoria’s White Ribbon Day Coordinator.
The need to address unnecessary silences; using the facts to demonstrate what is actually happening (as opposed to what we think is); focusing on practical, everyday action that everyone can take; encouraging people to air their concerns and name their resistance.
Right up there would be completing a 266-consecutive day drive around rural Australia to challenge homophobia one cuppa at a time. For almost five years I worked in developing countries as the Australian representative for GALE, the Dutch government-funded Global Alliance for LGBT Education. I was also pretty humbled to be short-listed for the 2005 Reebok International Human Rights Award.
My latest book, Beyond Priscilla is about my challenging homophobia tour of rural Australia. That followed my first book, Beyond ‘That’s So Gay!’, which is a practical guide for everyday teachers in schools based on almost 15 years of experience. My formally-evaluated resource for everyday classrooms, Pride & Prejudice, shifts student attitudes and behaviours (and students report it’s fun).
If you didn’t blink, you wouldn’t have missed my chapter in When Our Children Come Out (2005) and a co-written article in the Health Promotion Journal of Australia (2001).
For those with an international interest, I have a chapter in the first ever Japanese textbook on LGBT education for a national teacher training program. I also sit on the editorial board for the international Journal of LGBT Youth.
After seeing how homophobia – as a broad term – manifests itself across the world, I’m heartened and humbled that sharing everyday stories can, and does, change hearts and minds in any country, culture and climate. The drive of everything I do is to give people tools, strategies and stories that they can use in their everyday lives.
I’m semi-obsessed with tennis, and have won 6 medals at the World Out Games and Gay Games (3 gold, 1 silver and 2 bronze). During the three times I lived in Berlin I developed a second semi-obsession: exploring and photographing abandoned buildings, particularly in the former East.
It was with great pleasure that I had an opportunity to hear Daniel Witthaus speak about LGBTIQ issues facing our communities. With his reputation among the LGBTIQ community I was not surprised at his level of knowledge however I was surprised at how engaging and at ease he made me feel when approaching what many see including myself as an awkward topic and conversation. It is often a topic many are afraid of approach due to a lack of education, fear of doing something wrong or saying something wrong but during my time with Daniel this was a distant concern creating opportunities of open discussion and engagement.
We originally had Daniel booked for his well renowned student workshop at our up and coming conference, Family Friendly. Since I had the opportunity to hear him speak to an alternative audience we decided to re evaluate our speaking timetable to include a 30 minute segment from Daniel to an audience of school personnel. We believe he can provide a professional and clear perspective from the LGBTIQ community and in addition offer our audience an opportunity to safely explore ideas for implementation in their own youth environments.
Prior to Daniel’s presentation I had two groups of students – the openly homophobic students, and those who thought that being gay was not a big deal, and therefore why even consider it as a curriculum topic. Daniel was able to challenge many of the homophobic ideas, but also place a light on the difficulties that gay people encounter as part of Australian society. Daniel had a direct and engaging teaching style, which made the students active participants in his discussion. As you can imagine these students are difficult to engage, and are the students that often the mainstream education system has pushed aside or deemed as too difficult to have in a conventional classroom. It was a credit to Daniel that he was able to maintain their attention and engagement for the length of his presentation. Daniel gained the respect of students, who wanted to not only participate, listen to what he had to say, and offer their own experiences in relation to ‘coming out’.
Following Daniel’s visit I have not experienced any further comments of ‘that’s so gay’ – and I have discovered through recent classroom discussion and writing that even my most homophobic students have chosen to accept that gay people should have equal rights, regardless of their thoughts about their sexual behaviour. A big step in the right direction, and a performance that I hope to have Daniel repeat for me with future student cohorts.
I have faith in Daniel’s ability to change the homophobic views of Australian society one classroom at a time. Thank-you Daniel, one step in the right direction …..