The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

The Safe Schools Program Part 2, or, these are not the numbers you’re looking for

One of the earliest problems I encountered during my actuarial degree was being surrounded by nerds. Oh, and also, the Birthday Problem.

There are a few different ways to formulate the problem, but at the time, it was presented to us as:

If you’re at a party, how many people need to be there for there to be a 50% chance that two guests will have the same birthday?

The first answer that might spring to mind is that, since there are 365 days in a year (well, most years), you would need about half that many people to have a 50% chance of two people having the same birthday – so, around 182 people. That is wrong. By a lot.

The correct answer is actually 23. That’s right, you only need 23 people at a party to have a 50% chance that two of the guests have the same birthday. I won’t go through the calculation, because this post is boring enough already, but it basically comes down to combinatorics. Each time someone arrives at the party, there is a chance that they have the same birthday as someone already there. Thus, the second person who arrives has lots of alcohol to choose from, but also has only one other person to compare birthdays to. By the time the 10th person arrives, however, all the good alcohol is gone, and there are nine people who could have the same birthday. In short, the higher the number of people already there, the greater the chance that the next person who arrives won’t find a drink, but will find a matching birthday.

Keep this in mind for later.

Another interesting fact is that any party where this birthday-checking thing happens has a zero percent chance of being fun. I assume I don’t need to explain that one… suffice to say we all learned a valuable lesson at our first end of exams party.
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In my last post, we learned that over-stating the proportion of LGBTIQ people can make some people a little upset. The official Safe Schools Introductory Guide tells us that:

  • 10% of students are same-sex attracted;
  • 4% of students are gender diverse or trans; and
  • 1.7% of students are intersex.

Some people really hate that 10% figure. Like renowned statistical phenomenon Bill Meuhlenberg, who tells us that “the ten per cent figure has always been a big lie” and “homosexual activists have confirmed [it] to be a case of deliberate deception”. But why does it matter? Well, as Bill points out:

If the homosexual lobby is willing to use faulty statistics to support its cause, just how reliable is it in other areas?

Bill doesn’t provide an answer, but Murray Campbell has similar concerns about the proportion of intersex people. Apparently, “gauging accurate numbers for sexuality and gender is near impossible”. Even so, Safe Schools claims the proportion is around 1 in 60, while “the American Psychological Association suggests the figure to be about 1 in 1,500”. Ouch. Murray suggests that this is like “a political party taking 10 polls, publishing the one that is favourable and deleting the 9 which are less supportive”. The cynic in me says that a better analogy would be that it’s like ignoring countless free polls showing that 70% of Australians support marriage equality and asking to hold another poll that will give the same result but cost $160m and then ignoring that poll too. But the cynic in me also seems to be trying to derail my own post, so I’m going to ignore him.

In any event, Murray informs us that:

This kind of misrepresentation of facts and science straight away raises questions about the legitimacy of [the] program.

Indeed.

Keep this in mind for later, too.
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And by later I mean now.

Apparently, much like never seeing your parents having sex, getting the proportion right is not only near impossible, but also impossibly important. Because if those LGBTIQ people can’t even tell us how many of them there are, how can we trust them enough to believe anything they tell us? They could tell us that we need to, oh I don’t know, run an anti-LGBTIQ bullying program in schools, and we might end up spending millions of dollars saving fewer people from suicide than we thought we could. Let’s be honest, no one wants that.

But if we can’t trust the LGBTIQ community to give us the true state of affairs, who can we trust? Who can we turn to, to assess the legitimacy of the Safe Schools program? Happily, Bill and Murray, but definitely not Bill Murray, show us the way – if we can’t trust the people who don’t give us the true statistics, all we need to do is trust the people who do. You know, like the people who told Murray the proportion of intersex people.

The American Psychological Association.

Let’s ask them about the legitimacy of the Safe Schools program.

Tim: “Tell me, APA, do LGBTIQ people get bullied?”
APA: “Well, Tim, I’m glad you asked. Lesbian, gay and bisexual people encounter extensive prejudice, discrimination and violence because of their sexual orientation.”
Tim: “Trans people have it pretty easy though eh? Just look at Caitlin. She was in a magazine!”
APA: “No Tim, many transgender people are the targets of hate crimes. They are also the victims of subtle discrimination—which includes everything from glances or glares of disapproval or discomfort to invasive questions about their body parts.”
Tim: “So what you’re telling me is that LGBTIQ people are just a bit precious?”
APA: “No, Tim. The widespread prejudice, discrimination, and violence to which LGBTIQ people are often subjected are significant mental health concerns. Sexual prejudice, sexual orientation discrimination and antigay violence are major sources of stress. Although social support is crucial in coping with stress, antigay attitudes and discrimination may make it difficult for LGBTIQ people to find such support.”
Tim: “Yeah OK, but it’s all a mental disorder anyway, isn’t it?”
APA: “No, LGBTIQ orientations are not disorders. Research has found no inherent association between any of these sexual orientations and psychopathology. Both heterosexual behavior and homosexual behavior are normal aspects of human sexuality.”
Tim: “All right, fine! But they make shït parents, and shouldn’t be allowed to have a family.”
APA: “Studies of personality, self-concept, and behavior problems show few differences between children of LGBTIQ parents and children of heterosexual parents.”

Damn you, APA, damn you to hell. I can still use your statistics on LGBTIQ incidence, though… right? Please?
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Turning to the proportions themselves, there are obviously a wide range of studies that show a wide range of values. Conveniently, people like Bill and Murray, but definitely not Bill Murray, only ever manage to stumble across the studies that confirm the view they already hold. Surprise, surprise, they also like to use measures that distort the picture to suit their needs. Statistics like “only 1% of people achieved orgasm with a member of the same sex in the last year”, or “only 0.002% of people named Sarah have müff-dived with someone named Nancy”.

I can do that, too. Manipulate statistics to suit my agenda I mean, not müff-dive with Nancy. For example, a quick look at Wikipedia will tell you that:

  • A 2011 survey of 7,725 Italians found that only 77% of people identified as heterosexual;
  • A similar study in Britain in 2009 found that 9% of people identified as non-heterosexual.
  • In an update to this study in 2015, only 72% of all adults identified as totally heterosexual.

Who to believe?

In terms of the Safe Schools program itself, however, there is one aspect of the debate on which people like Bill and Murray (and probably Bill Murray) are suspiciously silent. All the studies they quote attempt to determine the proportion of LGBTIQ people in society as a whole. A society in which the vast majority of people were raised to believe that being anything other than a gender-normative heterosexual was a very, very bad idea. A society in which people might be a little reluctant to admit their sexuality and gender identity to themselves, much less to a stranger conducting a telephone survey. A society in which each generation is a little more liberal than the last. And, returning to the 2015 study above, a society in which 72% of all adults identify as totally heterosexual, but when you look at the 18-24 age bracket, only 46% do.

Which is why Safe Schools based their 10% figure on a survey of Australian secondary students by La Trobe University.

All this leads us to two very obvious, and very important, observations:

  1. More and more young people are identifying as LGBTIQ; and
  2. There are still a shïtload of people out there who are going to hate them for it.

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The best part of all this talk of proportions is that it doesn’t even matter. I love it when that happens.

Because even if we accept the figures provided by people like Bill and Murray (but definitely not Bill Murray), it in no way invalidates the Safe Schools program.

If society is a party, and we are the guests, and instead of comparing birthdays, we compare our various levels of male- and femaleness, and hetero- and homosexuality, and acceptance and bigotry, there is an extraordinarily high probability that someone who is just trying to be themselves will encounter someone who wants to make them feel shït about it. And if that happens often enough, there is a very good chance that the person who is just trying to be themselves won’t want to be themselves anymore, and will think suicide is a good way to make that happen.

And it doesn’t matter if the proportion is 1 in 10, or 1 in 365. Given the number of people at the party, there’s a very good chance it will happen eventually.

I don’t know about you, but I think it’s a risk that’s just not worth taking.

The Safe Schools Program Part 1, or, Why Anglican ministers should study stats… stat

You may have heard recently that there has been a bit of a kerfuffle about the Safe Schools Program. For those who don’t know what that is, Google defines a kerfuffle as “a commotion or fuss, especially one caused by conflicting views”. Google also tells us that the Safe Schools Program is an initiative that aims to make life a little easier for LGBTIQ students in Australian schools. Or, in the words of the people who actually run the program, it seeks to provide:

a suite of free resources and support to equip staff and students with skills, practical ideas and greater confidence to lead positive change and be safe and inclusive for same sex attracted, intersex and gender diverse students, staff and families.

School can be a tough place, and never more so than for those who are a little different. School kids have an extraordinary gift for spotting someone who is a little different, and an almost supernatural talent for making them feel like absolute cräp for it. One country’s different is another country’s normal, but if you’re reading this and you’re Australian, you know who I’m talking about.

Rangas.

Also, anyone who isn’t thin, white, middle-class, or good at sports. But it’s not quite that simple. Sometimes, you even get bullied for being too good at sports. Mostly if that sport is golf. And, just to make things extra confusing, the reasons people are bullied can change over time. Terrence’s Shirley Bassey impersonation went down a treat in Kindergarten… in high school, not so much.

Haha, very funny. Right?

No. Not even a little bit.

Bullying is a scourge on our collective character, and a major, if not the biggest, contributor to youth depression and suicide. And today in Australia, one of the easiest ways to find yourself on the path to depression and suicide is to have the apparent misfortune of being gay, lesbian, transgender or intersex. The Suicide Prevention Resource Center analysed a number of studies on LGBTI suicide rates, and estimated that between 30% and 40% of LGBTIQ youth have attempted suicide. And a study by the US government found that LGBTIQ youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. Just stop and think about that for a second. Between 30% and 40%. Four times more likely.

This stuff doesn’t just happen in a vacuum. LGBTIQ kids aren’t just mopey little whiners who need a cement pill. They’re pretty much exactly like the rest of us, except for the fact that society loves to remind them that they’re not.

Once you understand all that, the Safe Schools Program starts to make a little bit of sense.

Well, unless your name is Cory Bernardi. Or David Ould. [EDIT: David Ould is approximately 100 times better than Cory Bernardi].
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Some of you may have seen the excellent 2014 SBS series called Living With the Enemy. If you didn’t see it, it was a six part series that explored “the fault lines of social cohesion in Australia”, with each episode exploring “a different topic dividing Australian opinion by asking people to live with others whose lifestyles and beliefs directly contradict their own”.

One such fault line was marriage equality, and one such person with a contradictory lifestyle was an Anglican minister by the name of David Ould. As part of the show, David was required to not only live with, and attend the wedding of, Michael and Gregory, but to also host them in his own home (or at least, in a caravan on his driveway). I was lucky enough to know Michael, and was at his house during filming, where I met David and spoke with him for some time. We ended up keeping in touch, and he was nice enough to ask me around to his house for dinner, where I met his delightful family, and we spent some time discussing marriage equality.

My friend Michael will probably not like me saying this, but I like David. I find him interesting, and easy to talk to, and I genuinely believe that his heart is in the right place.

But that doesn’t mean he has any idea about statistics.
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David has a blog, which is almost as good as this one, and in his latest post, he addresses the Safe Schools Program, or more specifically, whether or not it is justified, based on the number of LGBTIQ students in Australian schools. The Safe Schools coalition, it seems, has been lying about how many LGBTIQ students there actually are. Their website claims 10% of students are LGBTIQ. David Ould says otherwise, via a Baptist minster named Murray Campbell. Murray is happy to admit that determining the proportion of LGBTIQ people “is near impossible”, but nevertheless feels confident enough to tells us that, while

Safe Schools want us to believe that 10% of the population have same-sex attraction, most scientific studies put the figure under 4% (and that includes bisexual people), and other research suggests even lower.

Helpfully, David provides some stats of his own, sourced from a recent commercial from Medibank Private, which you can watch for yourself below.

David did some analysis, and concludes that Medibank is trying to tell us in a “subtle way” that “30% of households with children are same-sex households”. He bases that 30% figure on a number of observations:

  1. There were, on a rough count, 10 various households with children.
  2. Single-parent families, who make up about a quarter of Australian families with children, only got one clear representative in the video.
  3. Of the ten families three were clearly same-sex.

I have to say, it looks a little damning for Medibank. Based on those observations, it really does look like they are trying to tell us that 30% of households with children are same-sex households. That’s clearly not true, so it made me wonder what else they got wrong, and I did a little analysis of my own:
Medibank stats

Based on my analysis, there were two households with children that didn’t have any parents whatsoever. I can only conclude that Medibank is trying to claim that 22% of Australian children are currently living out their dream of starring in a real life Lord of the Flies.

One of the nine families with children had four children. That’s 11%, compared to only 5% of Australian families having four or more children. Medibank is trying to convince us that there are way more four child families than there actually are. I can’t believe they would do such a thing.

That’s not the worst of it though. The worst thing I found was that 100% of the children in baths were really happy. And we all know that can’t be true.

I like this style of analysis. I wonder if I can turn it around, and analyse David’s analysis?

David claimed that there were 10 households with children. I counted exactly nine. He did say it was a rough count though, so perhaps I can forgive him.

David also claimed that there was only one single parent family. There were actually three, which puts David out by 200%. Hmm.

Finally, David said that there were three same-sex families in the video. There were actually only two, which puts David’s figure out by 50%.

Based on these results, and applying David’s own analysis technique, I am free to conclude that 67% of anything David tells us is wrong. Very, very wrong.
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That’s probably not fair though, is it? I’ve based that off only one of David’s blog posts, and one is hardly ever a good sample size. In fact, pretty much the only time that a sample size of one has any kind of statistical significance is when you survey yourself to find out what you want for dinner. To get a better indication of the true state of affairs, you should probably take the largest sample size you can. Like, perhaps, every television commercial and print ad from the last 100 years.

LGBTIQ people have been living in the shadows for a long time, and have only recently started poking out their heads for some time in the sun. Unfortunately, some people in our society see a gay head poking out, and have a desperate need to smack it back down, like some giant, real-life game of wack-a-mole. Apparently, lots of people would rather pretend that LGBTIQ people don’t exist. Don’t believe me? Just look at some of the YouTube comments on the Medibank video:
Medibank YouTube comments

Is it any wonder that a program like Safe Schools is needed, and 30% to 40% of LGBTIQ people attempt suicide? Given how long LGBTIQ people have had to hide in shame, is it really that hard for us to see them in a frikken health insurance commercial?

Besides, isn’t the bigger concern the high number of children who live in families with no parents at all? Shouldn’t we check how they’re paying their mortgages? Can we send someone over to make them eat their vegetables?

Or maybe, just maybe, we could stop for moment, relax, and recognise that there are people out there who want to end their lives because our society has told them that being themselves isn’t good enough. And maybe there are a few things we could do to help. Like give them a little recognition, in a single, 30 second commercial, in amongst the millions of commercials that have completely ignored their existence. Because maybe, just maybe, that will give a few people a better chance at being happy.

I don’t think that’s a lot to ask.