Cory Bernardi’s decision to attack an Adelaide school for holding a charity ‘wear a dress day’ has backfired spectacularly, with Australians showering Craigburn Primary with more than $145,000 in donations.
In the process, Senator Bernardi also sparked a war of words with prominent gay comedian, Josh Thomas, over the school’s plans to hold a ‘Do it in a Dress’ event to raise money for the education of girls in Africa.
In a tweet, Senator Bernardi hit out at so-called “gender morphing” and included a link to the school’s event.
The Australian Conservatives leader also posted a survey on the party’s website, stating that a “South Australian primary school promoted a fundraiser saying young boys and male teachers should consider wearing a dress to school”.
But Thomas said the event was about “students trying to raise money for charity”.
“It has nothing to do with ‘gender morphing’,” he wrote on Twitter.
“Presumably Cory had basic comprehension skills. He read this and purposefully misrepresented the intent. Again: these are kids doing charity.”
Thomas said he would offer $2000 to the cause and encouraged his 400,000-plus Twitter followers to donate to the event.
As of 9.30pm on Thursday, the school had raised more than $125,992, well in excess of its initial goal of $900.
The controversy comes as Australians vote on same-sex marriage and with the ‘No’ campaign framing the debate as a referendum on issues such as sex education in schools.
The schools fundraising page for underprivileged girls: https://t.co/aDcziX8qVZ
I got emotional and upped my donation to $2000. Join! https://t.co/ZMPbLnzCaF
— Josh Thomas 🌈 (@JoshThomas87) September 20, 2017
The school declined to comment, citing Education Department guidelines, but parents offered support for the event on its ‘Craigburn Connections’ blog.
One parent, Mel, wrote: “So proud of our school community, this fundraiser has shown that kids can make a difference and voices no matter how small can change the lives of others across the world. Way to go Craigburn!”
Dorothy Alison, who described herself as the “proud grandparent of two boys at Craigburn”, said: “Put it in its context – girls worldwide miss out on education. That’s what the fundraiser is for!”
The school’s blog post on the fundraiser was briefly taken down before it was reposted online.
In the post, the school explained that the student leadership group had decided to replace the usual casual clothes day with a ‘Do it in a Dress’ campaign event.
Run by the charity One Girl, the ‘Do it in a Dress’ campaign has previously been taken up by workplaces, schools and university groups.
An earlier version of the post told students: “Of course, if you don’t feel comfortable wearing a dress you can just come in casual clothes.”
In an interview on ABC Radio Adelaide on Thursday, Senator Bernardi said the school had made the decision “in the hypersensitive time where we’ve got a same-sex marriage debate”.
“We’ve got people concerned about gender ideological training in schools, I think this is entirely inappropriate,” he said.
“As one parent put to me the other day, if your son doesn’t wear a dress to school are they demonstrating their lack of solidarity with the cause (poor girls in Africa), which is an admirable one.
“Why can’t kids just be encouraged to wear casual clothes and not be forced to change the time-honoured tradition in favour of what I think is a political statement.”
You mean like this? pic.twitter.com/PFIlhGPpKB
— kathmayer 💫 (@kathmayer) September 20, 2017
— Thomas John Jaspers (@thomasjohn86) September 20, 2017