Image Credit: Australian entertainer Magda Szubanski with Anna Brown and Lee Carnie from the Human Rights Legal Centre courtesy of the Human Rights Legal Centre.
Portions of the report from the Australian government’s Religious Freedom Review were leaked to Fairfax Media several weeks ago, shocking many Australians who didn’t know that non-state religious schools have the right to discriminate against LGBTI students and teachers.
The review into religious freedom was initiated after marriage equality was achieved last year, to appease coalition government conservatives who oppose equality. Those conservatives, including Prime Minister Scott Morrison, want to create a “license to discriminate” against LGBTI people with new laws protecting religious freedom.
After the report leaked, Morrison initially supported this right to discriminate, however he later bowed to pressure and partially backtracked. He released a statement last Saturday October 13 saying that the government would amend the Sex Discrimination Act to remove the right of religious schools to discriminate against students based on their sexuality.
“Our government does not support expulsion of students from religious non-state schools on the basis of their sexuality,” the statement said.
“I will be taking action to ensure amendments are introduced as soon as practicable to make it clear that no student of a non-state school should be expelled on the basis of their sexuality."
Opposition leader Bill Shorten had reportedly written to Morrison on Friday 12th October, urging him to amend outdated anti-discrimination laws.
According to The Australian Shorten wrote: “These exemptions are anachronistic and are a denial of the dignity of children at any time." He also called on Morrison to release the full religious freedom report before the Wentworth byelection, which will be held this Saturday.
50 LGBTI groups, leaders and allies are now urging the government to go further and commit to protecting the rights of LGBTI teachers and trans and gender diverse children in schools.
“Australians voted for fairness and equality this time last year, not discrimination against LGBT people. Kids in schools should be worrying about classes and their homework, not living in fear of mistreatment because of who they are," said Anna Brown, director of legal advocacy with the Human Rights Law Centre and co-chair of the Equality Campaign.
“All children should be accepted for who they are at school. Every person should be able to do their job without having to hide who they are. Every school should be inclusive of all types of families. We should all be able to access publicly available services free from discrimination.”
“The very genesis of this inquiry was the deeply flawed idea that equality for LGBTIQ people somehow poses a threat to religious freedom. We reject this utterly, and remain concerned that conservative religious forces within the Coalition will be extracting their ‘price’ for marriage equality. There should be no price paid for equality.”
The Equality Campaign, Rainbow Families Victoria and Alex Greenwich MP collected stories from LGBTI students and teachers who have been subjected to discrimination or exclusion at religious schools and presented these stories to MPs in Canberra on October 17th.
Here is the experience of a former student from a Catholic Marist college. It is heartbreaking to know that teachers in a position of trust are able to inflict such hatred on vulnerable young people in their care.
“My peers' reaction to my sexuality was expected, losing friends, everyone hating me, girls feeling weird around me in the PE change rooms, people pointing and laughing at me, teachers on duty doing nothing and telling me "kids will be kids", but when my English Teacher also discriminated against me for my sexuality, I was shocked.
She had asked the class to write an essay on anything we felt passionate about as practice for our year 10 certificate, I chose a topic about equality for gay people. Before I even put pen to paper she asked me what I was doing and I told her. She called me up to her and told me that I was disgusting and that I will never be allowed to write anything like that in her classroom. She looked me in the eyes and told me that not only was I disgusting but I was a disgrace to the school and to my Catholic religion.
I said nothing while she was yelling at me, but when she was done I said "I believe love is love, regardless of gender". She instantly yelled at me to get out. She took me outside and screamed at me further until she got my year coordinator's attention, she told him what happened and he took me to his office where he told me, "You're skating on thin ice, and I don't know if we should let you into Senior School".
In my religion class shortly after, we each had to write a speech on bullying. I chose to not do my speech on statistics and how bad it is like everyone else, my speech was about my peers, what it's like to go from getting A's to being depressed and getting E's and I spoke about my experience with my English teacher. Three quarters of the way through I broke out into tears in front of my class and by the end of that term I had left the school. I'd had enough. I now work in retail and have no shot at becoming the psychologist that I wanted to be.
That school was a constant hell from year eight when my sexuality got out until the day I left, and now the rest of my life will reflect that school's actions, or should I say lack of actions to help me.
I know that it is too late for me to do anything; I know that I am now stuck in retail, but I am not writing this for myself ... The laws need to be changed; I wouldn't wish this on anyone.”