ADVOCATES for LGBTI youth have urged the NSW Government and school authorities to ensure that private schools provide a safe and inclusive environment for all students after a bill to overturn exemptions allowing faith-based private institutions to expel students for being gay or transgender was put on hold indefinitely.
A private member’s bill that was to be introduced by Sydney state independent MP Alex Greenwich to remove exemptions for private schools from parts of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act was shelved last week following reports the Coalition – whose support was required – would not be backing the bill.
Although Labor and the Greens had pledged their support for the changes, earlier this year Attorney-General Greg Smith ruled out a conscience vote for Coalition MPs.
Education Minister Adrian Piccoli told State Parliament last Wednesday that he was “moved and concerned” by some of the stories of discrimination shared by LGBTI students, and that while the government could not support the bill it would look to protect LGBTI students.
He said private schools and colleges could potentially be deregistered by the Board of Studies if they are found to be not providing a safe environment for LGBTI and other vulnerable students, such as pregnant teenagers or the disabled.
‘‘I urge anyone who has concerns about a school’s welfare policy to bring it to the attention of the Board where it will be investigated fully,’’ Mr Piccoli said.
Community Brave founder Rami Mandow (pictured), whose foundation aims to combat online bullying, homophobia, transphobia and youth suicide, told the Star Observer it was now up to government and education officials to follow through with their concerns.
“It is of extreme importance that all schools embrace a tolerant, accepting and non-discrimination environment for young people. Our schools are the seeds of our future – these are the generations that will become the politicians, the public servants, the doctors, the teachers,” he said.
“We must do everything in our power to remove any barriers to learning, any catalysts to bullying and provide them with the best opportunity to build the future with zero tolerance towards any form of discrimination.”
Mr Mandow said he would now watch with interest how the complaints system is used and monitored.
“I would be interested to see some results from the Board of Studies complaints system, but I can assure you that a LGBTIQ youth in a rural school may feel isolated and alienated from making a complaint – due to fear,” he said.
“We must remember that not all schools have the same level of acceptance towards these issues, as do the capital cities.”
Meanwhile, Mr Greenwich will work with groups including the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby and the Inner City Legal Centre to help students who have suffered discrimination make complaints.
“Private schools, including religiously-affiliated ones, are now on notice that the Board of Studies will investigate cases of discrimination against LGBTI and other vulnerable groups not protected by the NSW anti-discrimination laws,” he said.
“I will reintroduce my bill in parliament next year if the new Board of Studies process fails to protect vulnerable students from discrimination.”