The NSW Greens have called for a full inquiry into NSW laws that allow religious schools to discriminate against students and teachers on the basis of sexual orientation.
Greens MLC Cate Faehrmann said the case of a Melbourne school girl being banned form taking her girlfriend to the school formal highlighted the need to abolish clauses which exempt some education providers from anti-discrimination laws.
Fairfax reports today that 16-year-old Hannah Williams was forbidden by Ivanhoe Girls’ Grammar to take her (then) 15-year-old girlfriend to the formal because she was asked by the school to bring a male.
The school argued the formal was about creating a co-educational environment for the female students.
Williams’ father lodged a complaint with the Victorian Equal Opportunity Commission, alleging discrimination against his daughter because of her sexual orientation. The complaint went to mediation, however no resolution was found.
Williams has since changed schools to Swinburne Senior Secondary College, where she now attends with her girlfriend.
“Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. Here in NSW, the law allows some religious schools to openly discriminate against students and teachers on the basis of their sexual orientation. This is not acceptable,” Faehrmann said.
“The huge problem of homophobic bullying is exacerbated when some schools and teachers themselves are engaging in discriminatory behaviour.
“With same-sex attracted teenagers suffering abuse, depression and other mental health issues at many times the rate of other teenagers, the need for action on homophobia is urgent.
“What is clear is that this issue is more widespread and more damaging to young people than is given credit for here at Macquarie Street.
“A full inquiry is needed to give this issue the attention it deserves. The Greens believe there is more that the NSW Government can do and want a full and open investigation.
“I will move for a parliamentary inquiry after the next state election and hope to build multi-party support for both the inquiry, and any recommendations arising.”
Queer Melbourne youth group Minus18 co-convenor Micah Scott told Sydney Star Observer this morning the incident was worrying.
“This is a confident young girl who has the support of her parents and has the support [to go to] the Equal Opportunity Commission and if someone has all that support, and can’t actually convince the school not to discriminate, then what hope does someone who isn’t as confident as her,” Scott said.
“So while this is such a shocking story, I just can’t help but think about all those other kids who don’t have the confidence and how this example will affect them.”
Scott said the issue is a common one for same-sex attracted young people.
He said most commonly a student would quietly come out to a teacher and the teacher would try to encourage the student to keep their sexuality under wraps.
“A lot of teachers are aware that officially they can’t discriminate that blatantly, but we hear it all the time for a young person to be discouraged quite actively by the school,” he said.
Scott said the incident highlights the need for more schools to join the Government-backed state anti-homophobia initiative, the Safe Schools Coalition.
“I’ve heard a couple of people say, why do we need an organisation that focuses on creating safe spaces in schools when schools are already safe?
“I think this really highlights that young people are still discriminated against and how much that support is really needed.”
Minus18 will be in contact with Williams and her girlfriend to invite them to the next Minus18 dance event in Melbourne in December as honorary guests.