The NSW Anti-Discrimination Act states that it is unlawful for a school or college to discriminate against students based on their sexuality in any form, including via admission, denial of services or expulsion.
However, the law contains a caveat stating that none of these protections apply “in respect of a private educational authority,” effectively giving private religious schools full licence to discriminate against LGBTI students in whatever manner they deem appropriate. Greenwich’s bill would delete this caveat, bringing private schools into line with the rest of the state.
Greenwich said the issue was particularly acute in the inner city, which has a large LGBTI population but no public high school.
“The threat of expulsion for being who you are has a hugely negative impact on vulnerable LGBTI high school students. This is a major issue for the inner city – high school spots are already extremely limited and the growing numbers of LGBTI families in Sydney don’t need further restrictions placed on their schooling options,” Greenwich said.
While the government has not revealed its position on the proposed law, Attorney-General Greg Smith said he was open to reviewing religious exemptions in 2011.
“I personally think it is something that should be reviewed, looked at with a view to perhaps changing it. Times have changed,” Smith said at the time.
Religious exemptions from anti-discrimination laws have become a hot-button issue over the last 12 months, with equal rights advocates criticising the freedom they give private schools, hospitals and workplaces to refuse employment to LGBTI people or people of different faiths. Defenders of the exemptions such as Liberal Senator George Brandis argue that removing them would impinge on the right of people and institutions to freely exercise their religion.
Last month federal Parliament voted to remove exemptions allowing religious bodies to discriminate against elderly LGBTI people if they receive Commonwealth funding towards running nursing homes, despite opposition from some aged care providers and Coalition politicians.
Greenwich will introduce the bill when state Parliament resumes in August, and hopes it will go to a vote by the end of the year.