Schools need to be ‘sensitive to the wishes and needs of all students’, the WA Education Minister Elizabeth Constable has said.
The comments come after more than 40 past and present students of St Mary’s Anglican Girls School launched an online campaign to allow same-sex attracted girls to take their partners to school formals.
Former St Mary’s student and campaigner Janey Hakanson graduated in 2002 and was told then that it would be ‘inappropriate’ to take same-sex partners to the school formal.
“My experience was myself and a group of other girls wanted to take other girls to the year 12 ball – some as partners and some as friends,” the 26-year-old told the Star Observer.
“Any kind of discussion that we can begin by this is great … it definitely was not meant to come across as targeting one school or one student; it’s a much broader issue.”
WA Equal Opportunity Commissioner Yvonne Henderson said schools were not allowed to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and were not exempt from the Equal Opportunity Act 1984.
“Sexual Orientation discrimination in the area of education is unlawful under the Act.” Henderson said.
The Commissioner said ‘less favourable treatment’ like being refused a service on the grounds of sexual orientation was ‘direct discrimination’. However, the Commissioner also said there were certain exemptions in place for religious bodies.
Constable said she would be ‘very concerned’ if the Equal Opportunity Act had been breached.
“My personal view is that schools need to be sensitive to the wishes and needs of all students,” Constable said.
“School balls should be inclusive, positive and fun experiences for all students.”
But Gay and Lesbian Equality (GALE) WA co-convener Kitty Hawkins said schools had an obligation to ensure there students were well looked after, regardless of the religious dogma they may adhere to.
“As far as I’m concerned, if you’re receiving government funds, then you should be subject to the exact same rules as everyone else,” Hawkins said.
St Mary’s Anglican Girls School declined to comment.
By BENN DORRINGTON