Stories of first-hand discrimination experienced by young gay students at religious private schools have been released this week by Independent Sydney MP Alex Greenwich, following a call-out for submissions on a proposed bill to end the discrimination of LGBTI people and others afforded to private education providers.
Greenwich is expected to formally introduce the Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Private Educational Authorities) Bill 2013 for debate later this year. The Bill’s intention is to make private schools and education institutions subject to the same laws that make discrimination unlawful in public schools.
Currently, faith-based schools and other private education institutions receive exemptions under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 on all grounds but race, allowing them to deny entry to students who are gay or lesbian, transgender, single, too old or pregnant, or refuse to teach them because of a characteristic.
After receiving permission, Greenwich has openly published two letters sent to him by a young gay man and woman who detailed their recent experiences of discrimination when students at private Christian schools.
One submission, sent in by a young man referred to as Adam L, discusses his time in Year 12 in 2007 and the reaction of his school after teachers discovered he was gay.
“I was in Girlfriend magazine with a coming out story and because of that I was asked with my partner to make an appearance on Sunrise,” Adam L wrote.
“Because of these media appearances, students and teachers at my school found out I was gay. This didn’t go down well.
“It was six weeks before my HSC and they set up a meeting with me and my mother to talk to them about the ‘issue’ of my sexuality. I was called up to the office, in tears, with two teachers, the assistant principal and my mother.
“We were up there for over an hour talking about what I had done, why I did it and who I was.”
Adam L then recounted how he was then forbidden by the school to talk about his sexuality, barred from involving his partner at any school-related events and also forced into weekly counselling sessions.
“I contemplated leaving the school and seeing the counsellor was the hardest part. Knowing who I was, and having the school make me try to ‘fix’ myself wasn’t easy. Growing up with a very supportive family, I didn’t think I needed to be ‘fixed’,” Adam L wrote.
“Even in our Bible Studies class I recall hearing ‘if you are a homosexual you are going to hell’.”
Another submission from Beci Jay, a young lesbian woman, recalled how she was forced to leave her school because a teacher who she thought she could trust lied to school officials about her behaviour soon after she came out.
“Because I trusted one of my teachers I sat her down and told her about my feelings. But rather than help me, she told the principal … a lie about how she’d seen me engaged in a sexual act with a girl on the bus,” she wrote.
“I was absolutely indignant and so hurt. In the end I was asked to leave the school because after they outed me to my parents my parents supported me and not their homophobia. Apparently, our ‘values’ didn’t align with their ‘values’.”
The troubling incident and reaction by the school led Jay down a spiralling path of self-destructive behaviour, which culminated in an attempt of self-harm.
“My parents saw what nobody should ever have to see – their 16-year-old daughter unconscious on her bedroom floor with a pile of empty pill bottles on the shelf,” Jay wrote in the submission.
“Why, then, should any school have the right to expel gay students? A student generally doesn’t decide which school they go to and they certainly don’t decide to be gay.”
Other submissions sent in by members of the LGBTI community, however, questioned whether the Bill in its current form will be able to achieve its aims.
One Sydney-based gay rights activist told the Star Observer that while he supported Greenwich’s proposed reforms, there was a chance the Bill’s current wording did not give it enough scope to deal with s56 of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977, which allows faith-based private institutions to discriminate against certain groups so as “to avoid injury to … religious susceptibilities”.
“I note that the Bill simply removes those provisions of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1997 which provide a specific right to discriminate,” the activist wrote in his submission.
“However, the Bill does not amend or seek to repeal the catch-all section which provides exceptions to religious organisations to discriminate – and that is found in section 56(d) which states: ‘Nothing in this Act affects: (d) any other act or practice of a body established to propagate religion that conforms to the doctrines of that religion or is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of the adherents of that religion’.”
The Star Observer understands Organisation Intersex International Australia has also shared its concerns on whether the amendments will go far enough to protect intersex students from discrimination.