In a case that reveals that existing anti-discrimination laws do not offer any protection to LGBTQI+ people who work in religious schools, Covenant Christian School located on Sydney’s north shore sacked teacher Steph Lentz after she came out as lesbian.
“I was an English teacher at the school from January 2017 until January 2021 when I was dismissed, ” Lentz told Star Observer.
Lentz dismissal was handed down in January 2021 via a written letter, which first praised Lentz for her teaching but went on to add that she had failed to affirm the school’s Statement of Belief, including the “immorality” of homosexuality.
“Do you have a firm personal belief that all the beliefs contained in Section 6 “Response to the Gospel” in “The Foundation Statement” are true including that “Believers will also seek to use their bodies to honour God and will flee all sexual immorality, including sexual relations outside of marriage and homosexual practices,” the letter read.
According to The Sydney Morning Herald , that first reported the case, in another “confidential” letter, Lentz was allegedly told that her beliefs were no longer consistent with that of the school.
Coming Out And The Backlash
Lentz told Star Observer that she was part of a conservative church for many years and had been struggling with her sexuality.
“I actually started working there when I was in a heterosexual marriage. I had been a member of quite a conservative protestant church for a number of years. For a long time, I had been grappling with my own sexuality. After my marriage broke down, I came out to myself for the first time, and part of that process and in the spirit of honesty and as a reflection of the agreement I was under at the school, I approached them in October of last year to tell them about my affirming stance on LGBTQI relationships and people.”
“That’s what began the correspondence which ended with my termination in January.”
Describing her termination from the school as a “kick in the guts”, Lentz tells us she “cherished the relationships that I had built up with students. I had great colleagues, there were a lot of positives about the time, however that is framed by certain views that are incredibly damaging to me but also to queer staff and students at the school.”
Dismissal For Being Gay Is Legal Under The Law
Most Australians would be shocked to learn that #LGBTQ students and staff can be excluded or fired from religious schools. It’s time to remove these outdated exemptions from our law rather than introducing new threats through the Religious Discrimination Bill #auspol https://t.co/6mZyULskML
— Anna Brown OAM (@AnnaEquality) August 9, 2021
Of course, Lentz’s dismissal is perfectly legal under both Federal and State laws. A number of New South Wales based organisations in an open letter, implored NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman, to radically reassess the State’s Anti-Discrimination Act.
“The Act needs to be updated to ensure LGBTQI+ people have access to the same remedies and are put on the same standard of protection as other groups. The Act is a mess, it needs to be updated because it is failing vulnerable groups in the community,” Alastair Lawrie, PIAC’s Policy Manager told Star Observer last week.
It is Lentz’s belief that “the problems with the exemptions that allow religious organisations to discriminate against people on the basis of sexuality- is that it gives these organisations an excuse to not engage with queer people of faith.”
“Not only is faith and queerness compatible and not contradictory, it also is incredibly damaging when we continue to insist that faith and queerness are at odds with each other, the mental health effects of that are dire.
“Institutionally what it means is that religious organisations like the school I was employed at, end up being devoid of teachers who can be role models for queer kids studying at those schools.”
Remove Exemptions For Religious Schools
Write to you Government representative to stand against laws that would take us backwards: https://t.co/JLpwyJiP1n
— Equality Australia 🌈 (@EqualityAu) August 9, 2021
With the Federal Government planning to introduce the Religious Discrimination Bill in December, Lentz’s story stands as a timely reminder of the threats faced by LGBTQI communities and individuals.
“My hope is that by winding back the exemptions and exposing what religious organisations are allowed to get with away currently, we can finally understand that that they are leading to detrimental outcomes.” Lentz says in conclusion.
“I also think by making the political move to remove those exemptions, what it hopefully will do is result in a more equitable treatment of staff across these schools and other institutions.”
If you feel distressed reading the story, you can reach out to support services.
For 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention call Lifeline on 13 11 14
For Australia-wide LGBTQI peer support call QLife on 1800 184 527 or webchat.