Should private schools be able to discriminate against a staff member or student for being LGBTQ?

From top: Christian cross in circle, bottom right, school students taking exams, bottom left, LGBTQ pride flag
All images are from Canva

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been spooked and vowed not to extend anti – discrimination exemptions to allow private schools to expel and discriminate against LGBTQ+ students. Instead, he’s promised to scrap the existing exemptions written into laws, including New South Wales’ Sex Discrimination Act 1984.

I think there are two reasons why Prime Minister Morrison reacted the way he did. First, last week, Sydney Morning Herald wrote an article about leaked information regarding private schools being given permission to expel LGBTQ+ students. Morrison initially lashed out on The Bolt Report, slamming the article as “false” and a “smear”. Also, a by – election in Wentworth, New South Wales will happen on the 20th of October and the result will determine whether the Coalition can hold a majority in the House of Representatives (a.k.a the Upper House).

When I first heard about this in the Ruddock Religious Freedom Review, I was really worried. I don’t think children should be discriminated against for being LGBTQ+ and, as I’ve written before, I think that LGBTQ+ students should be supported by school staff openly. The self – hatred is hard enough without the fear of being expelled or the confirmation that teachers and other staff think you deserve to be treated differently because of it.

In the past, I have also written that teachers and other school staff should be educated on how to support LGBTQ+ students, and be aware of students who may be questioning their sexuality (or gender identity) or who are bi, pan or asexual. Teachers and other staff should be aware that sexuality may not be able to be labelled and that’s OK. This is why I initially supported Safe Schools and was disappointed when it was politicised and ultimately scrapped in New South Wales and will eventually be de-funded by most States and Territories across the country.

 

Next push: no discrimination against LGBTQ+ staff

According to The Guardian Australia, Labor has now vowed to push for protections for LGBTQ+ teachers by making it unlawful to fire or not employ a teacher or staff member due to their sexuality, gender identity or relationship status. While I’m not against the proposal, this is political opportunism. In fact, it was the Labor Government who sided with groups like the Australian Christian Lobby and made it legal for private schools to be able to sack or not hire staff because of one’s sexuality, gender identity or relationshi status clashing with a school’s religious values. The Coalition are split, with Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg welcoming moves to eliminate discrimination of LGBTQ+ teachers in private schools, while former Prime Minister and Member for Warringah, Tony Abbott, being against it, warning of “unintended consequences” (oh please, not this again).

It’s ideal that no one would be discriminated against. But, quite frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if the government stuck with the mantra of ‘religious freedom’ and continued to allow private schools to be exempt from anti – discrimination legislation in the name of religious freedom.

Even if the loopholes are closed, will that end discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in education?

To me, the issues of discrimination and inclusion goes beyond mere employment. How will LGBTQ+ staff be treated by their employees and employers? Would a married lesbian, for example, be able to freely talk about her weekend away with her wife to other staff or would she be compelled to keep quiet about it, with her relationship being treated as a dirty little secret? How would it affect events like staff Christmas parties? Will she be able to bring her spouse and not be made to feel uncomfortable? All I’m saying, is that being paranoid that you’re not accepted is bad enough and it’s a fear that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I also think it’s a fear that can’t be merely legislated away.

Tell me what you think. Should a private school be able to discriminate against a staff member or student based on religious beliefs?

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