“There is an inconsistency with your beliefs on sexuality and the college’s beliefs” These were the exact words heard by former teacher and past student of South Coast Baptist College, Craig Campbell.
In 2017, Campbell’s employment as a relief teacher in this Christian school was discontinued, as he was in a same- sex relationship. This in turn provoked concern among, politicians and the LGBTI community regarding the safety of the most vulnerable members in our society. Since been removed from the school, Campbell has spoken out about his treatment during his time at the school and raising awareness of laws which allow religious based schools to dismiss employees and students based on their beliefs.
Discrimination, is the treatment of an individual less favourably because of a protected characteristic they possess, such as their race, age, gender and LGBTI status, or imposing a condition on an individual that may disadvantage them due to these protected characteristics. In a range of areas, which include employment and education the notion of discrimination is considered unlawful. These prohibitions enshrine the human right to non-discrimination in the Australian law, particularly for social groups that have historically been treated as insignificant.
In a recent survey conducted by Australian national university, Deakin university and Monash university on more than 1200 students, revealed that young adults strongly support the right of religious people to express their faith, but they were also highly supportive of the involvement of LGBTI issues within education, thus making it evident that young Australians do not adhere to this type of discrimination in our education system.
There is certainly no place for discrimination in a society like ours, this is not only a matter of equity and justice, but it is also in the best interests of children. If students at religious-based schools can receive the best possible education, their teachers should be employed based on skill, not sexuality.
In 2015 a report published by the South Australia law reform institute, included submissions from lesbian and gay teachers in religious schools across South Australia. These teachers reported living double lives, constantly fearing of being out and possibly losing their job. This highlights that diverse sexualities in religious based schools are less visible and often explicitly forbidden, providing limited opportunities for discussion as well as observable harassment. If our objective is to create a favourable, constructive learning environment for LGBTI and other children, we can’t allow LGBTI teachers and office staff to regularly live in fear or immediately be sacked. Allowing religious schools to continue to discriminate against LGBTI teachers and students means to advocate for shame. It sends a message to our young people that being lesbian, gay, transgender or queer is shameful and should be hidden from view within religious spaces.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten noted that as a father he tries to teach his kids to treat everyone with respect and to view everyone as equal and Australia’s laws should reflect “the values we teach our children”
Following the same-sex marriage debate in 2017, the coalition set up a review which recommends the legislative provisions allowing schools to discriminate based on sexual orientation, gender identity or relationship state, to be made consistent around the country. According to a review in Fairfax media “To some school communities, cultivating an environment and ethos which conforms to their religious beliefs is of paramount importance”.
Supporting this stance, special minister of state Alex Hawke adds that religious schools should be allowed to discriminate against gay students. Hawke points out that although there are religious schools, it is up to the parents to decide what type of schooling is best for their children. “you have the public system, you have the private and the independent system and you have religious and faith-based schools, I don’t think its controversial in Australia that people expect religious schools to teach the practice of their faith and their religion “
A disturbing proposition is what shadow education minister Tanya Plibersek described this proposal as, further stating that labour won’t support expanding discrimination.
“Who thinks it’s a great idea for adults to be telling kids, rejecting them, telling them there’s something wrong with them?” Plibersek believes that it is crucial to provide protection to practice an individual’s religion freely. But what they shouldn’t be given is the opportunity to use their religion in a way that discriminates others. Instead politicians should be finding a balance that gives people strong protection to practice their religion, while also protecting vulnerable members of our society.
We need to ask ourselves who could possibly win by allowing teachers to be sacked and students to be turned away simply being who they are? Author of the same-sex marriage legislation, Dean Smith provided a “glimpse of the country we all yearn for, a country that is fair minded, generous and accepting” if this is genuinely what we want as a nation, then our laws regarding anti-discrimination, and the protection of LGBTI individuals need to reflect this vision.