Is ScoMo A PM For ALL Australians Or Just Straight Ones?

In 2015 I reached out to young LGBTI Australians to hear about their experiences of discrimination in private religious schools, while consulting on a bill to prevent students from being expelled from school for being gay.

Their stories were heartbreaking.

One young man, Adam,* told me:

“It was six weeks before my HSC, and they set 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.

"After this meeting, the conclusion was they would take it to the school board to see what will be done, and whether or not I would be expelled.

"I was stressed out not knowing what would happen. I was told I had to see a counsellor weekly until I left school. In our Bible Studies class, I recall hearing, 'if you are a homosexual, you are going to hell'.”

A young girl named Beci* told me:

“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. 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'.

"After that, I tried to convert myself to heterosexuality by going to church and praying about it. Of course, nothing happened. It's like holding your breath to change your eye colour. Even if you really want it to happen, it won't. I was gay.

"In such frustration and anger, I started cutting myself, binge drinking and taking risks. Later on, I started taking drugs.

"At the end of Year 11, I had had enough of my feelings and having to hide my true self. I thought nobody would ever accept me.

"Not long after that, I tried to take my own life.”

Sadly, these were just two of dozens of stories I heard. How anyone tasked with looking after the welfare and education of a young person could be allowed to subject them to such fear and intimidation at such an important age is not just un-Australian, it is inhumane.

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Their stories motivated the NSW Government to impose a Code of Conduct to prevent private and religious schools from this sort of behaviour, at risk of losing government registration and funding.

Across Australia, laws exist in many states that allow religious schools to expel or exclude LGBTI Australians. The ability to do this should be removed, not endorsed, as is allegedly the case in a recommendation from the Ruddock Religious Freedoms Review.

The recommendation to increase discrimination against LGBTI teachers and students in schools is offensive to parents, teachers and school communities. The government should be focusing on reducing bullying in schools, not legislating it. Allowing direct discrimination against LGBTI kids and teachers will do nothing to protect religious freedom or our diverse and accepting communities.

Last year, Australians voted to end discrimination, not increase it. Any move to target the LGBTI community with new forms discrimination is an insult to Australia’s values of fairness and equality.

Before considering taking any further action on the report, I urge the Prime Minister to meet with the LGBTI students and teachers who have shared with me stories of intense bullying at the hands of religious schools and to understand first-hand these impacts.

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The Prime Minister has the opportunity to prove he is the prime minister for all Australians by ruling out this and other recommendations that would increase discrimination against the LGBTI community.

My experience travelling across Australia talking about marriage equality for more than a decade is that Australians, whether religious or not, want to celebrate, not discriminate, their LGBTI friends, family, students and teachers.

Rather than pandering to political extremes, it’s time for the government to move on from the confected clash of “God vs Gay”,  and bring all Australians together under our values of fairness and equality for all.

*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.