Who pays for homophobia, biphobia and transphobia?

Prejudice against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community comes with a hefty price tag.

 

It is paid for by the individuals who are subject to direct and indirect acts of discrimination, being denied employment, or services, because of who they are, who they love or how they identify.

 

And by others, who self-censor, missing out on opportunities and on full participation in society, because of the legitimate fear of such discrimination.

 

It is paid for in the adverse mental health impacts experienced by the LGBT community, with depression, anxiety and other mental illness caused by homophobia, biphobia and transphobia.

 

And most tragically by those who end their lives as a consequence.

 

It has even been estimated that homophobia costs the global economy at least $119.1 billion in lost GDP every single year (and presumably more if the effects of biphobia and transphobia are included).

 

But, in this post, I want to take this question – who pays for homophobia, biphobia and transphobia – more literally.

 

In essence, who provides the money that funds anti-LGBT prejudice, who allows it to occur in the first place?

 

The answer (or at least one of the answers), sadly, is all of us. Let me explain.

 

You are probably aware that most religious schools in Australia currently enjoy special privileges that permit them to discriminate against LGBT students, teachers and other staff.

 

This includes religious exceptions such as section 38 of the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984, as well as equivalent anti-discrimination laws in New South Wales and Victoria.

 

In fact, Tasmania is the only Australian jurisdiction that does not allow religious schools to discriminate against teachers and students on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or relationship status.

 

All of the other states and territories allow at least some discrimination against LGBT students, or teachers, or in many cases both (Queensland actually comes closest to matching Tasmania’s ‘best practice’ approach: it does not permit discrimination against LGBT students, while LGBT teachers are subject to a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ regime – although that still means they can be fired if they even mention having a same-sex partner in the workplace).[i]

 

And you likely also know that in Australia, religious schools receive significant government funding.

 

But you are probably not aware just how much public money – taxpayers’ money, your money – is given to these institutions.

 

According to the 2018 Budget, the Commonwealth Government will provide:

 

  • $11.829 billion to non-government schools in 2018-19
  • $12.452 billion in 2019-20
  • $13.145 billion in 2020-21, and
  • $13.821 billion in 2021-22.

 

That’s a total of $51.247 billion in taxpayers’ money going to non-government schools in just four years.

 

In fact, it’s even worse than that. In September, the Morrison Liberal-National Government announced an extra $1.1 billion for non-government schools over the next four years (and $4.5 billion over the next decade).

 

And these numbers don’t include the funding provided by state and territory governments.

 

Based on averages published by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), state and territory governments provide approximately one-third of the amount funded by the Commonwealth.

 

That means an extra $17.43 billion of public funding over the next four years alone, bringing the overall total to $69.78 billion.

 

Now, a couple of important caveats. Given religious schools in Tasmania are not permitted to discriminate against either LGBT students or teachers, let’s subtract $1.438 billion from this figure (the $1.079 billion allocated to Tasmanian non-government schools in the Commonwealth Budget, plus an extra third for additional state government funding).

 

And, with a small proportion of non-government schools being non-religious in nature and therefore generally not allowed to discriminate (except in NSW, where the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 permits all private schools, religious or otherwise, to discriminate against homosexual and transgender students and teachers), let’s be generous and subtract another 5%.

 

That still leaves $64.92 billion in Commonwealth, state and territory government funding allocated to religious schools over the next four years even though they are allowed to discriminate against LGBT teachers, students or both.[ii]

 

And who picks up the tab for this Government-sponsored homophobia, biphobia and transphobia? You do of course.

 

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in June 2017 there were 19.963 million Australians aged 15 and over (and therefore potentially of taxpaying age).

 

This means that for every Australian individual taxpayer Commonwealth, state and territory governments will collectively give $3,252 over the next four years to religious schools that have the legal right to discriminate against LGBT students and/or teachers. Roughly $800 every year, per person, spent subsidising anti-LGBT prejudice.[iii]

 

What makes these figures truly offensive, obscene even, is remembering that this money is coming from LGBT teachers, who are paying for religious schools to have the ability to deny them employment in up to 40% of the jobs for which they are qualified.

 

From the parents of LGBT children, who are paying for the special privileges of these institutions to reject their child’s enrolment simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

 

And from same-sex couples in rainbow families, who are paying for religious schools to deny their children admission on the basis of their parents’ relationship.

 

Indeed, the homophobia, biphobia and transphobia of religious schools is being paid for by the taxes of all LGBT Australians, our families, friends and allies.

 

And by the 61.6% of voters who just last year said that we are, or should be, equal irrespective of our sexual orientation or gender identity.

 

Despite that result (or perhaps even because of it) the Liberal-National Government seems intent on making what is a horrible situation worse.

 

Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull commissioned the Ruddock Review of Religious Freedom during last year’s same-sex marriage parliamentary debate.

 

The contents of that review’s final report, delivered to the government in May but not yet released to the public, were leaked yesterday to Fairfax newspapers, and appear to support the further entrenchment, and possible expansion, of the ‘right’ of religious schools to discriminate against LGBT students and teachers.

 

This could potentially include the Commonwealth Government using the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 to override the anti-discrimination laws of states and territories like Tasmania (and to a lesser extent Queensland) that have moved to limit these special privileges.

 

New Prime Minister Scott Morrison does not seem opposed to such a development, saying that the right to discriminate against gay students ‘already exists’ (ignoring the fact it has been curtailed in some jurisdictions).

 

Three weeks’ ago he also told Sky’s Paul Murray that:

 

Let me give you this example. I send my kids to a Christian school, I think that Christian school should be able to ensure they can provide education consistent with the Christian faith and teaching that I believe as a parent. That’s why I’m sending them there. I don’t think that school should be told who they can and can’t employ, or have restrictions on them in ensuring that they’re delivering to me – the parent, their client, their customer – what I’ve invested in for my children’s education.

 

What he fails to mention is that, by virtue of public funding for religious schools, we are all ‘investing’ in his children’s education.

 

And what the Ruddock Review, Prime Minister Morrison and some members of his Government seem to want is for all of us to pay even more to allow more religious schools to discriminate against more LGBT students and teachers.

 

Well, fuck that. Enough is enough.

 

It’s time we stopped handing over money so that religious schools can fuck over LGBT students.

 

And it’s time we stopped coughing up cash so that these institutions can tell LGBT teachers and other staff to fuck off.

 

These human rights violations have gone on long enough.

 

To borrow a phrase from the American Revolution, there should be no taxation without anti-discrimination protection. Or even more simply:

 

No Taxation For Discrimination.

 

Instead of being an excuse for expanding religious exceptions in relation to religious schools, the Religious Freedom Review should be the catalyst for these special privileges to finally be subjected to proper scrutiny.

 

If the Morrison Government introduces amendments to entrench and expand the exceptions in section 38 of the Sex Discrimination Act, and potentially to override the best practice approach of the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act, it will be up to Labor, the Greens and the cross-bench to block it (for his part, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten is making the right noises, saying “The fact is every child is entitled to human dignity. We shouldn’t even be having this debate”).

 

The pressure will also be on Liberal moderates, who like to claim credit for delivering marriage equality (they didn’t, but that’s a post for another day), to stand up and help defeat proposals that will increase discrimination against that same community.

 

But stopping things from getting worse would hardly be a heroic achievement. The religious exceptions of the Sex Discrimination Act, and the equivalent laws in most states and territories that promote anti-LGBT prejudice, must be repealed.

 

Because LGBT teachers should be employed on the basis of their abilities, not their orientations or identities.

 

And LGBT students should not be refused enrolment, expelled, or discriminated against in any way, shape or form, just because of who they are. Not one student. Not ever.

 

While the rest of us shouldn’t be forced to pay for it, literally funding the homophobia, biphobia and transphobia of religious schools.

 

Bottom line: if religious schools want one cent from us, they must be decent to us, and that means ending their special privileges to discriminate against LGBT students, teachers and other staff once and for all.

 

To take action, please sign and share this petition from just.equal: www.equal.org.au/protectourkidsandteachers

 

aud100front

Your hard-earned dollars are funding anti-LGBT prejudice.

 

Footnotes:

 

[i] For more information about these laws, see: A Quick Guide to Australian LGBTI Anti-Discrimination Laws.

[ii] I am not suggesting that all of these schools would discriminate against LGBT students and/or teachers. In practice, a number provide welcoming environments irrespective of sexual orientation and gender identity. However, these schools retain the legal right to discriminate on these grounds.

[iii] By way of comparison, the Commonwealth Government will provide $245.6 million over the next four years to another inappropriate and unjustified school funding initiative (the National School Chaplaincy Program), or the equivalent of $12.30 for every Australian aged 15 and over. On the other hand, the Turnbull Government, of which Scott Morrison was Treasurer, axed the $8 million Safe Schools program in 2016 – in effect, they could not even be bothered spending 40c per taxpayer, spread over four years (so just 10c per taxpayer per year), to help address homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in schools.

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Submission to Inquiry into the Status of the Human Right to Freedom of Religion or Belief

The Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade is currently holding an inquiry into ‘religious freedom’, although sadly it is disproportionately focused on promoting the freedom to, rather than freedom from, religious belief. My submission below attempts to redress this imbalance. For more details on the inquiry, click here.

 

Committee Secretary

Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade

PO Box 6021

Parliament House

Canberra ACT 2066

religionorbelief@aph.gov.au

 

Dear Committee Secretary

 

Inquiry into the Status of the Human Right to Freedom of Religion or Belief

 

Thank you for the opportunity to provide a submission to the above-named inquiry.

 

In this submission, I will be focusing on Term of Reference 4, namely:

 

“Australian efforts, including those of Federal, State and Territory governments and non-government organisations, to protect and promote the freedom of religion or belief in Australia and around the world, including in the Indo-Pacific region.”

 

In my view, Australian Governments, of all levels, all-too-often promote the freedom of religion – and in particular, the freedom of christian beliefs – at the expense of the equally-important freedom from religion.

 

The imposition of christianity on others, including on those who are atheist or have no religious belief, as well as its negative consequences for many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Australians (who may or may not be christian themselves), can be observed in multiple ways.

 

Symbolically, there is a range of ways in which christianity is treated preferentially in Australian law which I believe is inappropriate in a country which is, or at least should be, secular (and by that I mean a nation that does not favour, or disfavour, any particular belief or lack of belief).

 

This includes having a formal head of state (the King or Queen of England) who is also, as a function of this role, the symbolic head of a christian denomination (the Anglican church), as well as the fact that each Commonwealth parliamentary sitting day begins with the recitation of a christian statement (the lord’s prayer).

 

More substantively, there are a number of ways in which the principle of separation of church and state – which should operate to protect both secular government, and the free exercise of religion, including freedom from religion – has been fundamentally breached by Federal, and State and Territory, Governments. This is especially apparent in education, and particularly in relation to public schools.

 

First, the inclusion of Special Religious Instruction (SRI) or Special Religious Education (SRE) in the school timetable is completely inappropriate because religious indoctrination, which is primarily christian indoctrination, should have no place in public classrooms.

 

On a practical level, SRI/SRE is also flawed for several reasons, including that it regularly operates as an ‘opt-out’ system rather than ‘opt-in’, and also because the ‘choice’ in many state schools is limited to either attending a lesson of christian indoctrination, or doing nothing (there can be few better examples of wasting time than mandating some students do not learn anything at all because other students are learning about their particular god or gods, something that should instead be taking place in the home or their respective place of worship).

 

SRI/SRE also frequently has a detrimental impact on LGBTI students. This is because it is disproportionately conducted by evangelical christians who, as numerous publicly-reported examples demonstrate, are more likely to express anti-LGBTI views, causing harm to students who are not cisgender and/or heterosexual.

 

As recently noted by crikey[i]:“While religious groups complain about the teaching of sex education issues, the [NSW Government] review found that religious instruction teachers were “overstepping the mark” in addressing issues of sexuality and explicitly expressing homophobic views.”

 

A second example of the fundamental breach of the separation of church and state in relation to government schools, which infringes upon the freedom from religion, can be found in the long-running, controversial National School Chaplaincy Program, which involves the (mis)use of public monies to pay public schools to hire people who – at least for the majority of the scheme’s existence – must be religious in order to be employed.

 

Despite guidelines that stipulate these religious (and in the vast majority of cases, christian) appointees must not ‘proselytise’ in the classroom or schoolyard, it is inevitable that many will – with evidence that they have repeatedly done so collected over many years[ii].

 

From my perspective there can be no proper policy justification for the allocation of literally hundreds of millions of Commonwealth, and therefore taxpayer, dollars on a program that preferentially employs people of a religious background (and excludes people who are not religious).

 

This breach is especially egregious because if public money is to be provided to promote student welfare, then that money should be directed towards employing the best qualified people to do so – trained school counsellors, who may or may not be religious (but whose religious beliefs, or lack thereof, are irrelevant to their ability to perform the role) – rather than ‘chaplains’ who must be of a religious background.

 

These two policies – SRI/SRE, and the National School Chaplaincy Program – are clear examples of the preferential treatment of religion, and primarily christianity, in contemporary Australia.

 

However, the most fundamental way in which the freedom from religion is infringed upon in Commonwealth, State and Territory policy is through the operation of ‘religious exceptions’ to anti-discrimination laws.

 

While appropriate recognition of freedom of religion would accord individuals and groups the right to hold beliefs, to celebrate those beliefs through religious ceremonies, as well as to appoint ministers of religion and other religious office-holders, these religious exceptions go far beyond what is necessary to achieve those aims.

 

Instead, they allow religious organisations to discriminate against employees, and in many cases against people accessing services, in an extraordinarily broad range of situations.

 

This includes discrimination in key areas of public life (including health and education), discrimination against people on the basis of irrelevant factors (for example, refusing to hire a qualified mathematics teacher on the basis of their sexual orientation), and discrimination in the use of public funds (in a number of circumstances, religious organisations are permitted to discriminate even where the service involved is part, even in large part, publicly-funded).

 

Of course, many religious organisations will argue that the ability to discriminate in each of these situations is necessary to ‘manifest beliefs in community with others’. However, such rights are not, and should not be, unfettered.

 

As observed by the Australian Human Rights Commission in their submission to this Inquiry:

 

“Legitimate limitations on the freedom to manifest a religion or belief in worship, observance or practice must be prescribed by law and necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.”

 

Anti-discrimination laws, such as the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984, exist to protect a variety of groups against harm – effectively protecting their fundamental rights and freedoms – and they should not be undermined by the granting of special rights to discriminate to religious organisations.

 

It should also be noted that these religious exceptions are disproportionately used to adversely treat lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people[iii], who may or may not be religious themselves, but who nevertheless do not deserve to be discriminated against as they go about their daily lives simply because of who they are or who they love.

 

Essentially, religious exceptions to anti-discrimination laws deny too many LGBT Australians the right to be free from religion, and free from the negative consequences of homophobia, biphobia or transphobia that is based on, or claimed to be based on[iv], religious belief.

 

Perhaps the worst examples of these laws – and the clearest demonstration of how they inherently lead to human rights abuses against LGBT people (among others) – are the religious exceptions that allow religious schools to discriminate against students on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

 

For example, section 38 of the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 not only permits discrimination against LGBT [school] employees and contract workers (which is unacceptable in and of itself), sub-section (3) also states that:

 

“Nothing… renders it unlawful for a person to discriminate against another person on the ground of the other person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or relationship status or pregnancy in connection with the provision of education or training by an educational institution that is conducted in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of a particular religion or creed, if the first-mentioned person so discriminates in good faith in order to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion or creed.”

 

Basically, under the Sex Discrimination Act, religious schools are given free rein to mistreat lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, including by expelling or refusing to enrol these students (or refusing to enrol the children of rainbow families), teaching them that who they are is not okay, or in other ways treating them significantly worse than heterosexual and/or cisgender students.

 

The majority of states and territories have adopted similar provisions with NSW even going so far as allowing all non-government schools, including private schools that are not religious at all[v], to adversely treat LG and T students[vi].

 

It should be noted that the overwhelming majority of these religious schools are in receipt of Commonwealth, and State or Territory, funds, including from LGBT taxpayers – the notion that my taxes are being used by these organisations to actively discriminate against young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students is both heartbreaking, and infuriating.

 

But, even if absolutely no taxpayer funds were involved, allowing religious schools to discriminate in this way would still be a fundamental breach of the human rights of these students to be who they are – including their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, which are both inherent or essential attributes – and to not be unfairly discriminated against as a result.

 

This principle is reinforced if we substitute students of different racial or ethnic backgrounds for LGBT students. We would not legally allow schools, whether government, religious or otherwise independent, to discriminate against students on the basis of their race or ethnicity. So why should we permit any school, irrespective of its ownership, to discriminate against LGBT students for who they are?

 

In short, any student, in any school, could be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex – and they each have a fundamental right to education, free from discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

 

Logically, the only way in which this can be guaranteed is for every school to provide a learning environment that treats all students – heterosexual, cisgender and LGBTI-alike – equally.

 

In my view, the best interests of children in this situation, who are at their most vulnerable and whose protection is the responsibility of governments of all levels, especially in education which sits squarely in the public sphere, must supersede the religious beliefs of parents, or the schools themselves.

 

To suggest otherwise is to argue that LGBTI students in religious schools are just collateral damage of the ‘right’ to freedom of religion of others, and that the adverse consequences they inevitably suffer – from mistreatment and exclusion, to bullying, mental health issues and even suicide – should simply be ignored.

 

Well, I will not ignore these consequences, and I submit that this Committee, and the Commonwealth Parliament, must not ignore them either.

 

Which means that, if the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade is genuinely interested in the issue of how ‘to protect and promote the freedom of religion or belief in Australia’, then it must also consider the issues of how to protect and promote the freedom from belief, and how to protect LGBTI people from the negative consequences of the religious beliefs of others.

 

This includes investigating why religious indoctrination continues to feature in the nation’s public school classrooms (in the form of Special Religious Instruction or Special Religious Education), as well as why hundreds of millions of Commonwealth dollars continue to be allocated to employing religious people in our schoolyards (through the National School Chaplaincy Program).

 

Above all, it means questioning why religious organisations should be granted special rights to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees, and people accessing services (through wide-ranging ‘religious exceptions’ to anti-discrimination laws), and why religious schools are legally permitted to mistreat LGBT students simply because of who they are.

 

Thank you again for the opportunity to provide a submission to this important inquiry. Please do not hesitate to contact me at the details provided should the Committee wish to clarify any of the above, or for further information.

 

Sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

 

Simon Birmingham

Commonwealth Education Minister Simon Birmingham, who couldn’t find $2 million per year to continue Safe Schools, but provides $60 million+ per year to the National School Chaplaincy Program.

 

Footnotes:

[i] “Homophobic, anti-science and frightening” religious instruction teachers remain in NSW, crikey, 12 April 2017.

[ii] See Chaplains accused of pushing religion in schools, ABC News, 8 April 2011 and Brisbane school chaplain being investigated for proselytizing after claiming his mission is to disciple school children and their families, Courier Mail, 18 May 2014.

[iii] It is considered unlikely that religious exceptions under the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 would be employed against intersex people.

[iv] The inclusion of religious exceptions to anti-discrimination laws actually encourages individuals and organisations to claim that anti-LGBTI prejudice is based on religious belief because it is less likely to attract consequences (even if the anti-LGBTI prejudice in fact has nothing to do with religion whatsoever).

[v] See NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 sections 49ZO(3), and 38K(3).

[vi] Remembering that, in 2017, the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 still does not protect bisexual people against discrimination.

The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia Survey Results, Part 4: Discrimination in Education

This post is the fourth in a series of six, reporting the results of The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia survey I conducted at the start of 2017[i].

 

In all, 1,672 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) Australians provided valid responses to that survey.

 

In this article, I will be focusing on their answers to four questions, asking whether they have experienced discrimination in education, whether this discrimination occurred in the past 12 months, whether this discrimination related to religious schools or colleges and to provide an example of the discrimination that they experienced.

 

The responses to these questions confirm that discrimination in education remains far-too-common for far-too-many LGBTIQ Australians – instead of learning about maths and science and English, and above all about the world around them, young LGBTIQ people are learning what it feels like to encounter discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status.

 

The question about whether any of this discrimination occurred in relation to a religious school or college is important because, as we have seen previously[ii], exceptions to anti-discrimination laws mean these bodies can lawfully discriminate against LGBTIQ students and teachers in the vast majority of states and territories[iii].

 

I also encourage you to read the full range of examples provided in response to question four, which demonstrate just how widespread anti-LGBTIQ discrimination in education is, and just how much work is needed to make sure places of learning are not places of prejudice.

 

The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia-11

 

Question 1: Have you ever experienced discrimination because of your sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status in relation to education (including as a student, teacher or parent)?

 

Question 2: Has one of more instances of education-related discrimination occurred in the past 12 months?

 

&

 

Question 3: Did any of this education-related discrimination occur at a religious school or college?

 

The overall results to these three questions make for sobering reading.

 

Of the 1,636 people who answered the first question, 663 – or 41% – said they had experienced education-related discrimination at some point in their lives.

 

Disturbingly, 236 survey respondents[iv] reported experiencing anti-LGBTIQ discrimination in education in the past 12 months alone. That is 14.4% of the total, or 1 in every 7 people who completed the survey.

 

Perhaps most concerning of all, 242 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer people, or 14.8% of the entire survey cohort, reported being discriminated against at a religious school or college[v] – for most of these people, that discrimination would have been permissible under Australian law.

 

It is clear that, in 2017, there is still too much anti-LGBTIQ prejudice in Australian educational institutions. As we shall see below, this discrimination also affects some demographic groups within the LGBTIQ community more than others.

 

LGBTIQ Status

 

There were some significant differences in reported education-related discrimination between lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer survey respondents:

 

Lesbian

 

  • 41.9%[vi] reported education-related discrimination at some point
  • 14.9%[vii] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 10.9%[viii] experienced discrimination at a religious school or college

 

Gay

 

  • 37.6%[ix] reported education-related discrimination at some point
  • 9.4%[x] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 13.8%[xi] experienced discrimination at a religious school or college

 

Bisexual

 

  • 39.8%[xii] reported education-related discrimination at some point
  • 16.6%[xiii] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 16.6% experienced discrimination at a religious school or college

 

Transgender

 

  • 52%[xiv] reported education-related discrimination at some point
  • 25.2%[xv] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 16.8%[xvi] experienced discrimination at a religious school or college

 

Intersex

 

  • 73.3%[xvii] reported education-relation discrimination at some point
  • 33.3%[xviii] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 26.7%[xix] experienced discrimination at a religious school or college

 

Queer

 

  • 46.6%[xx] reported education-related discrimination at some point
  • 22.2%[xxi] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 17%[xxii] experienced discrimination at a religious school or college

 

In terms of sexual orientation, the results were fairly similar – approximately 2 in every 5 lesbian, gay and bisexual respondents reported discrimination in education at some point in their lives.

 

Gay people were the least likely – out of all groups – to report education-related discrimination in the past year (less than 1 in 10), with lesbians reporting rates about the overall average (14.9%) and bisexuals slightly higher again. In contrast, gay people were more likely than lesbians to report discrimination at religious schools or colleges (although once again, both were lower than bisexuals at 16.6%).

 

As with previous survey results, however, the biggest consequences of education-related discrimination were felt by trans, intersex and queer survey respondents. The intersex responses are particularly high, with almost three-quarters experiencing education-related discrimination at some point in their lives (while noting the small sample size, n=15).

 

Queer respondents were also more likely than average to report education-related discrimination at some point in their lives, and also during the past 12 months (in respect to the latter, more than 50% more likely than non-queer respondents), although their reported rates of discrimination at religious schools was only slightly above average.

 

The trans responses warrant particular attention, especially given the large sample size (n=369) featured in this study. More than half had experienced education-related discrimination at some point in their lives, while more than a quarter had experienced such discrimination in the past 12 months alone – these rates are simply extraordinary (and, of course, appalling)[xxiii].

 

There was also some divergence within the trans community, depending on whether the respondent was also lesbian, gay, bisexual or queer:

 

Trans and lesbian: 41.9% reporting discrimination ever, 16.3% in the last year[xxiv]

 

Trans and gay: 59.6% reporting discrimination ever, 24.6% in the last year[xxv]

 

Trans and bisexual: 53.7% reporting discrimination ever, 28.5% in the last year[xxvi]

 

Trans and queer: 52.7% reporting discrimination ever, 27.4% in the last year[xxvii].

 

Survey respondents who were both trans and gay therefore reported much higher rates of discrimination during their lives, although trans and bisexual and trans and queer respondents were more likely to have been discriminated against in the last 12 months. Interestingly, trans and lesbian respondents reported lower rates for both answers.

 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People

 

Depressingly, the rates of discrimination for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ people were higher for all three questions than for their non-Indigenous counterparts:

 

  • 50%[xxviii] experienced education-related discrimination at some point (compared to 40.2% of non-Indigenous people)
  • 19%[xxix] experienced at least one instance in the past 12 months (compared to 14.3% of non-Indigenous people) and
  • 22.4%[xxx] experienced discrimination at a religious school or college (compared to 14.5% of non-Indigenous people).

 

The high rates of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people reporting discrimination in 2016, and also at religious institutions (which, for the most part, are free to discriminate against them), are particularly worrying.

 

Age

 

Given younger people are more likely to have been engaged in education in the past 12 months, and therefore more likely to have experienced recent education-related discrimination, this analysis will exclude answers to the second question.

 

What is most noticeable about the answers to questions 1 and 3 is that discrimination in this context appears to be getting worse for younger LGBTIQ people, rather than getting better:

 

Aged 24 and under

 

  • 43.3%[xxxi] experienced education-related discrimination at some point
  • 17.4%[xxxii] reported discrimination at a religious school or college

 

25 to 44

 

  • 39.4%[xxxiii] experienced education-related discrimination at some point
  • 14.2%[xxxiv] reported discrimination at a religious school or college

 

45 to 64

 

  • 37.1%[xxxv] experienced education-related discrimination at some point
  • 9.1%[xxxvi] reported discrimination at a religious school or college

 

65 and over

 

  • 17.1%[xxxvii] experienced education-related discrimination at some point
  • 5.7%[xxxviii] reported discrimination at a religious school or college

 

In short, people aged 24 and under are more likely to have already experienced discrimination in relation to education than their older LGBTIQ counterparts[xxxix] – even including many who are currently engaged in school, university or TAFE and may still confront homophobia, biphobia, transphobia or intersexphobia prior to completing their studies.

 

This statistic is frankly unacceptable (and alone demonstrates the need for nation-wide anti-bullying programs like Safe Schools).

 

Young people were also far more likely to report anti-LGBTIQ discrimination in religious schools or colleges than LGBTIQ people aged 25 to 44, or 45 to 64. There are a few possible explanations for this, including the growing trend towards parent(s) sending their children to private (and predominantly religious) schools.

 

Irrespective of the causes, however, we must not forget that for many of these students they are left without any recourse to legal protections, because the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984, as well as the anti-discrimination laws in most states and territories, explicitly allows religious schools to actively mistreat LGBTIQ students. Such legislation is also unacceptable.

 

State or Territory of Residence

 

The final demographic category according to which I have analysed the survey results is the state or territory of residence:

 

New South Wales

 

  • 37.4%[xl] reported education-related discrimination at some point
  • 12.8%[xli] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 13.4%[xlii] experienced discrimination at a religious school or college

 

Victoria

 

  • 42.2%[xliii] reported education-related discrimination at some point
  • 12.5%[xliv] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 14.3%[xlv] experienced discrimination at a religious school or college

 

Queensland

 

  • 43.1%[xlvi] reported education-related discrimination at some point
  • 13.7%[xlvii] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 16.9%[xlviii] experienced discrimination at a religious school or college

 

Western Australia

 

  • 41.7%[xlix] reported education-related discrimination at some point
  • 16.6%[l] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 11.3%[li] experienced discrimination at a religious school or college

 

South Australia

 

  • 35.8%[lii] reported education-related discrimination at some point
  • 16.4%[liii] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 14.9%[liv] experienced discrimination at a religious school or college

 

Tasmania

 

  • 47.2%[lv] reported education-related discrimination at some point
  • 24.1%[lvi] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 18.5%[lvii] experienced discrimination at a religious school or college

 

Australian Capital Territory

 

  • 35.7%[lviii] reported education-related discrimination at some point
  • 14.3%[lix] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 21.4%[lx] experienced discrimination at a religious school or college

 

Northern Territory

 

  • 38.1%[lxi] reported education-related discrimination at some point
  • 14.3%[lxii] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 14.3% experienced discrimination at a religious school or college

 

These results were largely consistent across state and territory boundaries (thus lending weight to the overall figures, discussed earlier).

 

Interestingly, Tasmania reported the highest rates for both lifetime education-related discrimination, and discrimination in education in the last 12 months (the latter figure by a considerable margin). Despite the great strides made by the Apple Isle in the past 20 years, further progress is still needed.

 

On the other hand, and despite recording the lowest rate of life-time education-related discrimination (slightly less than South Australia), ACT respondents reported the highest rate of discrimination at a religious school or college. This is likely due to high rates of religious school enrolments in the ACT (noting that these schools are legally ‘entitled’ to discriminate against LGBTI students).

 

**********

 

Question 4: If you feel comfortable, please provide an example of the discrimination you experienced in relation to education [Optional]:

 

This question allowed respondents to provide examples of the anti-LGBTIQ discrimination they had experienced and, once again, these comments are often confronting to read.

 

They are also depressing, considering the influential role that education plays in everyone’s lives – for far-too-many LGBTIQ people, that impact has been overwhelmingly negative rather than positive.

 

A lightly-edited[lxiii] version of the answers to this question – providing examples of homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic discrimination in relation to education, including school, TAFE and university – can be found at the following link:

 

question 4 examples of anti-LGBTIQ discrimination in education

 

From my perspective, a number of key themes emerge in these examples. One of the most common stories described a lack of relevant sexual health education, including:

 

“I asked my sexual education teacher in year 9 or 10 (can’t remember which), if we were going to be covering more than just heterosexual sex and relationships. And her response was something along the lines of “Well I don’t think those people deserve to exist.”

 

“Not being provided with education on same-sex safety in PDHPE, even upon request. And being told to just ‘not try it’ because there’s no ‘safe way’ to have sex with a person of the same gender.”

 

“improper sex education (teaching as if there is only hetero-intercourse) being told intercourse must have ‘penetration’ to be counted.”

 

“My high school HPE teacher was teaching sex education and wouldn’t answer any of my questions about lesbian sex and told me things like to stop being rude and threatening to send me to the deputy principal’s office.”

 

“I was pretty closet[ed] at school, but I frequently got in trouble in sex ed for challenging hetero and cis normative assumptions being made by the teacher. That included being yelled at, sent out of class and threatened with physical violence. They didn’t want it talked about that’s for sure.”

The absence of information left some to rely on (potentially unreliable) sources, like the internet:

 

“The sex-ed at high school was minimal. But for anyone who was not straight or cis-gendered, myself included, it didn’t exist. The internet became my best (but not always reliable) friend.”

 

“Another thing though, I noticed as a young bisexual, I never learnt in health class how to have safe sex with people my gender. I had to google it.”

 

Several respondents also described differential treatment of same-sex relationships at school:

 

“I go to a Catholic school and the teachers were happy with relationship between straight people, but my ex girlfriend and I were not allowed to even hug.”

 

“being reported to teachers for holding hands with my partner, being called into the student support teacher’s office and having her tell me that I would be happier in life if I was ‘having sex with a man’ instead of my girlfriend.”

 

“I wasn’t allowed to see my friends or girlfriend at recess of lunch. The school also rang my mum and my ex’s dad up and told them they were getting complaints about us hugging in the park. They told us we weren’t allowed to see each other at school. They made my ex go to the school psychologist because of it.”

 

This heartbreaking example shows just how poorly some same-sex relationships were treated:

 

“I went to [redacted] Anglican School, someone found out about my girlfriend who was at another Anglican school, rumours were spread and eventually the PE Teacher asked me to start changing in the disabled bathroom instead of the girls change room because it made the other girls uncomfortable and they didn’t want to have an incident. So I just kept forgetting to bring my PE gear and sat out most of the lessons getting misbehaviour notes and Friday detentions for not having my PE gear rather than have people talk about why I couldn’t use the girls’ change room.”

 

A number of people complained that they were unable to take their partners to their school formals:

 

“Had the option of 2 months of detention for skipping my formal because my partner was same sex or conform and take an opposite sex partner (my friends out of protest all skipped which I was so happy for).”

 

“Was forced into taking a female partner to the school end of year celebration, where people took their relationship partners, me and my boyfriend were made to take other female partners because it was ‘against the school policy and religion.”

 

For trans and non-binary students, the enforcement of binary school uniforms presented particular problems:

 

“Teachers forcing binary clothing options (girls only allowed to wear skirts, not slacks, and boys opposite), once again, detention for months until they realised I wasn’t going to budge on the subject.”

 

“Had to push hard to be allowed to wear my chosen uniform despite unisex uniform policies being DET required in NSW.”

 

“I wasn’t allowed to go to the bathroom in which I identified as. And… I was told to not come into school wearing the clothes I would like to present in and was demoted in my school musical because ‘I did not dance and sound like the gender I identify as.”

 

The ‘policing’ of bathrooms affected students and teachers alike:

 

“I was banned from using either bathrooms at school because I was transgender. Whenever I needed to go to the bathroom, I’d have to go ask for a key for the staff toilets at the office.”

 

“No gender-neutral toilets and general lack of supporting facilities. Teachers felt as though it was appropriate to send an email to the whole staff about my gender identity (and got it wrong), and then all of them felt as though they could openly discuss my gender with me, which honestly made me feel incredibly uncomfortable and my privacy invaded…”

 

“While being interviewed for a school, I was told that for my ‘safety and comfort, as well as the other students and staff’, I should use the single-stall disabled toilet, rather than the male (my chosen gender) toilets.”

 

The discrimination experienced by trans students and staff extended well beyond uniforms and bathrooms, including misgendering:

 

“I had a teacher constantly misgender me and feminise my name, then when I complained about it, she refused to teach me…”

 

“It was prior to coming out as transgender but I was referred to as a ‘stain on society’ and that queers like me deserve to ‘burn in hell.’”

 

“Bullying, misgendering and being told I would have to go in the girls group for a gender split day at school.”

 

“A few boys were making fun of my gender in maths class and the teacher did nothing about it, also in PE they say you have to go to one side if you’re a female and the other if you’re a male, being transgender I sat out until everyone started yelling at me.”

 

“Forming assessment in a gender-split way which forces me (non-binary person) to participate as part of the gender group assigned to me at birth. My data being void in statistics class because I answered ‘other’ on the preliminary gender question. Transphobic comments in lectures.”

 

“Filling out forms and listing my preferred name, including being outed on my first day by the wrong name being called.”

 

Bisexual students also faced ostracism:

 

“As a student, religious high school, sex ed. The topic of my sexuality (known at that time, and not much cared about by the student body beyond ‘hey, that exists’) was brought up by another student in relation to something. The teacher expressed that bisexuality is not real. On homework, tests, assignments, class discussion etc from that point on he would reaffirm this belief anytime he thought someone was acknowledging bisexuality, and would take marks off if he suspected someone thought it was real.”

 

Some parents shared stories of discrimination they, or their children, experienced because of their sexual orientation:

 

“As a young mum, I and my kids suffered other parents’ homophobia, eye balls rolling and turned backs. My kids had parents keep friends away from them, for parties, sleep overs etc. My name was mud.”

 

“Actually happened from being a lesbian mother. My daughter has two mothers and we are excluded from all the other parental social gatherings and most people move away from us when picking my daughter from school.”

 

“My son was bullied in year 7 when it got around that I’m gay. I complained to the school but no visible action was taken. We ended up changing schools. Both schools are Qld public schools.”

 

“Was not recognised as my son’s parent at public school in 2009.”

 

Homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia in schools can affect teachers, too:

 

“I was asked to leave the school because they discovered I was gay and were uncomfortable with me being around children.”

 

“As a teacher I was transferred by my employer from a small mining town as a solution to ongoing harassment for being gay.”

 

“I was asked to keep my status as a lesbian secret because the parents at the school may become abusive towards not only myself and my family, but the school community as a whole.”

 

“I’m working through applications to teach and update my gender and names through the DET portals, it’s impossible to do without calling the department and requesting personally, which they were still unable to do until is was escalated over the course of several months so that I could even BEGIN my application…”

 

“When I was teaching, at my last school, I was constantly bullied and harassed for being an openly gay teacher. The abuse got so bad that I had a mental breakdown and had to resign from teaching. It has taken years of therapy, that is still ongoing, to begin to recover from it.”

 

Some teachers specifically cited discrimination from religious schools:

 

“I had a long phone conversation with a music teacher at a Christian college all about offering me a job teaching singing there (one-to-one). The teacher was very enthusiastic and said it would simply need to approval of the school principal (I was very well qualified and very experienced). However, his reply came back that they would definitely not employ a transgender person.”

 

“As a gay man who teaches in a Catholic school I have to be very discreet about my true self. I am out to my friends but have to be careful with parents and the students. It breaks my heart each and every time I have to be vague about my partner of 8 years.”

 

“I was bullied in a job I held in a christian organisation. I wasn’t protected under the anti discrimination law because my lifestyle didn’t fit in with their christian values. I took the bullying and harassment to as far as I could. I ended up leaving the job because I couldn’t win.”

 

The most common type of story shared by survey respondents overall was discrimination against LGBTIQ students at religious schools:

 

“Catholic school in the 90s. Told teachers and headmasters about homophobia me and my friend received. We were told to act less girly (by the female deputy headmaster) so we’d fit in better. My friend was so horrified, he quit school that day, never to complete his education. I pressed on to finish year 12, but without my only friend.”

 

“I was given detention and threatened with suspension for revealing I was attracted to girls at a Christian high school. I was forced to endure hands-on prayer to try to rid me of the homosexual demons.”

 

“I was at a Christian private school in north Sydney, we had lessons in religion that focused on why being gay is wrong and how you can change.”

 

“The religious boarding school that I attended had explicit rules against homosexual students, which carried the threat of expulsion (a sanction that was imposed on a fellow student).”

 

“I attended a religious high school (2003-2007). Discrimination was daily, from schoolchildren and staff, and ranged from forcing me to pretend that I was a girl, to physical abuse, threats of rape & murder, theft, exclusion & a lot of reinforcement that I wasn’t normal. I got a boyfriend and pretended that I was a cis-gendered female to make it stop. I also self-harmed hundreds of times and tried to kill myself twice.”

 

“My friend goes to a Catholic school and is bisexual. Her music teacher gives her shit about being bisexual and says that she is sinning and she will be going to hell.”

 

“I’m a trans boy who use[d] to go to an all girls catholic high school. I was told not to come out by the school counsellor and that there was nothing to be done that could help me. I wasn’t aloud [sic] to wear the sports uniform which was shorts and was forced to wear the dress. I had many teachers comment on my short hair in a negative way.”

 

“Christian [redacted] Brisbane, as it was known as at the time of my attendance, is a homophobia ridden school. If you were believed to be gay you had no chance of a good education. Students were allowed to bully you because you could not go to the teachers as the school had a tradition of informing parents and outing unprepared kids. Even when you had the support of good teachers, which was rare in that place, they could do only so much because they could only protect you so far. I was lucky where a few good teachers convinced me to leave and demand a change of schools. They are the ones who helped save my life. I would not have survived another two years in the homophobic discriminatory hell hole and my parents would not have been able to handle the school outing their daughter (even years later coming out to them had a major impact).”

 

“Took part in a public speaking competition, wrote a speech on equal rights for LGBTQIA individuals. Was told “that isn’t a very [school name] topic”. (The school was an Anglican school in Sydney’s eastern suburbs). When I came out at school, not only students but also some teachers made very inappropriate comments to me. One staff member interrogated me about what kinds of sexual feelings I was having; I was 13 and felt very pressured and uncomfortable, I started crying. The staff member didn’t seem to see anything wrong with the questions they were asking.”

 

“My 11yr old niece had a mufty day at her catholic school. I painted a pair of white shoes in rainbow pride colours. With PRIDE in black marker on them. She loved them, showed them off to her teachers who told her they were not appropriate school wear. And from more comments from her adult teachers she was so upset she had taken them off some time during the day and kept them off until we left the school. She told me her teachers would look angry at her and when I came to collect her I was told to pick her up from outside school grounds from now on (all other parents picked their children up from outside the classroom doors).”

 

Anti-LGBTIQ prejudice was reported via religious instruction:

 

“I was kicked out of a compulsory scripture class because a “friend” told the teacher I was gay.”

 

“Kicked out of religion class for being transgender.”

 

“My religious education teacher stopped speaking to me directly and began speaking to me via the person next to me when I came out as gay in year 10.”

 

“Comments made during the Christian Perspectives program at my school; that gays are the product of a dysfunctional family, that when the Lord comes all of the sinners and the gays will be swallowed into a black hole.”

 

“[redacted] High School was not exactly a safe space for an open homosexual-male student. Student culture was very homophobic. There were no educational support programs for LGBTIQ students at the School. Many teachers were homophobic, especially the scripture teachers from Hillsong…”

 

School chaplains were also a source of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia:

 

“I went to a public school and the school chaplain, who was obviously religious, was friendly towards me until she learned I was bisexual and pagan, then she avoided me and told people I was going around trying to “convert” people.”

 

“This is complicated because I was not out in high school, but I found addressing gender issues in counselling with a chaplain at a non-religious college to be soul-crushing and the chaplain was dismissive and ignorant.”

 

“At school we were taught that LGBT+ folk were diseased by our school chaplain. It was very isolating.”

 

Anti-LGBTIQ prejudice didn’t stop at school, with many respondents citing discrimination at university. This particularly affected trans people:

 

“I work as a lecturer/tutor, was asked not to reveal trans status to students for fear of a social media storm.”

 

“One of my university lecturers misgendered me in an assessment and accidentally outed me as trans to my supervisor. When I pulled her up on it she brushed it off as though it was nothing.”

 

“Uni won’t use my preferred name which I changed legally but since my deadname is still my legal first name they ignored my requests.”

 

“my more recent discrimination is not direct discrimination, it’s related to my uni using my legal name instead of my real name, and the thought of either getting called by my deadname or coming out freshly to every new person I met caused me tonnes of stress and meant I never went to an entire subjects tutorial sessions, and I failed that subject, probably as a result of that.”

 

“Asked my supervising tutor for a reference for an LGBT scholarship. She refused because she didn’t think it was appropriate.”

 

“At a more immediate, interpersonal level, discrimination against LGBTIQ students at [redacted] can be still more overt. In one instance, I and some friends were gathered in a common courtyard of the university celebrating ‘Wear It Purple’ day. A member of non-academic staff approached us and challenged our right to be there without University approval. For context, this was a large area in which some fifty students were gathered in small groups having lunch. When we refused to move on, the staff member sought out a priest on campus, who harangued us about the fact that the University is built on church land and we cannot be there. This instance is not uncommon to the University – at times, LGBTIQ students are at risk of being confronted and publicly policed for the slightest representation of their LGBTIQ identity in a common space.”

 

The following examples of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia seemed to sum up the experience of many:

 

when i was in grade 7 my teacher would tell the class about how he thought that gays were perverted and wrong. He did this on multiple occasions during lessons, including a time when he told us all that he wrote countless letters to the government to discourage them from legalising same-sex marriage. At the time I identified as a lesbian and he was one of the main reasons I developed a strong fear of being outed.”

 

“Rather than in-your-face discrimination, it is continually giving you messages that gay = bad or sinner. Plus all other people are included in daily conversation/engagement, but the queers are made invisible as though we do not even exist – e.g. no mention is made that we even exist, nor of our loving relationships, which are made out to not even exist. Promotion of invisibility and non-representation effectively invalidates and demoralises us. To be respected fully, you must be acknowledged as first existing, and secondly, to be of equal worth and standing to everyone else – this cannot happen if you are made to feel invisible.”

 

“…Not being allowed to mention sexuality or gender other than straight in assemblies or other mass school events. Sex education only catering for straight people. The assumption that everyone in the school is straight. Lack of support for queer people and the feeling that queer people should stay quiet about who they are and not mention love, whereas straight people are able to mention their love life and talk about it openly.”

 

And finally:

 

“There was an incident that occurred and my best friend at the time told my deputy principal that I was gay, so when I came in to be asked about what happened he asked if I was gay, I said yes and he replied with we can send you to the councillor [sic] to get that fixed.”

 

What really needs to be fixed is an education system that seems to foster anti-LGBTIQ discrimination rather than inclusion, and a love of learning – for everyone.

 

**********

 

Conclusion

 

The results of these four questions have confirmed that homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic discrimination in education is widespread, and has a significant impact on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer Australians.

 

This includes 2 in every 5 LGBTIQ people reporting lifetime experience of such discrimination, with a shocking 1 in 7 reporting at least one instance in the last 12 months.

 

It also includes almost 15% of respondents experiencing adverse treatment at a religious school or college, which is particularly concerning given most states and territories permit these institutions to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, leaving LGBTIQ students and staff without any legal protections.

 

As with previous results, this survey has also found that the impact of education-related discrimination is particularly felt by trans, intersex and queer people, younger people, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Programs that are implemented to address anti-LGBTIQ discrimination in education should pay particular attention to the needs of these groups.

 

As noted at the beginning of this post, this has been the fourth in my series of six articles reporting the results of my The State of Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia survey.

 

The remaining two articles, which will focus on discrimination in employment, and health and other areas, will be published later this month.

 

If you would like to receive updates of these results, please sign up to this blog: on mobile, at the bottom of this page, or on desktop at the top right-hand corner of the screen.

 

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If this post has raised any issues for you, you can contact:

  • QLife, Australia’s national telephone and web counselling and referral service for LGBTI people. Freecall: 1800 184 527, Webchat: qlife.org.au (3pm to midnight every day)

 

Footnotes:

[i] The previous posts can be found here:

Part 1: Verbal Harassment and Abuse

Part 2: Physical Abuse or Violence

Part 3: Where Discriminatory Comments Occur and Their Impact 

[ii] See: Back to School. Back to Discrimination for LGBT Students and Teachers

[iii] Students cannot be discriminated against in Tasmania or Queensland. Teachers cannot be discriminated against in Tasmania, and operate under a ‘don’t ask’ don’t tell’ scheme in Queensland.

[iv] 655 people responded to question 2: 236 yes/419 no.

[v] 661 people responded to question 3: 242 yes/419 no.

[vi] 322 people responded to question 1: 135 yes/187 no.

[vii] 48 respondents.

[viii] 35 respondents.

[ix] 636 people responded to question 1: 239 yes/397 no.

[x] 60 respondents.

[xi] 88 respondents.

[xii] 517 people responded to question 1: 206 yes/311 no.

[xiii] 86 respondents (for both questions 2 and 3).

[xiv] 369 people responded to question 1: 192 yes/177 no.

[xv] 93 respondents.

[xvi] 62 respondents.

[xvii] 12 people responded to question 1: 11 yes/4 no. Note that, given the small sample size, these percentages should be treated with some caution.

[xviii] 5 respondents.

[xix] 4 respondents.

[xx] 487 people responded to question 1: 227 yes/260 no.

[xxi] 108 respondents.

[xxii] 83 respondents.

[xxiii] The rates of trans people experiencing discrimination at religious schools or colleges was actually comparable to the overall cohort (16.8% versus 14.8%).

[xxiv] 43 respondents total, with 18 yes to question 1 and 7 yes to question 2.

[xxv] 57 respondents total, with 34 yes to question 1 and 14 yes to question 2.

[xxvi] 123 respondents total, with 66 yes to question 1 and 35 yes to question 2.

[xxvii] 186 respondents total, with 98 yes to question 1 and 51 yes to question 2.

[xxviii] 58 people responded to question 1: 29 yes/29 no.

[xxix] 11 respondents.

[xxx] 13 respondents.

[xxxi] 879 people responded to question 1: 381 yes/498 no.

[xxxii] 153 respondents.

[xxxiii] 431 people responded to question 1: 170 yes/261 no.

[xxxiv] 61 respondents.

[xxxv] 275 people responded to question 1: 102 yes/173 no.

[xxxvi] 25 respondents.

[xxxvii] 35 people responded to question 1: 6 yes/29 no. Note that, given the small sample size, these percentages should be treated with some caution.

[xxxviii] 2 respondents.

[xxxix] There may be a ‘recency effect’ in some of these answers, with people who left school decades previously potentially forgetting or downplaying anti-LGBTIQ they may have experienced. It is also possible that the increased openness of LGBTIQ in the school environment – which is obviously a positive overall – is also being met by an increased ‘backlash’ from people with homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic views.

[xl] 537 people responded to question 1: 201 yes/336 no.

[xli] 69 respondents.

[xlii] 72 respondents.

[xliii] 391 people responded to question 1: 165 yes/226 no.

[xliv] 49 respondents.

[xlv] 56 respondents.

[xlvi] 248 people responded to question 1: 107 yes/141 no.

[xlvii] 34 respondents.

[xlviii] 42 respondents.

[xlix] 151 people responded to question 1: 63 yes/88 no.

[l] 25 respondents.

[li] 17 respondents.

[lii] 134 people responded to question 1: 48 yes/86 no.

[liii] 22 respondents.

[liv] 20 respondents.

[lv] 108 people responded to question 1: 51 yes/57 no.

[lvi] 26 respondents.

[lvii] 20 respondents.

[lviii] 56 people responded to question 1: 20 yes/36 no.

[lix] 8 respondents.

[lx] 12 respondents.

[lxi] 21 people responded to question 1: 8 yes/13 no. Note that, given the small sample size, these percentages should be treated with some caution.

[lxii] 3 respondents for both question 2 and question 3.

[lxiii] In this context, lightly-edited includes:

-Removing identifying information

-Removing potentially defamatory comments and

-Removing offensive (for example, racist and even transphobic) remarks.

I have also corrected some spelling/grammatical mistakes for ease of reading.

Back to School, Back to Discrimination for LGBT Students and Teachers

Every year, millions of students, and hundreds of thousands of teachers and other staff, start at Australian schools excited by the possibilities of the following 12 months – of the opportunities to learn (or teach) about the world around them, and about themselves.

 

However, for far too many students – and teachers and other staff – in schools around the country it will be another year in which they have to worry about being discriminated against, lawfully, simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

 

That’s because, under the anti-discrimination laws of six out of nine Australian jurisdictions, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students can legally be treated adversely by religious schools[i]. Seven jurisdictions allow discrimination against LGBT teachers and other staff – plus one state which has a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ approach.

 

To find out what the law is in your jurisdiction, see below. And to find out just how many students, teachers and other staff are potentially affected by these discriminatory provisions, please read to the end of the article.

 

**********

 

Commonwealth

 

While LGBT students, teachers and other staff are protected against discrimination under the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984, these protections are fundamentally undermined by the inclusion of two excessively broad exceptions for religious organisations.

 

The first is contained in sub-section 37(1)(d), which states that:

 

“Nothing in Division 1 or 2 affects… any other act or practice of a body established for religious purposes, being an act or practice that conforms to the doctrines, tenets or beliefs of that religion or is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion.”

 

It is highly likely that this provision allows religious schools to discriminate against LGBT students, teachers and staff. But, just in case there was any doubt, the Act includes an additional ‘right to discriminate’ just for religious schools:

 

“Section 38

Educational institutions established for religious purposes

(1) Nothing in paragraph 14(1)(a) or (b) or (14)(2)(c) renders it unlawful for a person to discriminate against another person on the ground of the other person’s sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or relationship status or pregnancy in connection with employment as a member of the staff of an educational institution that is conducted in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of a particular religion or creed, if the first-mentioned person so discriminates in good faith in order to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion or creed.”

 

Sub-section 38(2) establishes a similar ‘right to discriminate’ against contract workers, while sub-section 38(3) reiterates the ability of religious schools to discriminate against LGBT students.

 

In short, instead of protecting LGBT students and teachers at religious schools against discrimination, the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 authorises their mistreatment (a pattern that, as we shall below, is sadly replicated in most states and territories).

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT students under Commonwealth law? Yes.

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT teachers and other staff under Commonwealth law? Yes.

 

**********

 

New South Wales

 

As I have written elsewhere[ii], despite being the first Australian jurisdiction to introduce gay anti-discrimination laws, NSW now has perhaps the worst LGBT anti-discrimination legislation in the country. A key reason for that is the extremely generous exceptions provided to religious (and other non-government) schools.

 

As with the Commonwealth, it is likely NSW religious schools have the ‘right to discriminate’ against LGBT students, teachers and other staff[iii] as part of the general religious exception provided by sub-section 56(d):

 

“Nothing in this Act affects… 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.”

 

And, just like the Commonwealth, there is also a specific exception applying only to schools – however, in what is a unique approach, the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 actually allows all non-government schools to discriminate against students on the grounds of homosexuality or transgender status, even where they are not religious:

 

“Section 49ZO Education

(1) It is unlawful for an educational authority to discriminate against a person on the ground of homosexuality:

(a) by refusing or failing to accept the person’s application for admission as a student, or

(b) in the terms on which it is prepared to admit the person as a student.

(2) It is unlawful for an educational authority to discriminate against a student on the ground of homosexuality:

(a) by denying the student access, or limiting the student’s access, to any benefit provided by the educational authority, or

(b) by expelling the student or subjecting the student to any other detriment.

(3) Nothing in this section applies to or in respect of a private educational authority” (emphasis added).

 

Section 38K establishes a similar right for NSW non-government schools (religious and not-religious alike) to discriminate against transgender students.

 

There are also equivalent sections regarding lesbian, gay and transgender teachers and other staff at non-government schools (religious and not-religious alike): section 49ZH and 38C respectively.

 

Therefore, all NSW non-government schools are able to fire (or not hire) LGT teachers and other staff under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977, and to refuse to admit, treat adversely and even expel students merely for being lesbian, gay or transgender. That is, in a word, appalling.

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT students under NSW law? Yes – and that includes non-government schools that are not religious, too.

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT teachers and other staff under NSW law? Yes, including non-government schools that are not religious.

 

**********

 

Victoria

 

Victoria is another jurisdiction that has adopted the ‘two-fold’ approach to permitting discrimination by religious schools against LGBT students, teachers and other staff.

 

First up, sub-section 82(2) of the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act 2010 states that:

 

“Nothing in Part 4 applies to anything done on the basis of a person’s religious belief or activity, sex, sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, marital status, parental status or gender identity by a religious body that-

(a) conforms with the doctrines, beliefs or principles of the religion; or

(b) is reasonably necessary to avoid injury to the religious sensitivities of adherents of the religion.”

 

This is then supplemented by section 83, which is entirely concerned with providing religious schools with an explicit ‘right to discriminate’:

 

Religious schools

(1) This section applies to a person or body, including a religious body, that establishes, directs, controls, administers or is an educational institution that is, or is to be, conducted in accordance with religious doctrines, beliefs or principles.

(2) Nothing in Part 4 applies to anything done on the basis of a person’s religious belief or activity, sex, sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, marital status, parental status or gender identity by a person or body to which this section applies in the course of establishing, directing, controlling or administering the educational institution that-

(a) conforms with the doctrines, beliefs or principles of the religion; or

(b) is reasonably necessary to avoid injury to the religious sensitivities of adherents of the religion.”

 

In 2016, there were two attempts to limit the impact of these sections – the first, by the Andrews Labor Government, would have compelled religious schools (and other religious employers) to demonstrate that discrimination against LGBT employees was an ‘inherent requirement’ of the respective position[iv]. The second, by the Victorian Greens, would have prohibited discrimination against LGBT students.

 

Unfortunately, both Bills were voted down by the Upper House (and specifically by Liberal and National Party MLCs) leaving LGBT students, teachers and other staff in Victorian religious schools exposed to mistreatment solely because of who they are.

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT students under Victorian law? Yes.

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT teachers and other staff under Victorian law? Yes.

 

**********

 

Queensland

 

It may be surprising for some (especially given they only equalised the age of consent in 2016), but Queensland is one of three jurisdictions that does not provide carte blanche for religious schools to discriminate against LGBT students, teachers and other staff.

 

That is because they have adopted a more limited version of the broad general exception enacted elsewhere. Section 109 of the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 provides:

 

Religious bodies

(1) The Act does not apply in relation to-

(d) unless section 90 (Accommodation with religious purposes) applies – an act by a body established for religious purposes if the act is –

(i) in accordance with the doctrine of the religion concerned; and

(ii) necessary to avoid offending the religious sensitivities of people of the religion.

(2) An exemption under subsection (1)(d) does not apply in the work or work-related area or in the education area (emphasis added).

 

LGBT students are protected from discrimination as a result of this provision.

 

Prima facie, it would appear that LGBT teachers and other staff should be too – after all, sub-section (2) says the religious exception does not apply to work.

 

However, there is an additional section of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 that does authorise discrimination against LGBT employees of religious schools in certain circumstances. Section 25 states:

 

“25 Genuine occupational requirements

(1) A person may impose genuine occupational requirements for a position.

Example 4- employing persons of a particular religion to teach in a school established for students of the particular religion

(2) Subsection (3) applies in relation to-

(a) work for an educational institution (an employer) under the direction or control of a body established for religious purposes…

(3) It is not unlawful for an employer to discriminate with respect to a matter that is otherwise prohibited under section 14 or 15, in a way that is not unreasonable, against a person if-

(a) the person openly acts in a way that the person knows or ought reasonably to know is contrary to the employer’s religious beliefs-

(i) during a selection process; or

(ii) in the course of the person’s work; or

(iii) in doing something connected with the person’s work; and

Example for paragraph (a)- A staff member openly acts in a way contrary to a requirement imposed by the staff member’s employer in his or her contract of employment, that the staff member abstain from acting in a way openly contrary to the employer’s religious beliefs in the course of, or in connection with the staff member’s employment.

(b) it is a genuine occupational requirement of the employer that the person, in the course of, or in connection with, the person’s work, act in a way consistent with the employer’s religious beliefs.

(4) Subsection (3) does not authorise the seeking of information contrary to section 124.

(5) For subsection (3), whether the discrimination is not unreasonable depends on all the circumstances of the case, including, for example, the following-

(a) whether the action taken or proposed to be taken by the employer is harsh or unjust or disproportionate to the person’s actions;

(b) the consequences for both the person and the employer should the discrimination happen or not happen.”

 

Summarising the above, religious schools in Queensland can discriminate against LGBT teachers and other staff if:

  • the employee acts in a way contrary to the employer’s religious beliefs during the selection process, at work or in connection with work, and
  • the employer can show it was a genuine occupational requirement that the employee act in accordance with those religious beliefs.

 

But, if the teacher or staff member does not act in such a way (which presumably includes the mere acknowledgement of having a same-sex partner, for example), they cannot be punished simply for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Further, the religious school cannot ask whether the employee is LGBT.

 

In short, Queensland allows a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ approach to LGBT teachers and staff in religious schools – but they can still be fired for being ‘out’ at work. Of course, more than two decades of US military policy demonstrated the folly of DADT – and it says a lot about the terrible state of Australian LGBT anti-discrimination laws that the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 remains the second-best law in this particular area.

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT students under Queensland law? No.

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT teachers and other staff under Queensland law? Yes, in some circumstances (including where it is a genuine occupational requirement, and the employee is ‘out’ at work). No, when the employee is not ‘out’ – and a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy applies.

 

**********

 

Western Australia

 

The Western Australian Equal Opportunity Act 1984 is far less complex – and far less positive – in terms of its approach to LGBT anti-discrimination protections for students, teachers and staff in religious schools.

 

Just like the Commonwealth, NSW and Victoria, Western Australia provides ‘dual’ exceptions to religious schools granting them the ‘right to discriminate’. Sub-section 72(d) notes:

 

Religious bodies

Nothing in this Act affects… any other act or practice of a body established for religious purposes, being an act or practice that conforms to the doctrines, tenets or beliefs of that religion or is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion.”

 

Section 73 then sets out specific, additional exceptions with respect to teachers:

 

(1) “Nothing in this Act renders it unlawful for a person to discriminate against another person on any one or more of the grounds of discrimination referred to in this Act in connection with employment as a member of the staff of an educational institution that is conducted in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of a particular religion or creed, if the first-mentioned person so discriminates in good faith in order to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion or creed”

 

And students:

 

(3) “Nothing in this Act renders it unlawful for a person to discriminate against another person on any one or more of the grounds of discrimination referred to in this Act, other than the grounds of race, impairment or age, in connection with the provision of education or training by an educational institution that is conducted in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of a particular religion or creed, if the first-mentioned person so discriminates in good faith in favour of adherents of that religion or creed generally, but not in a manner that discriminates against a particular class or group of persons who are not adherents of that religion or creed.”

 

Prima facie, that means Western Australian religious schools can only discriminate against students on the basis of their religion, not their sexual orientation or gender identity. However, unlike Queensland’s section 109(2), there is no equivalent limitation on the general religious exception in WA, meaning religious schools still (probably) retain the right to discriminate against LGBT students under section 72(d).

 

Overall, then, Western Australia provides multiple grounds for religious schools to discriminate against LGBT teachers and other staff, and likely one ground to discriminate against LGBT students.

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT students under Western Australian law? Yes (probably).

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT teachers and other staff under Western Australian law? Yes.

 

**********

 

South Australia

 

The Equal Opportunity Act 1984 makes it clear that religious schools in South Australia can discriminate against LGBT teachers and other staff, probably under the general religious exception in sub-sections 50(ba) and (c), and definitely as a result of specific exceptions in section 34.

 

However, the latter section imposes some strict procedural requirements if a religious school wishes to utilise such exceptions:

 

(3)         This Division does not apply to discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status in relation to employment or engagement for the purposes of an educational institution if— 
(a)         the educational institution is administered in accordance with the precepts of a particular religion and the discrimination is founded on the precepts of that religion; and (b)         the educational authority administering the institution has a written policy stating its position in relation to the matter; and 
(c)         a copy of the policy is given to a person who is to be interviewed for or offered employment with the authority or a teacher who is to be offered engagement as a contractor by the authority; and 
(d)         a copy of the policy is provided on request, free of charge— 
(i)         to employees and contractors and prospective employees and contractors of the authority to whom it relates or may relate; and 
(ii)         to students, prospective students and parents and guardians of students and prospective students of the institution; and 
(iii)         to other members of the public.

 

The situation for LGBT students is slightly less clear-cut, with sub-sections 37(1) and (2) providing that:

 

Discrimination by educational authorities

(1) It is unlawful for an educational authority to discriminate against a person on the ground of sex, sexual orientation or gender identity-

(a) by refusing or failing to accept an application for admission as a student; or

(b) in the terms or conditions on which it offers to admit the person as a student.

(2) It is unlawful for an educational authority to discriminate against a student on the ground of sex, sexual orientation or gender identity-

(a) in the terms or conditions on which it provides the student with training or education; or

(b) by denying or limiting access to a benefit provided by the authority; or

(c) by expelling the student; or

(d) by subjecting the student to other detriment.”[v]

 

These protections, for LGBT students, appear to be quite strong – however, it should be remembered that the general religious exceptions featured in section 50 still apply to this situation. And again, unlike Queensland’s section 109(2), there is no equivalent limitation on the Act’s general religious exceptions, meaning religious schools still (probably) retain the right to discriminate against LGBT students under sub-sections 50(ba) and (c).

 

This also appears to be the view of the Equal Opportunity Commission, as expressed in its submissions to the Law Reform Institute review of LGBTI laws in South Australia[vi].

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT students under South Australian law? Yes (probably).

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT teachers and other staff under South Australian law? Yes, although procedural requirements apply.

 

**********

 

Tasmania

 

Despite being the last Australian jurisdiction to decriminalise homosexuality, Tasmania was the first – and, to date, remains the only – state or territory to ensure that all LGBT students, teachers and staff cannot be discriminated against solely because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

 

That is because the religious exceptions offered under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 are narrowly drafted. In terms of employment, section 51 states that:

 

Employment based on religion

(1) A person may discriminate against another person on the ground of religious belief or affiliation or religious activity in relation to employment if the participation of the person in the observance or practice of a particular religion is a genuine occupational qualification or requirement in relation to the employment.

(2) A person may discriminate against another person on the ground of religious belief or affiliation or religious activity in relation to employment in an educational institution that is or is to be conducted in accordance with the tenets, beliefs, teachings, principles or practices of a particular religion if the discrimination is in order to enable, or better enable, the educational institution to be conducted in accordance with those tenets, beliefs, teachings, principles or practices.”

 

In short, a Tasmanian religious school can discriminate against a teacher or staff member because of their religion – but there is no equivalent right to discriminate on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

 

The protection in relation to LGBT students is even more unambiguous. Section 51A provides:

 

Admission of person as student based on religion

(1) A person may discriminate against another person on the ground of religious belief or affiliation or religious activity in relation to admission of that other person as a student to an educational institution that is or is to be conducted in accordance with the tenets, beliefs, teachings, principles or practices of a particular religion.

(2) Subsection (1) does not apply to a person who is enrolled as a student at the educational institution referred to in that subsection.

(3) Subsection (1) does not permit discrimination on any grounds referred to in section 16 other than those specified in that subsection.

(4) A person may, on a ground specified in subsection (1), discriminate against another person in relation to the admission of the other person as a student to an educational institution, if the educational institution’s policy for the admission of students demonstrates that the criteria for admission relates to the religious belief or affiliation, or religious activity, of the other person, the other person’s parents of the other person’s grandparents.”

 

Not only does this section only apply to admission (and therefore does not authorise discrimination once a student is enrolled, including potential expulsion), it also only applies to the grounds of religious belief or affiliation, and religious activity.

 

Once again, a religious school can only discriminate against students on the basis of their (or their parents’/grandparents’) religion – they cannot legally mistreat students on the basis of their, or their family’s, sexual orientation or gender identity. In this way, the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 provides a model to which other Australian jurisdictions should aspire.

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT students under Tasmanian law? No.

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT teachers and other staff under Tasmanian law? No.

 

**********

 

Australian Capital Territory

 

In contrast to the positive laws in Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory has adopted a more ‘traditional’ approach to religious exceptions in this area – and that is to effectively provide religious schools with ‘free rein’ to discriminate against LGBT students, teachers and staff.

 

And it has done so both with its general religious exception, and with specific exceptions for religious schools, in the Discrimination Act 1991.

 

“Section 32 Religious bodies

Part 3 does not apply in relation to-… (d) any other act or practice of a body established for religious purposes, if the act or practice conforms to the doctrines, tenets or beliefs of that religion and is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion.”

 

This is supplemented by section 33, which clarifies that it is entirely lawful for a religious school to discriminate against LGBT teachers (sub-section (1)) and students (sub-section (2)):

 

Educational institutions conducted for religious purposes

(1) Section 10 or 13 does not make it unlawful for a person (the first person) to discriminate against someone else in relation to-

(a) employment as a member of the staff of an educational institution; or

(b) a position as a contract worker that involves doing work in an educational institution;

if the institution is conducted in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of a particular religion or creed, and the first person so discriminates in good faith to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion or creed.

(2) Section 18 does not make it unlawful for a person (the first person) to discriminate against someone else in relation to the provision of education or training by an educational institution that is conducted in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of a particular religion or creed, if the first person so discriminates in good faith to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion or creed.”

 

Which means that, contrary to its reputation as a supposed bastion of progressive policy, the Australian Capital Territory allows religious schools to mistreat LGBT students, teachers and other staff in much the same way as the majority of other jurisdictions.

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT students under ACT law? Yes.

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT teachers and other staff under ACT law? Yes.

 

**********

 

Northern Territory

 

The Northern Territory allows discrimination by religious schools against LGBT teachers and other staff. Arguably, it does so only once (instead of providing two separate ‘rights to discriminate’, like the Commonwealth and some other states) – although once is still one time too many.

 

While the ‘general religious exception’ in the NT’s Anti-Discrimination Act is comparatively constrained (covering “an act by a body established for religious purposes if the act is done as part of any religious observance or practice”: sub-section 51(d)), there is an additional special ‘right to discriminate’ against LGBT teachers and staff. Section 37A provides that:

 

“An educational authority that operates or proposes to operate an educational institution in accordance with the doctrine of a particular religion may discriminate against a person in the area of work in the institution if the discrimination:

(a) is on the grounds of:

(i) religious belief or activity; or

(ii) sexuality; and

(b) is in good faith to avoid offending the religious sensitivities of people of the particular religion.”

 

However, there is no equivalent right to discriminate against LGBT students – indeed, like the current Tasmanian legislation, the NT only allows religious schools to discriminate on the basis of the student’s faith (sub-section 30(2) provides that “[a]n educational authority that operates, or proposes to operate, an educational institution in accordance with the doctrine of a particular religion may exclude applicants who are not of that religion.”)

 

Combined with the more limited general religious exception outlined above, that means NT religious schools probably cannot discriminate against LGBT students. Consequently, the Northern Territory actually has the third best LGBT anti-discrimination laws in Australia on this issue.

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT students under Northern Territory law? No.

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT teachers and other staff under Northern Territory law? Yes.

 

**********

 

Summary

 

In conclusion, then, far too many LGBT students, teachers and other staff members will start the 2018 school year in a vulnerable position – they can be lawfully discriminated against simply because of who they are.

 

In terms of students, such discrimination is permitted in religious schools under the anti-discrimination laws of:

  • Commonwealth
  • New South Wales
  • Victoria
  • Western Australia (probably)
  • South Australia (probably), and
  • Australian Capital Territory.

 

Only Queensland, Tasmania and the Northern Territory have chosen to protect students in religious schools from homophobic, biphobic and transphobic discrimination.

 

As we have seen, the situation for teachers and other staff members is even worse – they can be legally mistreated under anti-discrimination legislation in:

  • Commonwealth
  • New South Wales
  • Victoria
  • Western Australia
  • South Australia (although procedural requirements apply)
  • Australian Capital Territory, and
  • Northern Territory.

 

In Queensland, LGBT teachers at religious schools can be discriminated against if they are ‘out’ – otherwise a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy applies. Only Tasmania refuses to provide religious schools with an explicit ‘right to discriminate’ against LGBT teachers and other staff.

 

Up to this point, this discussion has been very ‘legal’, and somewhat technical. But it is important to remember that the impact of these religious exceptions is significant in practical terms.

 

Based on data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics[vii], in 2015 there were more than 1 million students enrolled at Australian schools where lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students could be discriminated against simply because of who they are.

 

In fact, the exact number was 1,007,864[viii]. With the number of students in non-government schools rising by 1.4% per year, this has likely risen to above 1,050,000 at the start of 2018.

 

The number of teachers and other staff that can be lawfully discriminated against is just as confronting.

 

In 2015, 110,073.8 Full Time Equivalent positions[ix] were at religious schools that could legally discriminate against teachers and other staff members who were lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

 

An additional 28,944.1 FTE positions – employees at religious schools in Queensland – could be adversely treated if they were ‘out’ at work.

 

In fact, of the 141,806.1 FTE positions at religious schools nationally, only the 2,788.2 FTE positions in Tasmania were fully protected against discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity – or less than 2% of teachers and staff members at religious schools nationally.

 

The numbers of students, teachers and staff who can legally be discriminated against if they happen to be LGBT are almost too large to comprehend. They remain so even when broken down by jurisdiction.

 

For example, in my (adopted) home state of NSW, 409,728 students[x] attend, and 41,487.8 FTE[xi] teachers and other staff members are employed at, religious schools that can practice this (abhorrent) discrimination.

 

Of course, not all religious schools engage in the mistreatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, teachers and staff. I’m sure there are many that refuse to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and aspire to be genuinely inclusive learning environments.

 

But the fact remains that these schools retain the legal ability to exclude LGBT students and employees simply because of who they are – and, in my opinion at least, I do not believe they can be fully inclusive until this ‘right to discriminate’ is removed.

 

And so, with the school year commencing, and parliamentary sittings set to resume around the country shortly, I would argue that Commonwealth, state and territory MPs (outside Tasmania) should educate themselves about this unacceptable discrimination.

 

If they do, they might finally take action to ensure that all students can learn in classrooms that are free from anti-LGBT discrimination – and are taught by the best teachers available, including LGBT teachers, and not just the best cisgender heterosexual teachers.

 

If they don’t – if Members of Parliament continue to allow more than 1 million students to attend, and more than 110,000 teachers and staff to be employed at, religious schools that can lawfully discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity – then those MPs deserve to receive an ‘F’, in 2018, and for every year until this unacceptable situation is fixed.

 

theres-no-place-for-discrimination-in-the-classroom

And there’s no place for discrimination in the school staffroom, either.

 

Footnotes:

[i] Intersex students (and teachers and other staff) are not included in this article because, irrespective of their jurisdiction, they should be protected by the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984, and, according to major religious groupings during the development of that legislation, the religious exceptions contained therein do not apply to intersex status.

[ii] What’s Wrong With the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977.

[iii] It should be noted that the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of bisexuality, at all – it is included as part of the LGBT acronym here for the sake of consistency across the article.

[iv] For more, see Victoria’s Equal Opportunity Amendment (Religious Exceptions) Bill 2016.

[v] Note that these provisions only apply to students – there is no equivalent section for teachers and other staff.

[vi] This would also reflect judicial interpretation of the general religious exception in NSW (including in cases like OW & OV v Members of the Board of the Wesley Mission Council [2010] NSWADT 293 (10 December 2010)).

[vii] Australian Bureau of Statistics – 4221.0 Schools, Australia, 2015, released 04/02/2016

[viii] This calculation is based on the total number of students attending Catholic and Independent schools nationally (1,305,843) minus the number of similar students in those jurisdictions where they are protected from discrimination: Queensland (262,166); Tasmania (24,142) and Northern Territory (11,671). Unfortunately, the dataset provided does not identify Independent schools as religious versus non-religious, although the proportion that are non-religious is considered to be extremely small. Therefore, for the purposes of calculating this estimate, all Independent schools have been allocated as ‘religious’.

[ix] As with the previous calculation, this figure is based on the number of FTE positions at Catholic and Independent schools Australia-wide (141,806.1) minus the 28.944.1 in Queensland where the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy applies, and 2,788.2 in Tasmania, where LGBT teachers and staff are protected against anti-LGBT discrimination. Once again, the dataset provided does not identify Independent schools as religious versus non-religious, although the proportion that are non-religious is considered to be extremely small. Therefore, for the purposes of calculating this estimate, all Independent schools have been allocated as ‘religious’.

[x] Noting that the caveat that applies to national figures (about the treatment of religious versus non-religious Independent schools) does not apply here – all non-government schools in NSW can discriminate against LGBT students, including non-religious schools.

[xi] The caveat – about the treatment of religious versus non-religious schools – does apply here however, because non-religious Independent schools in NSW cannot discriminate against LGBT teachers and staff, only LGBT students.

Victoria’s Equal Opportunity Amendment (Religious Exceptions) Bill 2016

Update: 15 January 2017

 

Unfortunately, this legislation was voted down by the Victorian Legislative Council on 6 December 2016.

 

As reported by The Age here (‘Coalition and conservative crossbenchers unite to vote down equal rights bills’), the Liberal and National Parties rejected the Equal Opportunity Amendment (Religious Exceptions) Bill 2016, describing it as an attack on ‘religious freedom’.

 

Of course, it was nothing of the sort – instead it was a modest (some might argue too modest) reform that would have simply required religious schools and other religious bodies to demonstrate that any discrimination against LGBT employees was because of an ‘inherent requirement’ of the relevant job. Nothing less, and nothing more.

 

But even that was too much for Coalition MLCs, meaning lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teachers at religious schools, and LGBT employees at other religious organisations, can continue to be discriminated against for at least another two years, solely because of who they are and irrespective of the responsibilities of the actual role they are performing.

 

Hopefully, Victoria’s LGBTI community remembers this shameful sell-out by the Liberal and National Parties when they cast their ballots on 24 November 2018 – and that the next Parliament strengthens the state’s LGBTI anti-discrimination laws as a matter of priority in early 2019.

 

Original Post:

 

Ten days ago I wrote about the first of two LGBTI law reforms put forward by the Andrews Labor Government that are currently before the Victorian Parliament – the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Amendment Bill 2016.

This post will discuss the second – the Equal Opportunity Amendment (Religious Exceptions) Bill 2016.

As the title suggests, this Bill will amend the religious exceptions currently contained in the Equal Opportunity Act 2010, making it more difficult, in certain circumstances, for religious bodies and schools to discriminate against employees on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity[i].

It does this by reintroducing the ‘inherent requirements test’ for employment by religious bodies or schools, which was part of the Act as passed in 2010, but which was subsequently repealed by the Baillieu Liberal-National Government in 2011 before it commenced operation.

This test is set out in clauses 3 and 4 of the Bill, which would amend the current exceptions applying to religious bodies and religious schools featured in sections 82 and 83 respectively:

“(3) Nothing in Part 4 applies to anything done in relation to the employment of a person by a religious body where-

(a) conformity with the doctrines, beliefs or principles of the religion is an inherent requirement of the particular position; and

(b) the person’s religious belief or activity, sex, sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, marital status, parental status or gender identity means that the person does not meet that inherent requirement.

(4) The nature of the religious body and the religious doctrines, beliefs or principles in accordance with which it is conducted must be taken into account in determining what is an inherent requirement for the purposes of subsection (3).”[ii]

As you can see from this proposed wording, these are very modest changes. All the Bill does is to remove the ‘blanket’ ability for religious bodies and schools to discriminate against all employees on the basis of these attributes, replacing it with a slightly narrower ability whereby, in order to discriminate, the body or school must show that such discrimination is required because of the particular position involved.

As described by Attorney-General Martin Pakula in his second reading speech:

“A large number of people are employed by or seek to be employed by religious bodies and schools in Victoria, in a range of different positions. In these circumstances, it is fair to ask these organisations to demonstrate the necessary connection between their religious beliefs and principles, and proposed discrimination in employment because of an individual’s personal attribute…

“What the test will do, and appropriately so, is require those organisations that do seek to discriminate in employment on religious grounds to demonstrate the necessary connection between their particular religious beliefs and the need to discriminate.”

pakulamartin58250

Victorian Attorney-General Martin Pakula

Despite the extremely modest nature of the Bill, it has nevertheless attracted strong opposition from the Australian Christian Lobby[iii] and the Liberal and National Opposition, meaning that, although it has cleared the Legislative Assembly where the Government has the numbers, it is unclear whether it will be passed in the Legislative Council where the Government does not, and where it is expected to be debated later this week (with Victorian Parliament sitting from Tuesday 11 October).

Given this, I have sent a short email to all members of the Victorian upper house, encouraging them to pass this Bill, with the text included at the end of this post.

Before we get to that, however, an important caveat. Regular readers of this blog would be aware that I am opposed to religious exceptions beyond those that are necessary for the appointment of religious office-holders, and for the observance of religious ceremonies.

Indeed, these views formed part of my criticisms of the Victorian anti-discrimination framework, expressed earlier this year in my post What’s Wrong With Victoria’s Equal Opportunity Act 2010?[iv]

On this basis, I would obviously support amendments to the religious exceptions contained in the Act that go beyond what has been proposed by the Andrews Labor Government. This would, at the very least, include extending the ‘inherent requirement test’ to protect those people accessing services, including education, from these religious bodies and schools, in addition to employees.

However, we have already seen an unsuccessful attempt by the Victorian Government, this term, to restrict the rights of religious bodies to discriminate against people accessing services – it sought to prevent discrimination against same-sex couples by religious adoption agencies as part of the broader introduction of adoption equality.

Those particular amendments to religious exceptions were defeated in the Victorian Legislative Council, while the overall reform passed.

In this context, it is difficult to see how any amendments to religious exceptions that go further than those currently proposed would be passed by the upper house[v]. Indeed, the fate of the narrow changes that are contained in the Equal Opportunity Amendment (Religious Exceptions) Bill 2016 still seems precarious.

As a result, I have chosen to send this short email calling for these reforms to be passed, as a minimum standard, and in the hope that more comprehensive changes may be able to be made by a subsequent parliament, one where (hopefully) the influence of the extreme right is less powerful[vi].

**********

Monday 10 October 2016

Dear Member of the Victorian Legislative Council

Please Support the Equal Opportunity Amendment (Religious Exceptions) Bill 2016

I am writing to call on you to support the Equal Opportunity Amendment (Religious Exceptions) Bill 2016 when it comes before the Legislative Council.

This Bill is an important reform that will better protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) employees, and prospective employees, from discrimination that has absolutely nothing to do with their ability to do their jobs.

As noted by Attorney-General Martin Pakula in his second reading speech, these reforms simply ask religious bodies and schools to “demonstrate the necessary connection between their religious beliefs and principles, and proposed discrimination in employment because of an individual’s personal attribute.”

These are modest changes, and it is difficult to see how the introduction of an ‘inherent requirement test’ can be argued against.

In practice, voting against the reforms contained in the Equal Opportunity Amendment (Religious Exceptions) Bill 2016 is effectively saying that LGBT people can be discriminated against simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, even where there is absolutely no reason why they cannot perform a particular role.

I do not believe such an extreme ideological position is sustainable in 2016. I sincerely hope you agree, and in doing so, vote for this Bill.

Please do not hesitate to contact me, at the details provided below, should you have any questions, or wish to clarify any of the above.

Sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

Footnotes:

[i] Noting that intersex status is not a protected attribute under Victorian law.

[ii] The wording of the amendment in relation to religious schools is largely similar.

[iii] Media Release, Is this kind of Government interference really warranted?, 1 September 2016.

[iv] Also expressed through my Submission to Victorian Greens Equal Opportunity Amendment (LGBTI Equality) Bill 2016.

[v] Perhaps the only complementary change that stands some chance of success in the current political environment would be the introduction of a provision requiring religious bodies and schools seeking to use the ‘inherent requirement exception’ to advertise the fact it will discriminate against LGBT employees with respect to particular positions, rather than simply asserting this ability as part of any defence to discrimination proceedings. However, determining whether such an amendment would be passed is best left to Victorian LGBTI advocates.

[vi] In drafting this email I have been careful to avoid language that rules out the need for further reform, or that would contradict amendments to the Bill, such as those proposed by the Victorian Greens (which would limit the ability of religious bodies or schools to discriminate to a greater degree), even if it is my personal view that such amendments are unlikely to be successful at this time.

What’s Wrong With the ACT Discrimination Act 1991?

This post is part of a series looking at Australia’s anti-discrimination laws, analysing them to determine how well, or in many cases how poorly, they protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people from discrimination and vilification. The other articles in the series can be found here.

In each post, the laws of each jurisdiction are assessed in relation to the following three areas:

  • Protected Attributes
  • Religious Exceptions, and
  • Anti-Vilification Coverage.

Based on these criteria, the Australian Capital Territory Discrimination Act 1991 (‘the Act’) was already better than average in terms of its LGBTI anti-discrimination laws. The good news is that, as a result of the passage of the Discrimination Amendment Act 2016, the ACT’s LGBTI protections have improved further.

However, as we shall see below, just because it is better than flawed schemes operating elsewhere, doesn’t mean the ACT’s law is without faults – chief among them the ongoing broad exceptions provided to religious organisations allowing them to discriminate against LGBTI people.

Nevertheless, let’s focus on the positives first:

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Protected Attributes

The ACT Discrimination Act 1991 that was in force (as of Monday 3 October 2016), includes the following as protected attributes in section 7:

7(1)(b) sexuality – which is defined in the Act’s dictionary as “heterosexuality, homosexuality (including lesbianism) or bisexuality”, and

7(1)(c) gender identity – defined as:

“(a) the identification on a genuine basis by a person of one sex as a member of the other sex (whether or not the person is recognised as such)-

(i) by assuming characteristics of the other sex, whether by way of medical intervention, style of dressing or otherwise; or

(ii) by living, or seeking to live, as a member of the other sex; or

(b) the identification on a genuine basis by a person of indeterminate sex as a member of a particular sex (whether or not the person is recognised as such)-

(i) by assuming characteristics of that sex, whether by way of medical intervention, style of dressing or otherwise; or

(ii) by living, or seeking to live, as a member of that sex.”

The terminology used in both definitions is exclusionary – although that is less important in terms of sexuality because it includes all lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

The real problem is in the definition of gender identity, which excluded non-binary trans or gender diverse people, effectively leaving them without anti-discrimination protections in the ACT.

It also appeared to make an attempt to include intersex people in part (b) of the definition (‘a person of indeterminate sex’), but does not genuinely cover intersex people being discriminated against on the basis of their intersex status.

Fortunately, both of these issues have been addressed through the Discrimination Amendment Act 2016, with provisions that commenced on 3 April 2017.

First, the definition of gender identity has been amended to the following:

“[G]ender identity means the gender-related identity, appearance or mannerisms or other gender-related characteristics of a person, with or without regard to the person’s designated sex at birth.

Note Gender identity includes the gender identity that the person has or has had in the past, or is thought to have or have had in the past.”

Second, the list of protected attributes in section 7 has been amended to explicitly include ‘intersex status’, which is defined in the dictionary as “status as an intersex person” (although it should be noted that, in the March 2017 Darlington Statement, intersex activists called for this terminology to be replaced by ‘sex characteristics’).

Consequently, while the previous Discrimination Act 1991 only protected some transgender people from discrimination, and had very limited intersex protections, the Act now provides comprehensive coverage for trans and gender diverse people, and has joined the Commonwealth, Tasmania and South Australia as the only jurisdictions that specifically protect intersex people.

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Anti-Vilification Coverage

The ACT’s vilification protections have also been improved by the commencement of provisions contained in the Discrimination Amendment Act 2016[ii].

Previously, vilification was prohibited on the basis of sexuality and gender identity (using the same exclusionary definition discussed above)[iii].

However, as with its discrimination protections, this has been expanded to include non-binary trans or gender diverse people (through an updated definition of ‘gender identity’).

It has also prohibited vilification of intersex people on the basis of their intersex status for the first time – making the ACT one of only two jurisdictions to do so, alongside Tasmania[iv].

In fact, the ACT’s LGBTI vilification protections are now the best in the country, given the offence of serious vilification, contained in section 750 of the Criminal Code 2002, applies to serious vilification on the basis of intersex status (whereas in Tasmania, while vilification against all LGBTI people is generally prohibited[v], the more serious offence of ‘inciting hatred’ only applies to ‘sexual orientation’ or ‘lawful sexual activity’[vi], and excludes both gender identity and intersex status).

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Religious Exceptions

On the basis of the above, it is clear the ACT now has close-to-best practice anti-discrimination laws in terms of their protected attributes (covering all parts of the LGBTI community) and anti-vilification coverage (again, protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people).

Alas, the Discrimination Act 1991 falls down (from its pedestal) when it comes to religious exceptions, aka special provisions that allow religious organisations to discriminate against people on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

The primary religious exceptions are outlined in section 32 Religious bodies, which states that:

“Part 3 [which contains the prohibitions of discrimination] does not apply in relation to-

(a) the ordination or appointment of priests, ministers of religion or members of any religious order; or

(b) the training or education of people seeking ordination or appointment as priests, ministers of religion or members of a religious order; or

(c) the selection or appointment of people to exercise functions for the purposes of, or in connection with, any religious observance or practice; or

(d) any other act or practice of a body established for religious purposes, if the act or practice conforms to the doctrines, tenets or beliefs of that religion and is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion.”

As has been noted in previous posts, the first three sub-sections ((a), (b) and (c)), can potentially be justified on the basis that there is a direct connection with the appointment and training of religious office-holders, or the conduct of religious ceremonies.

However, sub-section 32(d) is effectively a blanket exception that allows any religious organisation – including religious-operated schools, hospitals and community services – to discriminate against LGBTI employees, and LGBTI people accessing their services. This is clearly unacceptable in 2016.

Unfortunately, it gets worse. Section 33 Educational institutions conducted for religious purposes, provides religious schools with an additional right to discriminate:

“(1) Section 10 or 13 [which prohibit discrimination against applicants, employees and contract workers] does not make it unlawful for a person (the first person) to discriminate against someone else in relation to-

(a) employment as a member of the staff of an educational institution; or

(b) a position as a contract worker that involves doing work in an educational institution;

if the institution is conducted in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings or a particular religion or creed, and the first person so discriminates in good faith to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion or creed.

(2) Section 18 [which prohibits discrimination in relation to education] does not make it unlawful for a person (the first person) to discriminate against someone else in relation to the provision of education or training by an educational institution that is conducted in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of a particular religion or creed, if the first person so discriminates in good faith to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion or creed.”

In effect, section 33 makes it lawful for religious schools to discriminate against LGBTI teachers and students, as long as the school claims such discrimination is in line with its religious (so-called) ‘values’, without even having to rely on the general religious exception established in sub-section 32(d), outlined above.

There can be no justification for such an expansive ‘freedom’ to discriminate, in an important area of public life, particularly where it has nothing whatsoever to do with that teacher’s ability to perform their role, and where it potentially denies a young LGBTI person their fundamental right to education free from prejudice.

But wait, there’s more. The Discrimination Act 1991 includes additional specific exceptions which[vii]:

  • Allow religious-operated education and health services to discriminate on the basis of religious conviction “if the duties of the employment or work involve, or would involve, the participation by the employee or worker in the teaching, observance or practice of the relevant religion”[viii] and
  • Allow religious operated education services to discriminate “on the ground of religious conviction in relation to a failure to accept a person’s application for admission as a student at an educational institution that is conducted solely for students having a religious conviction other than that of the applicant.”[ix]

These are pretty generous exceptions in and of themselves (especially allowing schools, which accept money from all taxpayers, religious and non-religious alike, the ability to reject students on the basis of their religion).

But we are left with the following questions:

  • If religious schools can already discriminate on the basis of religion in terms of appointing employees who participate “in the teaching, observance or practice of the relevant religion” under section 44, why would the school need the ability to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status under either sub-section 32(d) or sub-section 33(1)?
  • Similarly, if religious schools can already discriminate on the basis of religion in terms of accepting students under section 46, why would the school need the ability to discriminate against LGBTI students under either sub-section 32(d) or sub-section 33(2)?

It is clear then that the religious exceptions offered under the ACT Discrimination Act 1991 are excessive, and encourage religious-operated schools, hospitals and community services to discriminate across a wide range of circumstances. This ‘right to discriminate’ goes far beyond what might be considered necessary to protect the freedom of people to practice their religion (which would be covered by sub-sections 32(a),(b) and(c), and potentially a narrower version of section 44).

As a result, the existing religious exceptions in the Act fundamentally undermine the right of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Canberrans to go about their lives, their work, their education, and looking after their health, without having to worry about the prejudice which they might encounter – and which is currently endorsed by the ACT Government.

It must be a priority for the Barr Labor Government to repeal these overly-generous exceptions as a matter of priority.

andrewbarr

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr, who won re-election on 15 October 2016. It is his responsibility to repeal the excessive religious exceptions contained in the Discrimination Act 1991.

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Summary

As a result of recent amendments, the ACT Discrimination Act 1991 now protects all sections of the LGBTI community from discrimination. It also features the best anti-vilification coverage of any state, territory or federal framework in Australia.

However, these positive features are negated by religious exceptions that allow discrimination by religious organisations against LGBTI people in a wide range of circumstances, even where it has absolutely nothing to do with the appointment of religious office-holders or the observance of religious ceremonies. Unwinding these exceptions is essential to better protecting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in the ACT.

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Footnotes:

NB Footnote [i] has been deleted as a result of editing.

[ii] Noting that the ACT is already one of only four jurisdictions in the country – together with Queensland, NSW and Tasmania – that has any anti-vilification laws for any parts of the LGBTI community.

[iii] Section 67A of the Act prohibits unlawful vilification:

“(1) It is unlawful for a person to incite hatred toward, revulsion of, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of a person or group of people on the ground of any of the following, other than in private:

(b) gender identity…

(f) sexuality.”

[iv] Noting that the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 does not prohibit vilification against any section of the LGBTI community.

[v] Section 17, Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act 1998.

[vi] Section 19, Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act 1998.

[vii] Sub-section 26(1)(b) also allows discrimination in “the provision of accommodation by a religious body for members of a relevant class of people”.

[viii] Section 44, ACT Discrimination Act 1991.

[ix] Section 46, ACT Discrimination Act 1991.

The National Curriculum Review Fails to Support LGBTI Students

The Final Report of the Review of the Australian Curriculum, conducted by Ken Wiltshire and Kevin Donnelly, was released on Sunday 12 October 2014, accompanied by the Commonwealth Government’s Response (both documents can be found at the following link: <http://www.studentsfirst.gov.au/review-australian-curriculum ).

Based on initial reporting (including this article by Samantha Maiden in The Sunday Telegraph <http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/teenagers-should-be-given-lessons-on-sex-and-drugs-national-curriculum-report-states/story-fni0cx12-1227087475187 ), you could be forgiven for believing that the outcome of the Review was, overall, a positive one for LGBTI students, with a commitment to include content relevant to their needs.

Unfortunately, however, a closer examination of the Final Report, and the Government’s Response, reveals that it is nothing more than another missed opportunity, yet another failure to ensure that the national Health & Physical Education (HPE) curriculum caters to the needs of all students, including those of different sexual orientations, gender identities and intersex status.

To understand just how far short of this standard the ‘Wiltshire & Donnelly’ Review falls, we must first look back at the development of the HPE curriculum. Drafted by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment & Reporting Authority (ACARA) during 2012 and 2013, the HPE curriculum was subject to two rounds of formal public consultation, before the current draft was submitted for the consideration of COAG Education Ministers late last year.

Despite a number of submissions highlighting the HPE curriculum’s failure to genuinely include LGBTI students and content (including two from yours truly: <https://alastairlawrie.net/2013/04/11/submission-on-national-health-physical-education-curriculum/ and <https://alastairlawrie.net/2013/07/30/submission-on-redrafted-national-health-physical-education-curriculum/ ), and even after some minor tinkering around the edges (with a couple of welcome references to ‘homophobia’ and ‘transphobia’ added), the current draft of the HPE curriculum does not guarantee that all students will learn what they need to know to be comfortable in who they are, and to stay safe.

In particular, as I made clear in my submission to the National Curriculum Review itself, the draft HPE curriculum:

  • Has significant problems in terms of terminology – for example, it does not even use the words ‘lesbian’, ‘gay’ or ‘bisexual’ once in the entire document.
  • Includes a fine-sounding commitment to student diversity that is almost immediately undermined by allowing “schools flexibility to meet the learning needs of all young people” – and which is especially poor when compared with the first draft that clearly stated that “same-sex attracted and gender diverse students exist in all Australian schools”.
  • Does not ensure students receive comprehensive sexual health education – with no year band descriptions providing a minimum level of information about sexually transmissible infections, and no references to condoms either, and
  • Completely excludes HIV and other BBVs, like hepatitis B and C – despite the fact that, more than 30 years into the HIV epidemic in Australia, the number of transmissions is rising (with one potential cause a lack of comprehensive and inclusive sexual health/BBV education for students).

[NB My full submission to the National Curriculum Review is available here: <https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/03/13/submission-to-national-curriculum-review-re-national-health-physical-education-curriculum/ ].

The choice to appoint noted homophobe Kevin Donnelly (see my letter to Minister Pyne calling for Mr Donnelly to be sacked on that basis: <https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/01/11/letter-to-minister-pyne-re-health-physical-education-curriculum-and-appointment-of-mr-kevin-donnelly/ ) to review what was already a poor document was obviously a major concern.

And I will be the first to admit that the Final Report of the National Curriculum Review, including its recommendations about the HPE curriculum, is not as bad as was initially anticipated. But just because it did not live down to some exceptionally low expectations, does not mean that the outcome for the HPE curriculum, and its potential impact on LGBTI students, was in any way positive.

The first major failing of the National Curriculum Review’s approach is that it appears to concede, without mustering much opposition, that, far from being a national minimum standard, the HPE curriculum is essentially optional.

For example, it notes that “one jurisdiction said it would refuse to implement the content in sexual orientation” (which appears to be Western Australia), while “a few schools are implacably opposed to the inclusion of such material [sexuality education] and some have refused to teach it”, and “[o]ne organisation claimed they would not teach it as prescribed as it did not fit in with their religious values.”

Presumably, that final organisation was the National Catholic Education Office (NCEC), with the Final Report noting that “the submission by the NCEC signals that Catholic schools reserve the right to implement the Australian Curriculum according to the uniquely faith-based and religious nature of such schools: For example, as usual in all Catholic schools, the new Health and Physical Education Curriculum will need to be taught in the context of a Personal Development program informed by Catholic values on the life and personal issues involved” (emphasis in original).

Which means that Catholic Schools – which now account for more than 1-in-5 students across Australia – (presumably) Western Australian schools, and select other schools, have all refused to implement a document that wasn’t even genuinely LGBTI-inclusive to start.

The second major failing, or in this case potential failing, of the National Curriculum Review’s approach is that it supports “the need to reduce the amount of content overall”, noting that “[s]ubmissions and consultations and the opinion of the subject matter specialist suggest that it is overcrowded and needs some slimming down and some restricting of year-level content. Some of the content could well be addressed more in school-based activity.”

Indeed, one of its key recommendations is that “[t]he core content should be reduced and a significant portion should become part of school-based curriculum…” While this recommendation isn’t explicitly linked to LGBTI-related content, there is now a real risk that, in finalising the HPE Curriculum, either at the COAG Education Ministers meeting in December, or subsequently during 2015, what little LGBTI-inclusive material there is may be on the chopping block. This is something that will need to be monitored closely in coming months.

The third major failing of the National Curriculum Review in this area is that, rather than mandating that every student, in every school, receives a minimum level of LGBTI-related education, it instead supports ever greater levels of ‘flexibility’ in terms of what is delivered in the classroom (noting that that the original HPE curriculum already supported ‘flexibility’ in this area).

For example, in one particularly telling paragraph it notes “[o]ther schools, including Christian schools, have advised us that they are comfortable with the inclusion of such content [sexuality education] in the health and physical education curriculum, provided there is flexibility so that they are able to teach it at the age level they deem appropriate, and by mature teachers rather than younger ones who may feel challenged in this arena. We think this is the way forward.”

Which, upon analysis, is actually a pretty bizarre statement – not just because it shouldn’t matter how old a teacher is, as long as they are appropriately qualified, but also because the National Curriculum Review is essentially agreeing to schools disregarding the evidence of when it is best to provide sexuality/sexual health education to students. Instead, the Review supports allowing schools to teach this content at whatever age they wish, without any justification, and presumably delaying it beyond the age at which it would be most valuable.

The recommendation in this area goes even further: “[t]he two controversial areas of sexuality and drugs education should remain, but schools should be given greater flexibility to determine the level at which these areas are introduced and the modalities in which they will be delivered…” (emphasis added). Which means that even how sexuality education is taught is apparently negotiable.

The net outcome of the National Curriculum Review, at least as it concerns Health & Physical Education, is this: A curriculum that already largely excludes LGBTI students and content, is, in practice, essentially optional, with at least one jurisdiction, one religion-based school system, and other individual schools all opting-out. What LGBTI-related subject matter there is remains under threat as the content is ‘slimmed down’ in coming months, while those religious schools that do teach ‘sexuality education’ will have the ‘flexibility’ to choose when it is taught, how it is taught and even by whom it is taught.

Which, to me at least, sounds like the exact opposite of what a national curriculum should be – and demonstrates just how big a missed opportunity this entire process has been.

A national Health & Physical Education curriculum should be a document that recognises that, no matter what state they reside in, and irrespective of the type of school they attend (government, religious or private), all LGBTI students have the fundamental right to an inclusive education.

The existing HPE curriculum does not even come close to recognising that right, and the Final Report of the Australian Curriculum Review will not deliver it, either. That is why we must give the ‘Wiltshire & Donnelly’ Review a fail – because it fails to support LGBTI students.

Two final points. First, at least one of the explanations for why the National Curriculum Review has ultimately failed LGBTI students lies in the fact that it actively bought into the notion that the area of ‘sexuality education’ is somehow controversial. Well, that is simply not true.

Just because there are people who disagree with something does not make it controversial. Just because some governments, religious organisations, individual schools and even some parents do not think students should be taught material because it is LGBTI-inclusive, does not mean their opinion is valid.

None of their individual or collective prejudices about sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status trump the rights of LGBTI students to hear about themselves in the classroom, and to be taught that who they are is okay. Nor do the so-called interests of these groups override the need to reduce the number of suicides of young lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, an ongoing tragedy in schools and communities across the country.

Which brings me to my final point. Some people believe that the inclusion of the following paragraph indicates that the Curriculum Review is supportive of LGBTI students:

“Expert medical opinion is clear that, along with the earlier maturation of young people, there is currently a serious crisis – including youth suicides – occurring in Australian society in this domain as a result of a lack of forums and spaces where young people can discuss such issues, including sexuality. The school setting, on the assumption that the curriculum is balanced and objective in dealing with what are sensitive and often controversial issues, offers one of the few neutral places for this to occur.”

Of course, I agree with the majority of this statement (reference to ‘controversial’ aside) – as would many advocates operating in this area. But, if you are to raise the spectre of youth suicide, and LGBTI youth suicide in particular, but then fail to deliver a document that would do anything to tackle this crisis, then, Mr Wiltshire and Mr Donnelly, your words aren’t just hollow and tokenistic, they are offensive.

Ken Wiltshire & Kevin Donnelly's National Curriculum Review has failed LGBTI students around the country.

Ken Wiltshire & Kevin Donnelly’s National Curriculum Review has failed to support LGBTI students around the country.