Treasurer Frydenberg, Please Abolish the National School Chaplaincy Program

This post is part of a series looking at the unfinished business of LGBTI equality in Australia. You can see the rest of the posts here


The Morrison Liberal-National Government is currently calling for Pre-Budget Submissions for the 2019-20 Commonwealth Budget. Submissions close 1 February 2019 – for more details click here.


Please see my submission below, which I have also sent to the Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten and Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen.




Treasurer Josh Frydenberg MP



Monday 28 January 2019


Dear Treasurer


Please Abolish the National School Chaplaincy Program


Thank you for the opportunity to provide a submission ahead of the upcoming 2019-20 Commonwealth Budget.


In this submission I will make the case for what should be the easiest Budget decision of them all – to save $247 million over four years by abolishing the National School Chaplaincy Program.


There are multiple reasons why this entirely unjustified program should be axed, with most stemming from the requirement that any person who acts as a school chaplain must be religious. This requirement is completely inappropriate in a contemporary society.


In theory, these positions are supposed to be about improving student welfare. In practice, they are about promoting Christian theology, including in supposedly secular public schools.


As the Guardian Australia reported, in 2015 the Education Department revealed that of 2,336 chaplains funded by the Commonwealth Government, 2,312 (or 99%) were Christian, with the negligible remainder split between Islam (13), Judaism (eight) and one each from Bahai, Buddhism and Aboriginal traditional religions.


As a program it has already been found to be unconstitutional on multiple occasions (thanks to the ongoing efforts of the courageous Ron Williams). Successive Commonwealth Governments have responded by resorting to increasingly intricate arrangements to circumvent these findings.


Indeed, on a prima facie reading, the program is clearly in breach of section 116 of the Constitution, which provides that:


‘Commonwealth not to legislate in respect of religion

The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.’


The only reason the program has not been found unlawful because of section 116 is because the money to fund it is now funnelled through grants to state and territory governments.


Instead of engaging in this intellectual dishonesty, the Commonwealth Government should instead honour the spirit of the Constitution. As Treasurer, you should acknowledge that the National School Chaplaincy Program imposes a religious test on positions that are paid for with taxpayers’ monies – and consequently abolish it.


The religious requirement for chaplaincy positions presents another legal problem, and that is it is potentially in breach of state and territory anti-discrimination and equal opportunity laws,[i] because it actively discriminates against people with different religions, or who have no religion.


This is currently being tested in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, with a complaint against Access Ministries by a person who was barred from applying for a position with them because she was not Christian. As noted in that complaint:


‘The discrimination is not reasonably necessary for Access Ministries to comply with the doctrines, beliefs or principles of the religion associated with Access Ministries, because the work of a school chaplain takes place in a non-religious context and workplace, namely a government school, with a student population made up of students with a variety of religious affiliations and with no religious affiliation.’


Hopefully, that challenge is successful. Even if it fails, it is likely that the lawfulness of the National School Chaplaincy Program will come under fresh scrutiny as the Commonwealth Government establishes a new Religious Discrimination Act, as part of its response to the Ruddock Religious Freedom Review.


It is impossible to argue the program does not discriminate on the basis of religious belief (or lack thereof), when such discrimination lies at its heart. There must be no special loopholes as part of any new Commonwealth Religious Discrimination Act merely to allow discrimination against non-Christians, agnostics and atheists alike to continue. Nor should there be taxpayer funding for this discrimination in the Commonwealth Budget.


A third reason why the National School Chaplaincy Program should be abolished is because of its internal contradiction, with people hired as school chaplains because they are religious then required not to ‘proselytise’ their beliefs as part of their role.


There have been multiple reports, over many years, of chaplains in public schools completely disregarding this prohibition.


From 2011The United Christian Education Foundation is the chaplaincy provider at Ulladulla High School on the New South Wales South Coast.


A newsletter on its website reads: “There is much to be thankful for as we look back on another year of bringing the great news of Jesus to the precious young people at Ulladulla High School. The other week a Year 7 boy put up his hand and said, ‘I asked Jesus into my life the other day’.


“A Year 8 girl told me about the peace she now has since becoming a Christian,” the newsletter continues.


Proselytising is against the federal Education Department’s guidelines on chaplaincy, but some students at the Ulladulla school believe the chaplain is there to convert them.


“[It is] basically to make people become of his religion. That’s it really. To convert people to their religion,” said Max, a Year 8 student.


Nick, a maths teacher at the primary school nearby, was shocked when the chaplain came to his school and invited the children to pray.


“The chaplain was addressing the Year 6 children, a majority of those children would be going to the local high school and he did say that he was available for children there, and they can come to him and pray with him, or if not, he would pray for them,” he said.


And from just last year: Generate Ministries, the largest provider of school chaplains in NSW, has begun offering a “faith building” course to students and told them their chaplain is one way of accessing the program.


The subject, called Veta Morpheous, is a certificate III course for HSC students developed by the Victorian-based Veta Youth which says the studies enable students to “really invest in your spiritual growth and to explore your faith with adult mentors” and “grow in your Christian life.”


“It’s a space… to discover who you are in Christ, and to test your faith in real life,” Veta Youth says.


In a now-amended statement on its website Generate Ministries said: “The key to the program is the local ministry supervisor and the peer group supervisor… this is often the local minister, Chaplain.”


When contact about the possible breach, Generate Ministries said it only intended for chaplains funded under a separate NSW wellbeing program to offer the course. However that program also forbids chaplains from proselytising.


There are countless other examples of chaplains engaged in proselytising behaviour. Perhaps just as concerning is what is not considered proselytising, and therefore deemed acceptable, with then-Education Minister Simon Birmingham telling Senate Estimates that proselytising is only ‘attempt[ing] to convert someone to a particular religion or belief’ and that quoting the Bible is not necessarily proselytising.


I am sure many parents with children attending public schools would be horrified by that distinction.


To some extent, it is difficult to blame chaplains for engaging in this behaviour. Telling them not to proselytise – when that activity forms such a central part of their identity, their ‘mission’ – is like telling News Corp columnists not to engage in culture wars. It is their raison d’etre, and they will continue to do so for as long as they draw breath (and expel hot air).


The fault instead lies with the Howard Liberal-National Government who first funded this program, and all subsequent Governments who have extended it, knowing that employing chaplains in schools will inevitably lead to proselytising to children, irrespective of what any guideline might say.


You will own your share of that blame if you do not abolish the National School Chaplaincy Program in your first Budget as Treasurer, expected in April 2019.


The fourth problem is a much more fundamental one, and that is, if the aim of the program is to promote student welfare, the National School Chaplaincy Program is a poorly-designed, and ineffective, approach.


It is an opt-in program, and even then the funding provided does not pay for a full-time position (with schools expected to fundraise to supplement the Government’s grant). Given the people hired must satisfy a religious test, it is also not open to all of the best-qualified people for the role,[ii] meaning some students will inevitably end up with second-rate support.


In short, it is a half-hearted attempt to address what is a genuine challenge.


If the Morrison Liberal-National Government was actually serious about student welfare, it would provide funding for school counsellors in all schools, and employ people based on their qualifications not their religious beliefs. If you are not prepared to do that, it is clear student welfare is not the primary focus of the program, and it must therefore be abolished.


My fifth and final concern is a much more personal one and that is, as a long-term advocate for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community, the National School Chaplaincy Program is inherently dangerous for LGBTI students.


This is not to say that all chaplains are homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or intersexphobic. I am sure there are many who are genuinely inclusive and respectful of all students irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics.


However, I am saying there have been too many examples, over too many years, of people employed under the National School Chaplaincy Program being harmful to young LGBTI people. In some cases, the organisations providing chaplains across different schools are themselves explicitly homophobic and transphobic.


For example, from 2014: ‘Citing a survey from gay rights organisation All Out, Senator [Lousie] Pratt said “students described chaplains helping them to ‘pray the gay away’ and advising them to sleep with a member of the opposite sex to ‘correct’ their same sex attraction”.’


And this, from 2015‘The school chaplaincy program in NSW is dominated by Generate Ministries, which lodged a submission to an Australian Human Rights Commission inquiry into religious freedom stating homosexuality is “a serious sin”.’


How could any LGBT student attending a school with a Generate Ministries chaplain ever feel comfortable seeking support from their supposed school welfare officer when that person thinks they are intrinsically sinful?


Meanwhile, from last year‘In one disturbing case, a transgender child was forced into seven sessions of chaplaincy counselling at her religious school – without her parents’ knowledge – in a bid to stop her from transitioning…


Canberra’s response [not to take action against gay conversion therapy] belies the fact that gay conversion ideology has been quietly pushed in schools as part of the federal government’s chaplaincy program.’


There are plenty of other examples of the National School Chaplaincy Program being the source of homophobia and transphobia. This is shameful, but not nearly as shameful as the fact taxpayers’ money – money from people like me – is being used to inflict these harms on young LGBTI people.


It is your moral responsibility, as Treasurer, to cease funding for a program that, rather than improving student welfare, contributes to the mistreatment of some of the most vulnerable members of society.




As I have outlined above, the only reason the National School Chaplaincy Program remains constitutional is because successive Commonwealth Governments have chosen to circumvent decisions of the High Court.


It is possible the program is unlawful under state and territory anti-discrimination laws, because it actively discriminates on the basis of religious belief, and it would likely fall foul of any new Commonwealth Religious Discrimination Act.


The National School Chaplaincy Program also suffers from an insurmountable internal contradiction, where people whose primary purpose is to proselytise are politely asked not to. It is unsurprising that many fail to obey this direction.


It is a poorly-designed, and ineffective, student welfare program; if Governments were actually serious about student welfare they would fund qualified counsellors in all schools. The National School Chaplaincy Program is also dangerous, and harmful, to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex students.


While these may sound like challenges, they also represent an opportunity for you, as Treasurer, to make perhaps the easiest saving of a quarter of a billion dollars that anyone could ever make. The only question is whether you are up to the task.


Thank you in advance for taking this submission into consideration.



Alastair Lawrie





Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who could save $247 million – or continue to fund the discriminatory, harmful and wasteful National School Chaplaincy Program.


Update: 12 April 2019

Treasurer Frydenberg handed down the Commonwealth Budget on Tuesday 2 April 2019. Unfortunately, although perhaps not unexpectedly, the Treasurer and the Morrison Liberal-National Government have decided to continue funding for the National School Chaplaincy Program, with $61.4 million committed for each of the next four years.

However, while not unexpected, it remains a disgraceful decision, and an unjustifiable waste of $245.6 million in taxpayers money, on a scheme that is discriminatory against people who are not christian, and inherently harmful for LGBTI students in particular.

With a federal election now scheduled for Saturday 18 May 2019, it is up to the Australian public to vote out a Government that prefers to subsidise the religious indoctrination of children rather than genuinely support student welfare.


If you have enjoyed reading this article, please consider subscribing to receive future posts, via the right-hand scroll bar on the desktop version of this blog or near the bottom of the page on mobile. You can also follow me on twitter @alawriedejesus



[i] In the states and territories where religious belief is a protected attribute, noting that New South Wales and South Australia currently do not prohibit religious discrimination in their anti-discrimination laws.

[ii] I am not suggesting that all people currently hired as chaplains do not have appropriate student welfare qualifications, but I am saying that, by excluding a large proportion of people because of their religious beliefs (or lack thereof) the talent pool of people hired must inevitably be significantly diminished.

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

Update #2:

On 3 April 2019 – immediately prior to the Morrison Liberal-National Government calling the federal election – the Committee published a Second Interim Report, which can be found here.

The Second Report discusses both the concerns of religious organisations that their rights are under threat (without providing any compelling evidence that this threat is real) and those of other organisations that religious rights are currently privileged at the expense of other groups, including LGBTI people, with my own submission quoted on page 36:

“Mr Alastair Lawrie argues that religious exceptions “inherently lead to human rights abuses against LGBT people” and give religious schools “free rein to mistreat lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.”

The Report then discusses a range of different approaches to legislating in this area, including a Charter or Bill of Rights, a Religious Freedom Act (which would give religious organisations positive rights to discriminate against LGBT people), a Religious Discrimination Act (which would introduce religion as a protected attribute in Commonwealth law), as well as expanding or limiting religious exceptions in anti-discrimination laws.

The Committee only made two recommendations:

  1. The Sub-Committee recommends that the Australian Government, in consultation with the states and territories, develop and introduce or amend as necessary, legislation to give full effect to Australia’s obligations under Article 18 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
  2. The Sub-Committee recommends that this inquiry be continued in the 46th parliament, so as to enable a proper and thorough consideration of the international situation for the status of the human right to freedom of religion or belief before a final report can be tabled.

While at first glance Recommendation 1 appears innocuous, the prioritisation of the freedom of religion, over and above other fundamental human rights (such as the right to non-discrimination) carries significant risks for vulnerable communities, including and especially for LGBTI Australians. Article 18 of the ICCPR in particular must not be legislated on its own without important qualifications that protect others from religious-motivated discrimination.

If the Morrison Liberal-National Government is re-elected in May, LGBTI people must be on guard against any further encroachment of our rights in this area.


Update #1:

On 30 November 2017, the Committee published an Interim Report, looking at the issue of freedom of religion and how it is applied in domestic law. That report can be found here.


In particular, Chapter 7 (from page 75 onwards) discusses the interaction between religious freedom and other human rights, including the right to be free from discrimination. This is obviously the most relevant debate for the LGBTI community.


The Committee did not make any recommendations, but did raise a number of now-familiar arguments by the Australian Christian Lobby and others that rather than narrowing religious exceptions to anti-discrimination laws, they should be broadened, as well as re-framed as positive rights to discriminate (rather than simply exceptions).


It will be interesting to see, if and when the Committee hands down its final report, what recommendations it does make and how they have been shaped by subsequent debates, including the release of the Ruddock Religious Freedom Review and moves to abolish the ability of religious schools to discriminate against LGBT students.


Original Post:

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


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.



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.



[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.




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




  • 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




  • 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




  • 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




  • 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




  • 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




  • 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.




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




  • 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




  • 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




  • 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.






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.




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: (3pm to midnight every day)



[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.

Dear Joe Hockey, $245 million for School Chaplains? You Cannot be Serious

Just over a month ago I wrote to you arguing that, if you were serious about cutting Commonwealth expenditure, you must axe the National School Chaplaincy Program. (link: < )

This program is a completely unjustifiable breach of the principle of the separation of church and state, supporting the appointment of people whose primary ‘qualification’ is their religion to positions in secular, government-run schools. It is also ineffective, with little or no evidence that employing chaplains benefits students overall (especially when compared with appointing properly-trained and qualified student welfare workers or counsellors).

Above all, with the National School Chaplaincy Program costing more than $50 million each and every year, this initiative is the epitome of waste. $50 million per year may not have seemed like a huge spend when it was first introduced (as Howard and Costello bathed in the rivers of cash flowing into the treasury coffers) but, in a post-GFC world, when the revenue stream has well and truly dried up, the largesse of this scheme is apparent.

Since I wrote to you, the final report of the National Commission of Audit has been released, and, much to my surprise, they recognised both the extravagance of, and lack of policy rationale for, this scheme, recommending that it be abolished. Even your hand-picked, right-wing Audit warriors thought funding school chaplains could not be justified.

So, when you rose to your feet to deliver the Budget on Tuesday night, the pressure was on you: were you in fact serious about cutting expenditure, including abolishing wasteful and ineffective programs irrespective of which side of politics had introduced them, or did balancing the Budget not matter as much as supporting narrow, ideological interests?

Alas, in the Budget papers, we the Australian public quickly discovered that, despite all the talk of ‘fiscal responsibility’ and ‘repairing the Budget’, you nevertheless had chosen to provide $245 million to the National School Chaplaincy Program, to continue its operation from 1 January 2015 to the end of 2018.

That decision in and of itself was terrible, but it is made worse, by several orders of magnitude, when it is contrasted with some of the other decisions contained in the Budget, including:

  • The introduction of a $7 co-payment for visiting a doctor, as well as a $5 increase in the cost of prescriptions through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme;
  • A $7.9 billion cut in the foreign aid budget over the next 5 years;
  • A $500 million cut to expenditure on indigenous programs over the next 5 years (this under the ‘Prime Minister for Indigenous affairs’);
  • A rise in the pension age from 67 to 70 (phased in to 2035), as well as a reduction in future pension increases;
  • An increase in university fees, with loans to be charged at much higher interest rates and the repayment threshold significantly lowered; and
  • The introduction of a 6-month wait for access to unemployment benefits for people under 30 (and even then, payment at a reduced rate).

That list sounds like a ‘Tea Party’ inspired re-imagining of The New Colossus: “Give me your tired, your (global) poor, your sick, your Aboriginal, your elderly, your young, your students and your unemployed, and we will make them pay.” When you spoke of ‘sharing the burden’, it seems like you almost went out of your way to ensure that the burden was shared, disproportionately, by the most vulnerable.

In that context, it looks more than bizarre that one of the main groups who do not have to experience any Budget pain are school chaplains. The decision to give them almost a quarter of a billion dollars doesn’t even make sense when looked at exclusively in the context of the Education Budget.

The $245 million provided to the National School Chaplaincy Program is the single biggest spending initiative in the budget for schools, which implies that it is the Abbott Government’s biggest school-related priority for its first year in office. This funding also stands in marked contrast to the decision not to provide any additional funding for students with disabilities, despite that being a major pre-election commitment.

Do you really think that subsidising chaplains is more important than funding students with disabilities, or indeed funding anything else to do with schools?

The worst part is that the decision to refund the School Chaplaincy program is not even the worst part about this announcement.

In Tuesday night’s media release (“Keeping our Commitments: Funding a National School Chaplaincy Program”, issued by Senator the Hon Scott Ryan, the Parliamentary for Education) the Government stated that “[t]he renewed programme will be returned to its original intent; to provide funding for school chaplains.”

As made clear, in supporting documentation and subsequent media coverage, this means that, from 1 January next year, only religious appointees, from ‘recognised denominations’, need apply.

This is a return to the Howard Government designed scheme from 2007, and abolishes the only redeeming feature of the entire program – which was the 2012 amendment, made by then Education Ministers the Hon Peter Garrett MP, to allow schools the choice to employ secular student welfare workers rather than chaplains.

In doing away with qualified student welfare workers, you have also removed the only fig-leaf of credibility which (partially) covered up the nakedly-ideological, and evidence-free, nature of the overall scheme.

It is impossible for you, and the Commonwealth Government in general, to claim that the National School Chaplaincy Program is genuinely about improving the welfare of students, when you are explicitly denying schools the opportunity to employ the best people for the job.

In the absence of any student welfare-based rationale, everyone can now see that the decision to provide new funding to the National School Chaplaincy Program is, at its core, a joke. The changes to the scheme’s rules, which mean that all 2,900 people employed under the scheme must be religious appointees, and cannot be secular student welfare workers, make it a bad joke at that.

But maybe we only see it as a bad joke because the joke is on us. After all, we the taxpayers are the ones footing the $245 million bill to allow chaplains and other religious office-holders inappropriate access to the schoolyard, and the classroom.

There are, of course, others who are laughing at our expense: the religious organisations who have their ‘outreach’ work to young impressionable minds publicly-subsidised; the religious fundamentalists in the Liberal-National Government (and, it must be said, some in the ALP Opposition) who believe it is the role of Government to ensure Australia is a ‘Christian nation’; and the major churches who want to break down, once and for all, the already fragile separation of church and state in this country.

The group laughing hardest, though, must be the Australian Christian Lobby, because this is your, and Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s, extravagant, quarter of a billion dollar gift to them. It must gladden your heart that, in his post-Budget media release (where it should be acknowledged he at least made the effort to criticise the overall impact of Budget cuts on the poor and disadvantaged) ACL Managing Director Lyle Shelton still found time to be thankful for the Chaplaincy Program. As an aside: Lyle, if you are genuinely concerned about cuts to foreign aid, maybe you should by lobbying for that $245 million to go overseas instead.

So, when you stood up on Tuesday night and said that ‘we are a nation of lifters, not leaners’, it was, like so much of what you said, just empty rhetoric. Because, as you have so amply demonstrated through this single, fundamentally wasteful decision, groups like the Australian Christian Lobby can always lean on you.

Of course, funding the National School Chaplaincy Program for another four years, and even changing its rules, probably wasn’t the worst decision contained in the Federal Budget. It definitely isn’t the decision that will cause the most harm to struggling individuals, both here and overseas (the list of other changes outlined above will likely all have far more deleterious consequences than simply putting 2,900 religious appointees in schools).

But the decision to award $245 million to this scheme reveals, probably more than any other choice made by you and the other members of the Expenditure Review Committee, just how twisted the Budget priorities of this Government really are. In amongst the carnage of savage cuts to health, to education, to the pension and to foreign aid, you and your colleagues nevertheless found room in your hearts, and our wallets, to fund the National School Chaplaincy Program.

The role of the nation’s Treasurer is a serious one, bringing with it solemn responsibilities. You are supposed to tax wisely, spend fairly, look after the most vulnerable and invest for our collective future. In your first Budget, you instead chose to hurt some of those who are the most disadvantaged, while still helping your – ideological and political – friends. I am sorry to say, Mr Hockey, but on May 13, you failed to live up to the serious responsibilities of Treasurer.

Treasurer Joe Hockey, not serious about cutting wasteful programs like school chaplains. Is serious about granting the wishes of groups like the ACL. (image source:

Treasurer Joe Hockey, not serious about cutting wasteful programs like school chaplains. Is serious about granting the wishes of groups like the ACL (image source:

Dear Joe Hockey, If you’re serious about cutting expenditure, you must axe school chaplains

As promised during the 2013 federal election campaign, one of the first actions of the Tony Abbott-led Liberal-National Government was to establish a National Commission of Audit, to review all Commonwealth expenditure in an effort to reduce spending and ultimately deliver a Budget surplus.

Indeed, the Terms of Reference for the Commission of Audit described it as a “full-scale review of the activities of the Commonwealth government to:

-ensure taxpayers are receiving value-for-money from each dollar spent;

-eliminate wasteful spending; …

-identify areas or programs where Commonwealth involvement is inappropriate…” [among other objectives].

The Commission’s first report was delivered to the Treasurer, Joe Hockey, in mid-February, and the second was handed over at the end of March. The contents of both reports were, quite cynically, kept from the public ahead of the Western Australian half-Senate election on 5 April (because you wouldn’t want an electorate to actually be informed about impending spending cuts before they vote), although, with only one month left until the Federal Budget is handed down it’s highly likely they will be released in the next week or two.

It is expected that the Commission will recommended that the axe fall on (or at least make significant cuts to) a wide range of different programs, with apparently ‘authorised’ leaks focusing on things like the aged pension, Medicare (through a $6 co-payment) and other vital health, education and welfare services.

However, there is one program that, I believe, meets all of the above criteria and thoroughly deserves to be cut as part of any serious expenditure review: the National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program. It is almost impossible to argue that putting ministers of religion into government schools could ever be value-for-money, when compared with almost any other government expense. As well as being enormously wasteful spending, it would also seem to be the definition of a program where Commonwealth involvement is inappropriate.

And yet, given the highly political nature of the Commission of Audit, I suspect it is unlikely the National School Chaplaincy Program is under any real threat. Even if the Commission were to recommend its abolition, it is hard to believe that Joe Hockey would actually follow through on any such advice when he rises to the dispatch box on the night of Tuesday 13 May.

More’s the pity. The National School Chaplaincy Program is amongst the worst examples of public policy over the past decade (and there have been some absolute shockers in that time). It was introduced by John Howard in the dying days of his government (2007), as he realised his grip on power was loosening with age – basically, it was a sop to ultra-conservatives and religious fundamentalists (both of which can be found in the form of the Australian Christian Lobby) to entice them to remain aboard his sinking electoral ship.

Alas, in a demonstration that poor policy, and religious pork-barrelling, can be bipartisan, the incoming Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, maintained the National Schools Chaplaincy Program throughout his first stint in the Lodge. When it came time to review the first three years of its operation, frustratingly he and his then Deputy, Education Minister Julia Gillard, chose to continue, rather than close, the program.

As Prime Minister in the lead-up to the 2010 poll, Gillard then announced a $222 million extension of the program til the end of this year (2014). This money was also provided to allow for expansion of the scheme’s coverage, from 2,700 schools up to 3,550 schools.

The only figure that accomplished anything to at least partially mitigate the genuine awfulness of the National Schools Chaplaincy Program over the past seven years was Education Minister Peter Garrett, who changed the program guidelines from the start of 2012 to allow schools to choose between chaplains or qualified student counsellors (hence the revised name). He also attempted to introduce a requirement that all workers, including chaplains, have some level of relevant qualifications, although recognition of ‘prior learning’ on the job was also encouraged.

Nevertheless, the vast majority of people employed as a result of this scheme remain ministers of religion. Imagine that: in 2014, the Commonwealth Government provides up to $24,000 per year to more than three and a half thousand schools to subsidise the employment of someone whose primary ‘qualification’, indeed whose primary vocation full stop, is to proselytise.

Ironically, the National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program Guidelines then go to great lengths to attempt to limit the ability of chaplains to proselytise or evangelise from their position of authority within the school community, which is about as useful as telling a tree to stop growing leaves (or telling Cory Bernardi to stop being a bigot). It seems like the apotheosis of a set of rules where adherence, rather than breach, will be the exception.

The Guidelines themselves are also full of loopholes, allowing chaplains to “provid[e] services with a spiritual content (excluding religious education) including facilitating discussion groups and lunch time clubs” with approval and consent, as well as “performing religious services/rites (such as worship or prayer during school assembly etc), with… appropriate prior consent”.

This is an obvious and serious contravention of the principle of the separation of church and state. In the United States, such a program – paying for men (and some women) of faith to introduce their religion into government schools – would be struck out as unconstitutional by their Supreme Court.

Sadly, the anaemic interpretation of section 116 of the Constitution adopted by the High Court of Australia in the “DOGS case” [Attorney-General (Vic); Ex Rel Black v Commonwealth [1981] HCA 2; (1981) 146 CLR 559 (2 February 1981)] meant that it was never going to be struck down here, or at least not on those grounds.

Even after the program was successfully challenged by Toowoomba father, and man of principle, Ron Williams in 2012, with the High Court finding that the scheme did not have a legislative basis to appropriate money, the Government squibbed the ideal chance to abandon a flawed program and instead rushed through legislation to support its ongoing operation [as an aside, the High Court will be hearing a further challenge from Mr Williams, on May 6-8 2014, that the rushed omnibus Bill was itself unconstitutional].

And even if the National School Chaplaincy Program is ultimately found to be constitutional, there is still absolutely zero evidence that it is effective at improving the overall welfare of students.

If any of the Howard, Rudd, Gillard, Rudd (again) or now Abbott Governments genuinely considered that student welfare was a matter of priority, they would properly fund, rather than part subsidise, actual student counsellors or social workers to perform that function in every school, not implement a scheme where cashed-up churches could target individual cash-starved schools and offer the ‘services’ of ministers of religion, essentially as a backdoor way of indoctrinating a fresh generation of children.

There are ways in which the introduction of ministers of religion into schools can lead to direct harm too, not least of which being the issue of potential child sex abuse. In fact, at the same time as the hearings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse, the Government continues to encourage the employment of ministers of religion in public schools, with a code of conduct that allows them to have physical contact with students because “there may be some circumstances where physical contact may be appropriate such as where the student is injured or distraught”. [NB Obviously I am not saying that most, or even many, school chaplains are child sex abusers, but it seems unnecessary, and unnecessarily risky, to bring in people from institutions with a long history of covering-up such abuse and placing them in positions of trust in public schools.]

In addition, some (although obviously not all) ministers of religion also present a clear and present danger to young lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) students, given the blatant homophobia adopted by particular churches and their officials. This threat is explicitly acknowledged by the Guidelines, which in response attempts to prohibit discriminatory behaviour on the basis of sexuality (although it doesn’t appear as though either gender identity or intersex status are mentioned at all).

In the same way as the prohibition on ‘proselytising’ described above, however, it is inevitable that there will be some ministers of religion, in some schools, who deliberately flout those rules, and in the process cause untold harm to young LGBTI students.

In short, the National Schools Chaplaincy Program is philosophically unsound, has no evidence that it benefits student welfare, is expensive, potentially causes harm and is clearly an inappropriate activity to be funded through taxpayers’ money. Surely, out of all of the programs funded by the Commonwealth, across almost all areas, it should be at or near the top of any Commission of Audit ‘hit-list’.

Even if the Commission of Audit abrogates its basic responsibility to recommend that the National School Chaplaincy Program be axed, Treasurer Joe Hockey will still have to make a decision on the future of the program as part of the 2014-15 Budget, because, as noted earlier, funding for the scheme runs out at the end of this year.

What action Joe Hockey takes on this will reveal a great deal about what kind of Treasurer he intends to be. Of all the incoming Abbott Ministers, Hockey has been the loudest in condemning middle-class welfare, in arguing that the role of Government must be smaller, and that inappropriate or unjustifiable programs should be cut.

Well, here is an ideal opportunity to live up to at least some of that rhetoric, savings upwards of $222 million in the process (that’s the equivalent of one and a half $6 GP co-payments for every person in Australia). If he does so on 13 May, then he should be applauded for it (noting of course that there might, just might, be some other things in the Budget that warrant a somewhat different response).

If Hockey fails to rise to the occasion, and extends or even expands funding for ministers of religion in our public schools, then it will show that he is not serious at all about reining in inappropriate spending, and does not believe in small Government – instead, it will simply demonstrate that he believes in big government of a different kind, one that takes money from genuine welfare programs and places it in the hands of ministers of religion for the propagation of their beliefs.

So, now it’s over to you Joe: would you rather take money from people who simply want to see their doctor via a bulk-billed appointment, or from a program which funds the placement of ministers of religion into our public schools? I know which one I would choose. I guess we’ll find out on Budget night which one you do.