Time to end homophobia and transphobia in schools

Tony Abbott drew fire yesterday for making his education policy launch at the Penrith Christian School in Western Sydney. To understand the concern, all you have to do is read the school’s ‘statement of faith’; it’s guiding principles if you wish. In them, the school states:

“We believe that homosexuality and specific acts of homosexuality are an  abomination unto God, a perversion of the natural order and not to be entered into  by His people.”

“We believe the practice of attempting to or changing ones gender through  surgical and/or hormonal or artificial genetic means is contrary to the natural  order ordained by God.’’

I’m not going to get into a rant about Abbott visiting the school and how this shows his deep seeded homophobia. Abbott has said he “respectfully disagreed” with the school’s statements, and I can bet that many politicians of very different stripes have visited the school many times. But Abbott’s visit should open up a discussion about homophobia and transphobia in our schools – and our Government’s support for it.

Governments, at both the state and federal level, have for quite a while sanctioned this sort of treatment of LGBT kids. For example, earlier this year, Julia Gillard made assurances to the Australian Christian Lobby that under the proposed Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill, faith-based organisations would continue to be able to discriminate against LGBT people. It’s this discrimination that allows religious schools to fire LGBT teachers, and to ban LGBT students from enrolling in schools. After the Human Rights Act fell through, this discrimination stayed enshrined in the amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act passed in the middle of the year.

But it’s not just that religious schools can discriminate against LGBT kids – they also get Government funding to do so. For example, the very school that Abbott visited received two-thirds of its funding in 2011 from state and federal Governments.

In other words our Government is funding homophobic and transphobic schools and then giving them exemptions to discrimination laws, enshrining their bigotry. It’s disgraceful – no institution as hateful as this should be receiving public funds and no institution should be provided any exemptions to be allowed to continue this sort of discrimination.

But I think it goes beyond this, because even if these schools are not receiving public funds, I don’t think they should be allowed to exist at all. I know many people are going to say that these are issues of religious freedom. But when it comes to education I just don’t think it is those arguments that hold up.

For most people, it is around school time that you start to realise that you are gay, lesbian, bi or trans. It is the time that a student would attend a place like Penrith Christian School – and not because of their own choice, but normally because parents would send them there. And it is therefore in this time in particular that we must be super careful about creating open and welcoming places for kids of all genders and sexualities.

And when we think about it this way, I find it impossible to find any reason to let these schools continue to exist and operate on this sort of basis of discrimination. Whilst I agree with the right of people to exercise religious freedom, in this instance this freedom directly impinges on that of LGBT kids to attend a school free of discrimination, bigotry and hatred. The two freedoms are contradictory. And with the ongoing high mental health issues, suicide rates and bullying targeted at GLBT kids, I believe the right to grow up free of discrimination, bigotry and hatred is far more important than any right for parents to send their kids to schools that preach discrimination, bigotry and hatred.

And it wouldn’t be hard – in fact it is well within the mandate of our Government. Private school standards are defined in federal legislature through theEducation Act (Section 77) and private schools have to register with state Governments (see the WA version here) to be allowed to operate. It seems like a no brainer to me that these sorts of standards would include an anti-discrimination clause within them.

Both of our major political parties seem to agree that we want to end homophobia and transphobia in our society – at least at a superficial level. But at the time it is for many most important – in school – both of our major parties are actively sanctioning homophobia and transphobia in our schools.

The equation is simple; homophobia and transphobia does not belong in our schools – whether they are religious or not. It’s time we stepped up and ended it.

* Feature image by Niepr (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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