More than 1,000 current and former students from Anglican schools have signed an open letter to principals asking them to stop lobbying to keep legal exemptions allowing discrimination against gay teachers.
Last week, a group of 34 New South Wales Anglican school principals signed a letter to federal MPs demanding the controversial religious exemption allowing them to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity be kept until a right to freedom of religion is legislated.
But a letter-writing campaign by hundreds of former and current students has asked for the school principals to “judge staff by the quality of their work, not their sexual orientation.”
“School is meant to be a place of development, open expression and trust,” the letter reads.
“If LGBT staff are to be discriminated against due to their sexuality, they will have live in fear that they will lose their job if they are to be themselves.
“Living like this is not humane nor in any way acceptable.”
The organiser of the letter is Max Loomes, a former student of St Luke’s Grammar School in Sydney, and he told the Guardian he was “appalled” by the letter and he didn’t believe the school’s staff would have backed this action.
“The students and majority of the teachers at my former school were loving, open-minded and would not have condoned this sort of action,” he said.
“[The letter] appears to be an executive decision from higher up in the schools.”
In the original letter, the 34 principals argued the current anti-discrimination exemptions are “clumsy” but are “the only significant legal protections available to schools to maintain their ethos and values with regards to core issues of faith.”
They argued the debate had been “polemicised as the right to expel gay students and the right to dismiss gay staff members” but with “little evidence” that either occurs.
One former student of St Luke’s Grammar, Natalie, said she felt “incredibly sad” when she saw the school’s principal had signed the letter.
“If you say you are never going to use these powers, then what is the point of wanting to have them just in case?” she told the Guardian.
“The real impact of this isn’t that students are going to be asked to leave the school, it is that students are going to be feel unsafe.
“It’s that girls who are being bullied at school for being gay or ‘weird’, their bullies are going to feel a bit more vindicated.”
Yesterday, Sydney state MP and Equality Campaign co-chair Alex Greenwich wrote a scathing letter to South Sydney Anglican Bishop Michael Stead asking for an apology from the church for “harmful and damaging conduct” during the postal survey, instead of lobbying for discrimination.
‘Get the balance right’
The debate over gay students and staff erupted after the leaking of parts of the Ruddock religious freedom review ahead of the Wentworth byelection in New South Wales.
It emerged that the little-known legal exemption in the federal Sex Discrimination Act currently permits religious schools to broadly discriminate against students and staff on the basis of their sexuality and gender identity.
Education Minister Dan Tehan said the letter from the 34 Anglican principals was part of a “very important discussion” about competing rights.
“The UN declaration of human rights has freedom of religion as one of it’s core rights, but we also want to protect against sexual discrimination,” he told Sky News on Wednesday.
Tehan said he is “confident” that Attorney-General Christian Porter will get the balance right in the government’s response to the review.
But the legislation promised by Prime Minister Scott Morrison to ban schools from turning away gay students was delayed after it was criticised as inadequate by the federal opposition and LGBTIQ advocates.
Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said at the time Labor wouldn’t support the draft bill because it was not a straightforward repeal of the exemption and included provisions that “go beyond what the government promised, with potentially significant ramification for LGBTI students.”