Christian school suspended student for coming out as gay

James Elliot-Watson says his Christian school suspended him for being gay
Images: Equality Australia

When James Elliot-Watson was 15, his Christian school banned him from becoming a prefect and even suspended him because he’d revealed that he was gay.

James recalled his experience in year 10 in 2011. He said independent religious school in Sydney suspended him, denied him leadership roles and outed him to his parents.

“I came out in class and following that, I was pulled into the vice principal’s office,” James recalled.

“At that meeting, I was told I’d incur a school suspension. They told me I’d no longer be allowed to stand for prefect. I wasn’t allowed to go on any more leadership camps.

“The school pulled my siblings in and told them that I’d done something that was potentially going to endanger my family at the school.

“After that, the school called my parents in for a meeting and told them.”

The school told James and his parents he needed counselling. That included meetings with a so-called “ex-gay” man who told him he could change.

“There was a lot of posturing about AIDS. It was a real fear campaign run by people in that school to make me ‘scared straight’,” James recalled.

He’s one of over two dozen students and teachers whose stories are shared in a new report from Equality Australia.

The report describes the LGBTQ+ discrimination as “endemic” in religious schools and organisations around Australia.

James recalled of his own experience, “The onus was always put back onto me like it was my fault, because I was gay, because I was here talking about it.

“It was just a terrible weight, a needless weight to put on a teenager.”

‘Children have been told they are going to hell’

Lead author and Equality Australia Legal Director Ghassan Kassisieh said the new report “uncovers the tip of an ugly iceberg of LGBTQ+ discrimination”.

“We are talking about students who have been forced out of school or teachers who have been fired from their jobs or denied promotions,” he said.

“In other cases, children have been told they are going to hell.”

“These organisations rely on billions of dollars of public funding.

“But they’re not required to comply with the same laws in employment, education and service delivery as other organisations.

“The law in Australia is out of step with 21st century community expectations and it urgently needs to change.

“Everyone deserves the same legal protections from discrimination.”

National Catholic Education Commission director Jacinta Collins rejected the assertion that religious schools seek to discriminate against staff or students.

She claimed the schools were maintaining their religious identity and mission.

“If individuals do not support our ethos, they’re able to choose another school for enrolment or employment,” Ms Collins said.

However, Equality Australia found that nine out of ten of the Catholic schools reviewed – educating 70% of all Australian Catholic school students – published so little information about LGBTQ+ inclusion that prospective parents, students or employees can’t tell whether they’ll be welcomed or face discrimination.

‘Sitting on the fence is no longer good enough’

Equality Australia also found almost 1 in 10 of Australia’s largest faith-based service providers publicly discriminate against LGBTQ+ people. Almost 4 in 10 are silent in their positions on LGBTQ+ inclusion.

“The door should always be open to LGBTQ+ people who need healthcare, housing or disability support – no matter who is delivering that service,” Ghassan Kassisieh said.

“Sitting on the fence is no longer good enough. Services must be inclusive and say so, to ensure equal access for everyone who needs support.”

It comes as the government considers legislation to, among other things, scrap religious exemptions allowing these forms of discrimination.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has demanded bipartisan support, he says, to avoid a divisive culture war. But a political disagreement could shelve the reform. Equality Australia welcomed fresh talk of Labor working with the Greens to secure support.

Ghassan Kassisieh said legal protections for students and teachers, which Labor committed to before the election, are “too important to play politics with”.

“We urge all parliamentarians to engage with the government in good faith, and for the government to stay true to its election promise,” he said.

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Jordan Hirst
Jordan Hirst

Jordan Hirst is an experienced journalist and content creator with a career spanning over a decade at QNews. Since 2012, the Brisbane local has covered an enormous range of topics and subjects in-depth affecting the LGBTIQA+ community, both in Australia and overseas. Today, the Brisbane-based journalist covers everything from current affairs, politics and health to sport and entertainment.

QNews, Brisbane Gay, App, Gay App, LGBTI, LGBTI News, Gay Australia

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