A former teacher at an Australian Christian school became emotional while recalling how horrific bullying of a 12-year-old gay student twice drove them to attempt suicide.
For the last four years, Elise Christian has been a member of LGBTIQ faith advocacy group Equal Voices.
Last month, Prime Minister Scott Morrison introduced the third draft of the contentious legislation to parliament.
Two parliamentary committees are reviewing the draft bill in Canberra over the summer.
Elise Christian told the public hearing one gay student twice tried to take his own life on campus after other students targeted him over his sexuality.
“He was told by other students that he should just kill himself right now because God hated him and he was going to hell anyway,” she said.
“The students who bullied him in these ways were allowed to continue for some weeks.
“And, when they were finally asked about this by the school executive, they defended themselves by saying, ‘Sir, I was just telling him what the Bible says.’
“And I could see that the executive staff and the classroom staff had no real response to this.
“In fact, it was only when I copied multiple staff members into screenshots of documentation of a number of the incidents that occurred with this student that the bullying behaviour was dealt with at all.”
Ms Christian then claimed that shortly afterwards, she was forced to leave her job at the school.
‘I don’t know how to be a different person from who I am’
Fighting back tears, the former teacher also recalled the separate, devastating experience of another 12-year-old student at the unnamed school.
“There was one other student in my classroom who was targeted not so much by his fellow students but by members of staff,” she recalled.
“In particular, a member of the school executive said to this student, ‘You disgust me.’
“I found the boy, who was 12 at the time, in my office, hiding behind the door. [He was] shaking and sobbing, and saying, ‘I don’t know how to be a different person from who I am.'”
She said ultimately, the student had no choice but to leave the school.
“They had to for their own safety. But the school’s attitude to them cost them their whole community, their whole social network,” she said.
“They’d both been in the school since kindergarten. They both had multiple family members closely connected with the school.
“They shouldn’t have had to lose their whole community at the same time as hearing these hate messages, and then have to go through that alone.”
Warning over Religious Discrimination Bill
Elise Christian said the two accounts happened to students at her former school. However since joining Equal Voices, Ms Christian said she’d heard “many, many similar stories across a range of faith-based schools.”
“In all these schools there are students who grow up who may have their own very strong faith,” she said.
“But at a certain point in their lives [they] realise they’re gay or lesbian or trans or bi.
“And in so many cases find no support at all and, in fact, are the targets of horrendous abuse.”
Ms Christian fears if the Religious Discrimination Bill is passed, it will “embolden those people who are already dishing out this abuse to do so knowing that they have greater impunity than they currently have.”
She told the inquiry, “Please listen to the stories of the children, the young people, the members of your faith community.
“[They] can tell you what it’s like to experience this discrimination and how harmful it’s been for many of us.”
If you need someone to talk to, help is available from QLife on 1800 184 527 or online at QLife.org.au, Lifeline on 13 11 14, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.
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