Hamish Macdonald has reflected on his years at a private school, revealing that the first student who “labelled me a ‘poofter’ turned out to be gay himself”.
The church made headlines after arguing to keep the right to discriminate in a jaw-dropping submission to a law reform inquiry into religious exemptions.
The submission argued for a ban on students who were openly gay or sexually active from holding leadership positions in religious schools.
Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, Hamish Macdonald opened up about his years boarding at the school.
He said he received a “solid education” but recalled a culture where being gay was “considered thoroughly wrong, weak and sinful”.
“A consequence [of that] is that one is left with a deep sense of shame that takes a lifetime to shake,” he wrote.
“I spent the two decades or so since leaving high school reckoning with the verbal, psychological and sometimes physical torment meted out in the halls of this respected institution.
“The first kid who labelled me a ‘poofter’ turned out to be gay himself.
“And to my deep regret, I too occasionally joined in the taunting of other students suspected of being gay. Such is the strength of one’s desire to fit in and be accepted.”
The journalist said he now leads “a happy, fulfilling and productive life.”
“I love my partner and am loved in return. But I’m surprised even still by the extent to which the dark, disruptive shadows of my time at school can creep up on me unexpectedly.”
Hamish Macdonald: ‘Say plainly and simply, it’s okay to be gay’
After the Presbyterian submission came to light, Scots College’s principal said in a letter to parents the school had no ban on gay student leaders.
A Scots spokesperson said this week, “There is no such proposed policy. The College has not been asked to consider one by the Presbyterian Church.
“At no stage in the process of applying to become a student leader is information sought, or questions asked about a student’s sexual activity.
“The College does not ask applicants if they are in a same-sex relationship. The College does ask all prospective staff if they can support the Christian ethos of the College.”
But Hamish challenged the school, saying it was “tying itself in knots” and had stopped short of simply saying, “it’s OK to be gay”.
“The last thing any young person needs when discovering themselves is to be isolated, fearful of seeking help, or worse, ostracised,” Hamish wrote.
“The Presbyterian Church wants the right to discriminate. If it does not support this, Scots College has an opportunity here to demonstrate exactly what it means by its values and ethos.
“It can say plainly and simply, it’s OK to be gay here.”
‘In 2023, that’s not enough’
In an emotional interview on ABC Radio on Friday, Hamish Macdonald said all students must feel supported at school.
“I think it’s unbelievable in 2023 we are having this conversation, about schools and the organisations that run them,” he said.
Hamish Macdonald said what amounts to a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy can be “enormously damaging” for young people.
“It’s not enough to say, ‘there’s no ban [and] we just don’t ask.’ In 2023, that’s not enough,” he said.
“All children should be able to go to school knowing that whoever they are, they are equal. And they have an equal opportunity in that school environment to develop at whatever pace they need to understand themselves, and talk openly and freely about that and seek help if they need it. And be able to be celebrated equally, whoever they are.”
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