A teacher at a Christian school who came out as gay and was sacked has spoken out as the government prepares a new draft of the controversial Religious Discrimination Bill.
Steph Lentz said she began teaching at Covenant Christian School in the Sydney suburb of Belrose in 2017. She said it was her first job out of university.
“I was employed there until January this year when I was sacked after I came out to the school,” Lentz told ABC Radio National.
“I was in a heterosexual marriage [when I started there]. Growing up in a very conservative Protestant environment, I believed for a long time heterosexual marriage was the only option for lifelong companionship.
“It was after the breakdown of my marriage and some real reflection and soul searching that I first came out to myself. I also shared this with my family.”
Lentz said she wanted to be honest with the school about her “affirming view of homosexual people and relationships.”
“I felt that in the spirit of integrity and to honour the agreement I was under, I informed the school,” she said.
“[My view] that it’s okay to be gay, God doesn’t have a problem with it [and] Christian schools need queer people of faith to be models for students and families.
“But that didn’t gel with the school I was teaching at.”
Christian school’s stated belief in ‘immorality’ of homosexuality
In a letter, the school told Steph Lentz she’d failed to affirm the school’s Statement of Belief. That statement includes the “immorality” of “homosexual practices”.
However Lentz claimed she saw “some ambiguity” within the school policies.
“I felt there was an opportunity to give the school my firm conviction it’s not incompatible to be gay and a Christian, and affirming of queer people and relationships,” she said.
“I think gone are the day where those things need to considered in contradiction with each other.
“But I was aware there was a possibility they wouldn’t engage with my point of view, and I’d be dismissed.
“That’s unfortunately what happened.
“Part of the reason I did it is because I wanted them to pin their colours to the mast. I wanted this conversation to take place.”
‘Many Christians look at you differently’
As well as the financial impacts, Steph Lentz explained her sacking also had a “huge” impact on her mental health.
“One of the most devastating things is the impact on the change and the loss of relationship since coming out,” she said.
“It’s a sad reality that many Christians do start to look at you differently. They think you’ve somehow become a different person, and perhaps less of a person after you come out.
“That’s something I’ve found very personally troubling. It’s something I really want to see change.”
Lentz explained she’s still an English teacher, working at a different school affiliated with the Christian church.
“The school is affirming of me and other queer staff employed there,” she said.
Christian Schools Australia defends religious exemptions for schools
Christian Schools Australia spokesperson Mark Spencer told the Sydney Morning Herald faith schools must remain “true to their core vision and values”.
He said the school’s current exemptions in anti-discrimination law provide protections for religious freedom.
Parents will not have the same opportunities to send their children to faith-based schools of their choice “if employment or other policy constraints frustrate the establishment and operation of religious schools,” he said.
However teachers, he argues, can work at a “multitude of other schools”.
“If parental choice is to remain a hallmark of Australian education, then the rights of school communities to operate in accordance with religious beliefs must be upheld,” he said.
Lentz told ABC Radio she “understands that way of thinking” and had been sympathetic to it in the past.
However she warns repressing homosexual identity has a devastating impact on mental health.
“Teaching homophobic doctrines and beliefs is incredibly damaging,” she said.
“Students need to know it’s okay to be who they are. God will accept them, and everybody can accept them.
“There is no barrier to being fully who they are, and belonging in a community of faith.
“The alternative is very scary and very damaging. The statistics on suicide among queer teenagers in religious communities are very worrying.”
‘No contradiction between Christian belief and affirming queer people’
Steph Lentz encouraged communities and families with the alternative view “to engage deeply with the scholarship and evidence.”
“It says there’s no contradiction in good faith between a genuine Christian belief and an affirming stance on homosexual people,” she said.
“If we approach that with an open mind, I think there’s a huge potential for positive change.”
Lentz said she hopes politicians “carefully consider the human impact of the decisions they make” around the Religious Discrimination Bill.
Federal government’s Religious Discrimination Bill to return
Attorney General Michaelia Cash said the controversial religious discrimination bill will make a comeback by the end of the year.
“Our government takes the issue of discrimination against Australians on the grounds of their religious beliefs seriously,” she said in July.
Earlier, LGBTIQ advocates and others slammed two previous drafts as flawed and unfair.
Liberal MP Warren Entsch also warned he’ll vote against the bill if it undermines LGBTIQ rights.
Equality Australia says the Attorney-General must “deliver a proposal that protects everyone in our community, regardless of belief, equally.”
They warn the bill mustn’t erode the rights of the LGBTIQ community or create unequal protections privileging people of faith.
“Our laws should protect us all, equally,” spokesperson Anna Brown said.
“However right now, federal laws already allow LGBT teachers, students and staff to be fired, expelled or treated unfairly by faith-based schools and education institutions. All because of their sexual or gender identity.
“Instead of [entrenching] new forms of discrimination, the government must deliver on its 2018 commitment to protect students at school, and wind back exemptions that allow religious institutions to treat people unfairly.
“Every one of us deserves protection from discrimination, no matter who we are, whom we love, or what we believe.
“But the government’s draft Religious Discrimination Bill contains unprecedented provisions that would undermine access to healthcare and inclusive workplaces.”
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