Religiously affiliated schools in NSW can sack LGBT+ teachers, but in Tasmania, they can’t. Researchers from the University of Tasmania say that difference has a profound impact on the lives of LGBT+ people. The researchers are conducting a national survey — the first major study of this kind in Australia.
Government-funded organisations with religious affiliations employ between a third and a half of Australian employees in education, aged care, health care, and welfare.
Because of existing laws, some LGBT+ individuals who work in these sectors live in constant fear that their LGBT+ status could see their employment terminated.
As part of a pilot study, the researchers interviewed 3 teachers in NSW and 5 in Tasmania with work experience in religiously affiliated schools. The differences between the experiences of the teachers clearly illustrate the consequences of the different laws.
In NSW, the effect on the lives of the LGBT+ teachers can be devastating. In stark contrast, the Tasmanian teachers were largely free from discrimination within the workplace.
The three people interviewed in NSW all lost their jobs due to their LGBT+ status. A teacher at a faith-based school in NSW described his experience when confronted with a question about his sexuality.
“Are you gay?”
“When confronted by the blunt question ‘Are you gay’, I felt the time had finally come to answer honestly, adding that I was good at what I did and it was irrelevant to my suitability as a teacher.
Instead, within a fortnight, I was told I would lose my job. ”
School authorities consequently allowed the teacher to finish the remaining few months of the school year. However, they also said he could not return in 2018.
“I was gutted. I still suffer from PTSD from the experience.”
The teacher said that earlier, a decade before, he watched a staff mate frog-marched from another school because of his sexuality.
“It traumatised me.”
Researchers from the University of Tasmania are now undertaking a national survey on the issue. The survey seeks details of LGBT+ people’s experiences working in religiously affiliated workplaces.
This research comes at a crucial time. There are currently calls to better protect the rights of LGBT+ employees, and also for new federal legislation to further protect religious freedom. It is
therefore imperative to obtain good quality research to inform any policy changes.
The study includes two national surveys. The first is about the experience of LGBT+ people who work in publicly-funded and religiously-affiliated workplaces.
The second survey addresses religious peoples’ experience of religious freedom and discrimination and their attitudes to LGBT+ people. The surveys take about 15 to 20 minutes to complete.
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