LGBTI discrimination could be outlawed in religious schools

The ability of religious schools to make staffing and student discipline decisions based on views about sexual orientation could be ended if new proposals are adopted.

Sam Hibbins, equality spokesman for the Greens, is preparing a private members bill calling for the state government in Victoria to amend the current equality legislation.

The proposed amendment, if it becomes law, would remove schools’ exemptions on faith grounds from the Equality Act 2010. This would mean that students and teachers could not be discriminated against on the basis of their gender identity or sexuality.

Hibbins told Government News: “If you put yourself in the shoes of students who are coming to terms with their sexuality or gender identity that can often be a challenging time for that student. There’s a lot of fear of rejection from their peers and rejection or exclusion from their families or they won’t be supported by the school.”

Gibbins linked discrimination in schools to the higher rates of mental illness and suicide among LGBTI students.

Christian Schools Australia says the proposed changes would restrict the right of parents to choose a school which fits with their religious beliefs and says that schools take pastoral care seriously whatever the student’s orientation.

Steven O’Doherty from CSA told Government News that schools do not seek the right to expel students based on sexuality but considers actions based on the student being a “contributing and supportive” member of the school. He says their gender identity or sexuality only becomes an issue where behaviour does not fit with school policies.

A separate proposed amendment by the Labor Party would reinstate the case-by-case test for exemption from the Act on religious grounds which was introduced in 2010 but only lasted a year.