The anti-gay recommendations put forward by the Ruddock review are deplorable. So much so, that those against it have gained an unexpected bedfellow.
So, some of the religious freedom review was leaked to the media Tuesday night. I’m sure every political reporter in the country would have expected the report to be formally released after the Wentworth by-election, but here we are.
What surprises Catholic-educated-gay-old-me about it isn’t that it goes too hard, it is that it didn’t go as hard as I had anticipated. What that says about either my psyche or the psyches of other LGBTQI Australians with regard to this government, I’ll leave as an exercise for the reader. That’s not to say it’s not terrible for LGBTQI Australians, however. I would counsel readers to look at the recommendations and replace “sexual orientation, gender identity, and relationship status” with “race” or “skin colour” then consider whether it’s striking any balance. Because being sacked, prohibited from enrolling or even expelled from schools on the basis of who you are, is terrible.
— PatriciaKarvelas (@PatsKarvelas) October 10, 2018
That’s compounded when it comes from schools that accept government funding. Especially as that funding comes from LGBTQI Australians, like me.
First, let’s talk about teachers. Ruddock’s cabal has recommended (in Recommendation #5) that religious schools can sack teachers based on sexuality, gender identity or relationship status if that particular aspect runs foul of religious doctrine. Granted there is an exemption for teachers serving before any amendment to the Sex Discrimination Act is passed in the parliament (which in the current parliament is fairly unlikely). Many states have exemptions already for this (and this is the perfect time to fight to rid ourselves of those), so it’s not changing much. LGBTQI teachers in the religious sector would need to remain in the closet, and may even never be able to engage in out-of-work social activities with their colleagues. The interesting way the language is written is that it could allow a straight, remarried divorcee to be sacked due to the Catholic Church’s stance on divorce.
However, it is the seventh recommendation that the outrage has focused on. This is the provision where the school can prevent or exclude students for sexuality, relationship status and gender identity reasons. They do come with a list of caveats, however:
- the religious doctrine must frown on those things;
- the policy is publicly available;
- the policy is provided to students and parents on enrolment or when the amendments are enacted; and
- to quote “(d) the school has regard to the best interests of the child as the primary consideration in its conduct.”
I’ll get to (d) in a moment but first, let’s talk about kids and sexual orientation. We’ll stick to high school here, but it definitely applies to primary schools too.
When I was 11 or 12 when enrolling into my Catholic high school, I hadn’t figured out completely I was gay. I was also certainly not out of the closet to my parents. If the school had asked me then if I was gay, the answer would have been a resounding “no”, probably accompanied with some immature protestations because I was 11 and it was the ’90s. The school would have then allowed my enrolment and I’d have dutifully stayed in the closet ’til the end…exactly like what I did. If they discovered I was gay then they could expel me, thus outing me to my parents and family.
In this scenario, I’d likely have been enrolled in a public school to serve out the rest of my sentence as a high schooler, and I’d likely have been a terrible student. I’d have likely been humiliated by the experience and probably depressed or anxious because of such a visceral rejection. How’s that for religious pastoral care? “Hate the sin, drive the sinner to the lowest point on earth.”
Now that’s likely slightly different nowadays where people are more open and accepting than 15-20 years ago, but there are still stories reported of LGBTQI kids being bullied and rejected to the point of suicide, so I feel it deserves a mention.
Which brings me to point (d). Who on earth would think that “the best interests of the child” is a potential outing and all the consequences that can bring?
Anybody who makes a decision that deprives a child of an education, and potentially a future, should not be passing their “Working with Children” checks. Simple. Remember policymakers, a good education leads to good income in adulthood, which leads to many more years of taxes, a sentiment echoed by Sky News’ Andrew Bolt last night. It probably should serve as a barometer of the awfulness of this suggestion, as the criticism has crossed over, and is coming from both sides. An enemy of an enemy is truly a friend.
But I digress. The real problem is that this issue is part of a broader zero-sum “culture war”. That politicians and lobby groups are using children as a political plaything to score points against their opponents is lamentable.
But we’ve come to expect that from Canberra nowadays, haven’t we?