Discrimination endemic in religious schools around Australia: new report finds

March 25, 2024 - LGBTQ+ discrimination is endemic in religious schools and organisations around Australia, a groundbreaking report by Equality Australia has found.  

Australia is also out of step with international law and practice and LGBTQ+ students are more likely to attend an independent school that discriminates against them than supports them.  

Reform is urgently needed at a Commonwealth level and in all states and territories, recommends the report, which is the first attempt to fully quantify the impact and scale of the problem.  

“We have uncovered the tip of an ugly iceberg of LGBTQ+ discrimination,” said report author and Equality Australia Legal Director Ghassan Kassisieh.  

“For every person who speaks publicly there are countless more who have either been discriminated against because of who they are, or are hiding it because they fear the repercussions.” 

One in three students and almost two in five staff are enrolled or employed in private schools, most of which are religiously affiliated. More than 70,000 students and 10,000 staff in non-government schools are estimated to be LGBTQ+, according to the report, which includes 26 personal accounts of discrimination.   

“We are talking about students who have been forced out of school or teachers who have been fired from their jobs or denied promotions. In other cases, children have been told they are going to hell,” Mr Kassisieh said. 

“These organisations rely on billions of dollars of public funding but are not required to comply with the same laws when it comes to employment, education and service delivery as other organisations. 

“The law in Australia is out of step with 21st century community expectations and it urgently needs to change. Everyone deserves the same legal protections from discrimination.” 

The report also found that Catholic school authorities maintain a damaging and oppressive culture of silence, with 9 out of ten of those reviewed (educating 70% of all students in Australian Catholic schools) publishing so little information about LGBTQ+ inclusion that prospective parents, students or employees can’t tell whether they will be welcomed or face discrimination.  

This is also the case for almost 1 in 3 independent schools.  

“This points to a systemic suppression of LGBTQ+ identities and lives. For a young person coming of age and exploring who they are, silences about LGBTQ+ people are deafening,” Ms Kassisieh said. 

“Silence says to LGBTQ+ people they must remain hidden and ashamed of who they are if they want to keep their jobs or stay at school.” 

Equality Australia CEO Anna Brown said removing carve-outs that allow religious organisations to discriminate ranked as the most important LGBTIQ+ issue for the LGBTIQ+ community.  

“Successive federal governments have failed to address these gaps in the law which directly impact so many people from our community,” she said. 

“We have spent more than a decade raising this issue, with many reviews and attempts to change the law. 

“It is not acceptable for a religious school – or any employer – to discriminate against a person because they are gay or transgender, or because they refuse to be complicit in discrimination against LGBTQ+ people.” 

The report also found almost 1 in 10 of Australia’s largest faith-based service providers publicly discriminate against LGBTQ+ people while almost 4 in 10 are silent in their positions on LGBTQ+ inclusion.  

Four in 10 people work for an organisation that has an unclear position or discriminates against LGBTQ+ people.  

“The door should always be open to LGBTQ+ people who need healthcare, housing or disability support – no matter who is delivering that service,” Mr Kassisieh said. 

“Sitting on the fence is no longer good enough. Services must be inclusive and say so, to ensure equal access for everyone who needs support.” 

Introducing the report, the Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG, former justice of the High Court of Australia, described the broad-based religious exemptions in anti-discrimination laws as “neither principled nor just” and said the direction the report took to reform was “basically simple”. 

“There is increasing understanding, and broad acceptance in Australia, that the past overly broad religious exemptions go beyond what is essential and sometimes diminish the enjoyment of the dignity and rights of others,” he said. 

For the full report HERE. 

For an explainer video HERE. 

Media alert: 

WHAT: Launch of Dismissed, Denied and Demeaned: a national report on LGBTQ+ discrimination in faith-based schools and organisations 

WHO: Equality Australia Legal Director and report author Ghassan Kassisieh, Equality Australia CEO Anna Brown, former student James Elliot-Watson and his twin brother Bradley, and teacher Karen Pack  

WHEN: 9.30am Monday 25 March 

WHERE: Senate Courtyard, Parliament House, Canberra 

NOTE FOR MEDIA: interviews with James and Karen can be arranged with Emily Mulligan (0411 207 633) 

Emily Mulligan | Engagement Director, 0411 207 633,  

emily.mulligan@equalityaustralia.org.au & media@equalityaustralia.org.au 

Tara Ravens | Media Manager, 0408 898 154,