27 October 2023 – The recent banning of a student from taking her partner to a school formal is proof that children need protection from discrimination in religious schools, Equality Australia says.
Abbie Frankland started an online petition after her girlfriend, a student at the Catholic St Ursula’s College at Kingsgrove, was told she was not allowed to bring a female date to the Year 12 formal.
Equality Australia CEO Anna Brown said LGBTQ children and staff faced discrimination at religious schools around the country.
“Sadly, Abbie’s case is only the tip of the iceberg. We know of children who have been expelled, denied leadership positions, told they are going to hell, forced into ‘counselling’ or advised to live celibate lives,” she said.
“This is obviously confronting to many people and out of step with the views of the vast majority of people of faith. The outpouring of support for Abbie, including from many Christians, has been overwhelming and welcome beyond words.”
Ms Brown thanked NSW Premier Chris Minns, who said senior students ought to be able to take whatever partner they wished to their school formal.
“We welcome the Premier’s leadership on this issue and his support for young LGBTQ people, who just want the same life experiences as everybody else,” she said.
“But there are significant gaps in protections for students and staff in religious schools which successive governments at a state and federal level have failed to address.
“We need urgent reform in this area so young people like Abbie can feel welcome, safe and free to enjoy every aspect of school life. Students deserve the same protections regardless of where they go to school.”
The issue of religious exemptions for educational institutions is currently under inquiry by the Australian Law Reform Commission’s (ALRC), which is due to report by the end of the year. This follows a Labor Bill in 2018 that sought to prohibit discrimination for students in religious schools, which failed to pass the parliament before the 2019 federal election.
NSW is home to the weakest protections for students, with both religious and non-religious independent schools legally able to discriminate against students on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The Minns Government in NSW has tasked the NSW Law Reform Commission with a review of the outdated Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW), including the exemptions for schools.
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