Equality Australia has today called for urgent reforms to protect LGBTQ+ teachers, students and staff in faith-based schools and educational institutions from discrimination, in the wake of an ABC 7:30 report of a well-regarded teacher being fired from a Christian tertiary college in Sydney after becoming engaged to her same-sex partner.
Equality Australia’s call comes after it provided support to Ms Karen Pack, a committed Christian and respected teacher, who was fired by Morling College, a Baptist tertiary college in Sydney’s north western suburbs, after her engagement to her now wife, Bronte.
“In 2017, Australians overwhelmingly voted to ensure all couples could marry the person they loved. Now, faith-based schools and educational institutions are taking advantage of gaps in our anti-discrimination laws by firing people who marry their same-sex partners,” said Anna Brown, CEO of Equality Australia.
“Sadly, laws across Australia still allow LGBTQ+ teachers, students and staff to be fired or expelled from faith-based schools and educational institutions simply because of who they are or whom they love. This discrimination remains legal in every state and territory apart from the ACT and Tasmania”, added Ms Brown.
Ms Pack, herself an ordained pastor, was employed by Morling College in February 2018 and lectured in chaplaincy and spiritual care, a post-graduate program she had been engaged by the College to develop.
Speaking after her appearance on the ABC’s 7:30 Report, Ms Karen Pack said: “For most people, announcing their engagement to the person they love means congratulations. For me it meant getting fired.”
Explaining her reasons for speaking out, Ms Pack said: “To young queer people of faith, I want to insist that you do not have to choose between your sexual or gender identity and your faith. You are loved exactly as you are, and there are places where you can find acceptance, peace and love.”
“Places like Morling College are scrambling to protect their right to discriminate. It’s time those practices of exclusion are exposed and denounced for what they are: abusive and unchristian,” Ms Pack concluded.
“The students at Morling College have lost a faithful and committed teacher, who was great at her job. Until parliaments across Australia amend laws to remove special privileges for faith-based institutions, schools and colleges like Morling will continue to be allowed to discriminate against LGBTQ+ teachers, students and staff with impunity,” added Brown.
In a statement emailed to Ms Pack’s students after her employment was terminated, Morling College admitted that Ms Pack had a ‘deep and abiding faith in Jesus’ and was an ‘excellent and committed educator’. It explained that the decision to end her role was made by the Principal with the support of the College Board and Leadership Team, based on the position held by the College on same-sex marriage.
Ms Pack is one of several people who have contacted Equality Australia after losing their jobs at faith-based educational institutions because of their sexuality or gender identity, or because they hold affirming views towards LGBTQ+ people.
About Karen Pack
Karen Pack is an ordained minister and a doctoral candidate at Macquarie University. She is an experienced educator and communicator, having ministered in Australia and internationally for over twenty years, including training pastors, teachers and lay leaders throughout Africa, Asia and the Middle East. She has a deep and abiding commitment to her Christian faith.
She married her wife, Bronte, on 20 March 2021.
About Equality Australia
Equality Australia is a national LGBTIQ+ organisation working to achieve equality for LGBTIQ+ people and their families.
Built from the ‘Yes’ campaign for marriage equality and established with the support of the Human Rights Law Centre, Equality Australia brings together legal, policy and communications expertise along with thousands of supporters to advance equality for LGBTIQ+ people.
Photos of Karen and her wife Bronte are available here.
Further background information is outlined below.
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Further details about Karen’s story
In 2017, Karen was asked to write some subjects for new postgraduate courses in Chaplaincy and Spiritual Care at Morling College, a Baptist tertiary college based in Macquarie Park, Sydney. The College was expanding its offering to students beyond theology to chaplaincy and spiritual care including in non-denominational and multi-faith settings. The College offers these courses with the assistance of Commonwealth-funded fee help loans.
Karen was employed as an adjunct lecturer in February 2018, and then given tenure as a permanent part time academic mid 2018, teaching in the course area she had developed. The chaplaincy and spiritual care syllabus and course outcomes require students to conduct themselves professionally and empathetically in multi-faith and cross-cultural contexts. Students in these awards are trained to work in hospitals, schools, aged care facilities, defence forces and numerous other public contexts.
In December 2019, Karen informed a member of the College Leadership Team and her faculty (including the Dean and Associate Dean) that she had become engaged to her same-sex partner, Bronte. Karen’s employment was terminated in April 2020, after a member of the public wrote to the school describing Karen as ‘demonic’ because she was a lesbian. Rather than defend its employee against attack, the Principal of Morling College made the decision to terminate her employment, with the support of the College Board and Leadership Team.
The decision to terminate her employment was communicated to staff and students of Morling College as being solely based on the position of the College on same-sex marriage. Her outstanding performance as an employee, as well as her deep and abiding Christian faith, was affirmed by the College, in a statement emailed to staff and students. The statement sent to the students is here.
In 2018, the Ruddock Religious Freedom Review recommended reforms to federal, state and territory anti-discrimination laws to prohibit discrimination against existing employees who enter into a marriage, along with other reforms designed to further protect LGBTQ+ students and teachers at faith-based educational institutions from discrimination. None of those recommendations have been implemented.
SA and Victoria are also currently considering reforms that may limit the scope of existing religious exemptions.
In 2019, during the Wentworth by-election, the Prime Minister promised to change the law to protect students from being expelled based on their sexuality. This commitment has not yet been fulfilled.
In 2019, Equality Australia supported Mrs Rachel Colvin, who was forced to resign after Ballarat Christian College insisted that she agree to and abide by a statement of faith, contrary to her own political and religious beliefs, that marriage could only be between a man and woman. With Equality Australia’s support, Mrs Colvin brought a discrimination complaint based on her political and religious beliefs against the school, which was confidentially settled in March 2020.