A Batemans Bay trans woman has expressed her anger and disappointment at a campaign in the Sydney Anglican Diocese to retain the power to discriminate against gay teachers.
Kate Toyer, who underwent her transition several years ago, said she was tired of having her sexuality at the centre of religious debate.
She has a child at St Peter’s Anglican College Broulee.
She said a letter signed by 34 Anglican principals – including the principals of Shellharbour Anglican College, the Illawarra Grammar School (TIGS) and Nowra Anglican College – calling on the protection of religious freedoms in schools was “absolute hypocrisy”.
The letter, sent to all federal MPs last month, said that while schools would not expel gay students or staff, they wanted to preserve the right to employ people who "support the ethos of the school".
“That letter is a little bit like someone saying, ‘I promise I won’t shoot you, but if I could just keep my gun and bullets anyway’,” Kate said.
“If you’re not going to shoot us, why do you need a gun?”
She called on the principals backing the campaign to accept members of the LGBTI community and “rainbow families”.
“When you see this letter and you’ve got these principals saying ‘we’ve never had a teacher sacked or student expelled’, it’s plausible they wouldn’t ostensibly do that, but they make it incredibly uncomfortable,” Kate said.
A practicing Catholic, she said the debate had caused distress for her family; however, she was grateful for the support she had received from St Peter’s.
Last week, college principal Darren McPartland labelled the letter as ‘misguided’ and said LGBTI people would always be welcome at the school
“There’s a sense of gratitude and shared understanding that this is someone who is going to support me and my family – it’s relieving,” Kate said.
“You feel a sense of validation. There’s a sense that I’m not alone. That they’ve got my back.”
Given the chance to sit with the 34 principals behind the campaign, Kate had one question: “Why can’t you just love us as we are?”
Read an open letter to all members of Parliament of Australia from heads of Anglican schools
As Principals and Heads of Anglican Schools in Greater Sydney and the Illawarra we write this public letter to all members of Parliament of Australia.
There has been quite some discussion recently about the rights of faith-based schools and their current exemptions under federal anti-discrimination legislation. The debate has been polemicised as the right to expel gay students, with little evidence that this occurs, and the right to dismiss gay staff members, again with little evidence that this occurs.
By and large across faith-based schools, the issue at hand is the right to employ staff who support the ethos of the school. Some schools require evidence of an active faith that is consistent with the philosophy and ethos of the school. In other schools, there is a preference for employment of active adherents of the faith, but other staff, who may not personally identify with the faith, are still expected to support the overarching mission and ethos of the school. This is not inconsistent with the practice of most employers and their corporate goals, let alone political parties. It is overly simplistic to state that a teacher merely delvers academic content in the classroom. This ignores the powerful mentor and exemplar role all teachers play, and are expected to play, in the education of young people. Therefore, it is essential that a teacher supports the values, ethos and mission of the school as much as he or she can. It is not appropriate, for example, for a teacher to undermine or denigrate the beliefs and teachings of an employing school. This is a reasonable expectation not only of the employing school but also of many parents and families who have chosen the school for their children's education.
There is no effective protection under Australian law that guarantees religious freedom for both belief and action. This is strange given that it is enshrined in the United Nations' International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Australia has formally ratified. The current exemptions, however clumsy, in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 are really the only significant legal protections available to school to maintain their ethos and values with regards to core issues of faith. A more general positive right would be far better, but until such time as religious freedom is codified in legislation, the exemptions should remain.
Read the signatories of heads of schools here.