Community anger has seen principals at two Anglican schools remove their names from a controversial letter that calls on federal MPs to uphold legal exemptions that make it possible for them to dismiss gay teachers.
Organisers of Protest TIGS: Support Queer Teachers and Students, are banking on their rally on Monday, November 12 convincing TIGS head of school Judith Nealy to follow suit and withdraw from the “homophobic” open letter originally signed by the heads of 34 Anglican schools.
Protest organiser and UOW student union representative Liv Pierson said the recent decision by Abbotsleigh and Barker Colleges to retract their names from the letter shows that protest can help to build community opposition.
Alumni from both Abbotsleigh and Barker have organised a community rally to show support for LGBTI+ students and teachers.
Miss Pierson said the open letter was about discriminatory powers not religious freedom.
This view was shared by former The Illawarra Grammar School student Alex Nagle, who was the first to openly come out as gay at the West Wollongong school.
Mr Nagle was 15-years-old and in year 10 when he came out in the year 2000.
“There were rumours of other gay kids but I was the first one to openly say I was gay,” he told the Mercury.
“I found that the community was still predominantly homophobic. But to be honest while there were some problems with some students, most of the students rallied around me and mostly the teachers were good as well.
“There were however some dangerous, scary and humiliating moments, especially at parties.”
The principals’ letter follows the introduction of a bill to stop discrimination (in the form of an exemption to the Sex Discrimination Act 1984) against gay students. The government is still considering whether to end the exemptions for teachers.
The principals contend faith-based schools should have a right to employ staff who support their “values, ethos and mission”.
In a statement to the Mercury at the time, Mrs Nealy said “I would like to reassure the community that the tenure of staff or the enrolment of students at TIGS will not be threatened because of their sexuality”.
But Mr Nagle fears this stance will hurt current day TIGS students.
“There is bound to be gay kids there now,” he said.
“I know what it is like to be young and grow up in a society where it is not accepted.
“When you are feeling discriminated against, because you are hurt, it is really easy to become angry.
“But I hope people rise above their anger….I don’t see any benefit in aggressing people from churches.”
Mr Nagle, who has spent the last four years working as a case worker at Wayside Chapel in Sydney, said churches were coming from a good place and trying to make a better society, but the “letter was misguided”.
Tess Lewis who graduated TIGS in 2005, says she was disturbed by the letter.
“LGBTI students and teachers should feel comfortable in coming out, which they can not do if they fear being excluded from the school. I stand with LGBTI students and teachers in calling for the principal to remove TIGS from this letter,” she said.
Maddie Hah, who graduated from the school in 2015, said the protest will show that the open letter is out of step with the attitudes of current students and alumni.
“As a queer student I know how empowering it is for LGBT students and teachers when everyone stands together in solidarity for our rights,” she said.
Maddie added that many of her TIGS teachers taught her the values of equality that she says the rally is defending.
Protest organiser Liv Pierson says the Facebook event has been inundated with support from former TIGS students from around the country who say the open letter does not represent them.
“It’s obvious that no matter what the principal says, the majority of the TIGS school community does not believe the school should be exempt from the Sex Discrimination Act,” Miss Pierson said.
“Students and their teachers should feel welcome and supported at their school and that’s what this rainbow rally is about.”
The November 12 event will be held at the front of TIGS (Princes Highway entrance) from 8.10am to 8.50am.