Progressive voices in the Canberra-Goulburn Anglican diocese say they’re taking a stand for human rights. (ABC Canberra: Michael Black)
Members of Canberra’s Anglican community have distanced themselves from a bloc of NSW schools that want to preserve their right to sack gay teachers.
It comes as the ACT Government moves to close any loopholes in local laws which would allow gay teachers and students to be fired or expelled.
But the new legislation would still allow schools to selectively hire based on religious adherence as long as criteria were publicly stated.
A broad church of views
Peter Milligan says school communities are facing all sorts of pressure beyond just religious conservatism. (ABC Canberra: Michael Black)
Canberra Girls Grammar School (CGGS) acting principal Peter Milligan said the exemptions were effectively irrelevant as they hadn’t been used in recent memory.
“The immediate response from our school and our community was that we don’t discriminate against students and staff,” he said.
“We go back to core values of inclusivity. We go back to forgiveness. We go back to integrity, justice and compassion.
“People might say inclusivity is not a gospel value, but it’s a core value for us that came out of the founding values, underpinned by Anglican values.”
Founded by Anglican nuns in 1926, CGGS has grown to welcome students from more than 30 other faiths. (ABC Canberra: Michael Black)
Mr Milligan said he wouldn’t judge the NSW schools pushing for the exemptions to stay in place.
But he has spoken of their contrast with the local Anglican community, which falls under the broader NSW umbrella.
“It’s not my right or prerogative to be commenting on any other school and they don’t comment on us.
“The views of the church can be from one end of a spectrum to another and that comes back to people’s rights around choice.”
A question of human rights
Tim Wright, the principal of Sydney’s Shore Church of England Grammar School, has questioned the need for new federal laws, saying the exemptions hadn’t been used at any Anglican school in his memory.
However, Reverend Lynda McMinn from All Saints Church in Canberra said she knew of one such case happening in Sydney, albeit many years ago.
“I have personally known someone who was dismissed because they were gay.
“I think that schools and businesses have a right to choose to employ people who support the brand — and that means not speaking out against it or trashing it on social media.
“But that’s not the same as excluding a person on the basis of sexuality, gender, ethnicity or race.
“It’s not about behaviour, it’s about being, which is a very different thing altogether.”
Reverend Lynda McMinn says Christianity should accept everyone for who they are. (ABC Canberra: Michael Black)
Reverend McMinn characterised the Canberra Anglican community as generally quite progressive, but she said it still comprised some members with more conservative beliefs, as does the broader faith.
However she said her personal belief was that the church should welcome everyone.
“It is a very vexed question because freedom of speech is a pretty fundamental priority to Australians,” she said.
“I think it’s a question of religious freedom versus human rights, really.
“How can you legislate for religious freedom when it actually means that human rights are violated?”
All Saints Church in Ainslie is known for also having a progressive stance on issues such as refugee rights. (ABC Canberra: Michael Black)
Reverend McMinn acknowledged that some schools may have a brand to protect.
She also speculated there could be pressure from parents which could dictate a school’s policy.
“Brands are about money and income as well, so they don’t want to get parents offside.
“But I think they’re misinterpreting some of what that is.
“They’re out of touch with cultural standards about sexuality and other issues, there’s no doubt about that.”
Full scope of laws under review
It’s unclear if the Federal Government’s final discrimination policy will cover gay teachers as well as students.
The issues have become conflated when it comes to gay students looking for allies among the faculty.
“The students find the champion and they find the person that they get inspired by,” Mr Milligan said.
“Through the people in schools, you bring in layers of support that students can respond to.”
He said it wasn’t fair to use religious values as an excuse to expel a student if those values included compassion and inclusivity.
“That’s not how it works. You can’t have it both ways.”