Prime Minister Daniel Andrews said the Victorian Government would use “any and all legal avenues” to defend its laws.
Last week, Brisbane school Citipointe Christian College sparked national outrage when it said it only enrolls students on the basis of the sex that matches their biological sex. The school has now withdrawn the enrollment contract and the principal has resigned.
Australian Association of Christian Schools chair John Metcalfe said he was not aware of any Christian school that had expelled a student for being gay or transgender.
Mr Metcalfe, who is also principal at Plenty Valley Christian College in Doreen, said Christian schools are more concerned about the ability to hire staff with similar values than students’ sexual orientation or gender identity.
Gay and trans students are protected from discrimination in Victorian government schools.
Some Victorian faith schools have been very supportive of transgender students.
The King David School, a co-educational Jewish school in Armadale, said it welcomes transgender and gender-nonconforming students. The school has gender-neutral restrooms, there are several uniform options, and students are generally not referred to as “boys” and “girls.”
There is also staff and student training to support transgender and gender non-conforming students.
“Our core Jewish principles of egalitarianism, inclusivity, and tikun olam (social justice) mean that we strive to create an inclusive and safe environment for all of our students and staff,” said Principal Marc Light.
Last year a 12th grade student at Xavier College, one of Melbourne’s oldest Catholic colleges for boys, was identified as a girl.
“We confirm their decision,” Rector William Doherty and Rector Father Chris Middleton wrote in a newsletter to the parents at the time. “We will continue to welcome, care for and educate our student in every way.”
According to the newsletter, the school is aware that this issue can provoke a range of opinions and thoughts, but rejects prejudice and discrimination in all its forms. “Jesus was, of course, the great inclusive one, often challenging the norms of his day that centered on the universal tenets of love and inclusion.”
Victoria’s Islamic Council President Adel Salman said he would be surprised if Islamic schools weren’t already enrolling gay and transgender students.
“No Islamic school that I know of has actually caused such harm to children because of their sexuality or their gender orientation. Even if this becomes law, I think that Islamic schools – due to their duty of care towards children – will be sensitive to it and will certainly not cause any harm or trauma to children.”
Miles said Koo Wee Rup Secondary College immediately changed his name and pronouns when he came out as transgender in September last year and contacted the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority to make sure his details on the exams were correct.
“They were absolutely fantastic from the start. It was a blessing,” he said.
“The Deputy Principal invited me to a meeting just to discuss anything that might help me. I can use all the toilets but she gave me a pass for the unisex disabled toilet just to be more reassuring and private.”
Miles said that maintaining the right to exclude transgender students from religious schools led the broader community to believe it was okay to discriminate against people based on their beliefs.
“One of my biggest supporters is my music teacher. He’s a Christian, he has faith, but he’s the most tolerant person I know,” he says.
“And that just goes to show you that when someone has as much faith in religion as a man like him, you can still live happily ever after and support anyone you love no matter what.
Miles said he was recently in the men’s room of a public restroom and adjusted his binder, a garment some transgender people use to flatten their chests.
“Obviously someone saw it… and chased me down the street and beat me up. He attacked me – a grown man beating up a 16-year-old in broad daylight.”
Jeremy Wiggins, executive officer of Transcend Australia, an organization that supports trans children and their families and carers, said public debates about transgender students fostered hateful attitudes in the wider community.
“These are the side effects and consequences of this type of debate and therefore the government must take responsibility to protect trans children,” he said.
Mr Wiggins said Transcend Australia is contacted every day by parents and carers concerned that their transgender children are being subjected to bullying, teasing and physical attacks at school simply for being themselves.
“These kinds of bills that get enacted in law only lead to these negative attitudes designed to discriminate against a small minority group that faces one of the highest suicide rates in Australia.”
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