Discrimination in Victoria against LGBTQ people in religious contexts remains legal



Ms Symes said equality was “non-negotiable” including in the workplace and that the Andrews government “will always do what it takes to protect LGBTQ + people from discrimination”.

She said Victoria was monitoring the Morrison government’s proposed religious discrimination bill and “would carefully examine any loopholes in Victorian protections.”

Victorian Attorney General Jaclyn Symes.Credit:

The Morrison government is considering tabling a third draft of its contentious bill. Earlier versions extended the right of religious organizations to discriminate.

Mr Morrison also pledged in 2018 urgent new laws to prevent religious schools from expelling students because of their sexuality or gender identity. Since then, no legislation has been presented. Instead, the case was referred to the Law Reform Commission where it remains.

John Pendergast was a teacher at the large Flinders Christian Community College in South East Melbourne. He had over a decade of service at the school and then was interviewed when he became gay in 2016.

His former colleague Sam Cairns was fired from Flinders College in 2012 for his homosexuality.

Teacher Sam Cairns was sacked from Flinders Christian Community College for being gay

Teacher Sam Cairns was sacked from Flinders Christian Community College for being gay Credit:Penny stephens

Mr Pendergast said he had come to terms with his sexuality over time and decided not to hide or lie about it anymore. The 2016 massacre at the gay nightclub Pulse in Florida made him even stronger, and he decided to speak to the campus principal about his sexuality.

A two-hour meeting with school leaders followed. “They asked all these questions. There was always this assumption that it was a choice I had made about my sexuality, that it was not who I was.

Mr Pendergast later found out that after the meeting, the school sought advice from lawyers on how to handle its disclosure.

“I decided that if they were going to treat me like this, I didn’t want to work there.

College executive director Cameron Pearce said he was bound by confidentiality restrictions but said Pendergast was “a loved and valued member of our community before and after he revealed his same-sex attraction. “.

Independent Education Union general secretary Debra James said there was still too much discrimination allowed under Victorian law and “too many schools where staff and students are forced to hide aspects of their identity or feel unwelcome “.

Ms James said the union has accepted that there may be instances where particular attributes are required for a particular educational role. “However, we simply reject the argument that the personal life of a law-abiding math teacher, learning support officer, vice-principal or administrative assistant has any affect his ability to do his job. “

Legislative progress in Victoria had been “very slow” after the Baillieu government’s “shameful overthrow” of Brumby-era laws intended to provide protections, she said.

“Other states, like Tasmania, have shown us that protecting workers from discrimination does not infringe the right to religious expression and does not cause crisis in faith-based schools.

Tasmania and ACT have the strongest anti-defamation laws in the country.

Human rights activist Rodney Croome, founder of Australian Marriage Equality, said firing LGBTQ + staff has been illegal for more than 20 years in Tasmania and also in ACT. “This is important because it shows that the sky does not fall apart when LGBTQ + teachers in faith-based schools are protected from unfair treatment,” he said.

Many respondents to the union discrimination inquiry said they were Christians and had come out during their time at school. One of them said that they had to keep their sexuality a secret because they feared losing their job. “I understand that they have a right to their faith, but it’s horrible to have to hide who I am. “

A Christian teacher at a regional Victorian evangelical school said students learned that being gay would send them to hell. A gay teacher at the same school lived in fear of being exposed.


Another respondent said that being gay in a Catholic school was “inherently in conflict” with the “don’t ask / don’t tell” norm. Another teacher at a Catholic school said that as a queer person they had to keep their privacy a secret “for threat of dismissal”.

A teacher at an evangelical school in Melbourne said the school assembly included a speech by a student about the misdeeds of being gay and “praying to homosexuals.”

“It was like going back in time or to another country,” the teacher said.



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