On February 9 up to 100 people rallied in Melbourne to oppose discrimination in schools against LGBTI teachers and students.
Existing exemptions to anti-discrimination laws mean non-government schools can discriminate against staff and students on the basis of their sexuality or gender identity.
In October last year, the Ruddock Review, commissioned by the Liberal government in the aftermath of the survey on marriage equality, recommended that the government further institutionalise this discrimination against LGBTI students and teachers in religious schools.
The community was rightly outraged to learn that teachers can currently be sacked and students can be expelled simply for being gay or trans.
The outrage was very present on the day of the rally, in spite of the heavy rain a fiery crowd showed up proudly wearing their union t-shirts and ready to fight for LGBTIQ rights.
Speakers raised the importance of defending Safe Schools, of fighting for trans rights and of making sure that any changes to the law included teachers as well as students. The rally addressed the Liberals’ hypocritical and racist argument that multicultural and migrant communities want this discrimination to continue in the name of “religious freedoms” by pointing to the Liberals’ own racism towards migrants and refugees.
It was a modest first step in building some politics into the LGBTI movement that can fight for Safe Schools and trans rights and that goes beyond the lowest common denominator “love is love” politics that dominated the marriage equality campaign and particularly the Yes campaign in 2017.
The rally brought together a broad platform of Labor, The Greens and unions. Luke Creasey, Labor’s Federal candidate for Melbourne spoke alongside Greens Senator Janet Rice and Chris Ditte, a teacher and Independent Education Union member.
But the fight to end LGBTI discrimination is schools is far from over. Following the release of the Ruddock Review in 2018 community outrage forced Scott Morrison to commit to opposing discrimination against students on the basis of sexuality.
Disappointingly, just days after the rally a Senate inquiry instead recommended a bill to protect students be referred to the Australian Law Reform Commission, in yet another delay. Morrison’s refusal to act immediately to end this discrimination is yet another example of the Liberals’ deep homophobia and transphobia.
Labor’s national conference in December committed to ending discrimination in schools against students and teachers. In a testament to Rainbow Labor’s work, the right-wing ALP figures who wanted loopholes for “school ethos” are on the back foot. However Victoria Labor Premier Daniel Andrews could end the state based religious exemptions that allow LGBTIQ discrimination in schools right now. Every day that these laws remain in place is another day that LGBTIQ teachers are forced to stay in the closet. We need equality now.
By Geraldine Fela