Sensitivity urged over same-sex partners at school formals

Melbourne’s archbishop has urged Victoria’s Catholic high schools to be sensitive to students who want to bring a partner of the same sex to school formals.

Archbishop Hart was asked by Fairfax Media for comment on a case at the Academy of Mary Immaculate in Fitzroy last year.

A student at the all-girls school started a change.org petition after being told by a year-12 co-ordinator that she could not bring a female partner to the formal.

The petition received 1250 signatures and hundreds of comments in support.

The school changed its stance to allow the student to bring a female date.

Archbishop Hart said he appreciated the school’s turnabout and believed it had “shown great sensitivity in what is an unusual scenario”.

“Students in a secondary school are growing up and in developmental stages where relationships are more like strong friendships and are not usually permanent, they are not in a situation where they are committing,” Archbishop Hart said.

“The Catholic Church respects any relationship but always sticks quite firmly with its teaching that a relationship in the eyes of the Church is heterosexual, between a male and female, and that is something we would always stand by.”

Academy principal Sr Mary Moloney said the philosophy of allowing students to choose whomever they wish to accompany them to our school formal will continue into the future.

The executive director of Catholic Education Office Melbourne, Stephen Elder, said such decisions were best dealt with by individual schools (rather than at a systemic level) where all local concerns and sensitivities could be taken into account.

It has been eight years since Victoria’s Education Department instructed state schools to allow gay couples to attend events together, because discrimination is unlawful under equal opportunity legislation.

Australia’s largest youth-led organisation for LGBTI people, Minus18, welcomed Archbishop Hart’s comments.

But the group said more needed to be done to make formals inclusive, by, for example, allowing trans- and gender diverse students to dress in the clothes they prefer.

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