Gay teachers should hide their relationships, says Melbourne’s archbishop

Gay teachers should ensure they keep their relationships well hidden from the eyes of students at religious schools, says Melbourne’s archbishop Peter Comensoli.

It would be preferable if they and their partners live some distance away from the school in which they teach, he suggests.

Comensoli made the comments on Monday when he was giving evidence to a Senate inquiry ahead of federal government plans to strip schools of the right to expel LGBTI pupils.

Australia is currently debating the issue of religious school exemptions, with the Government aiming to extend anti-LGBTI discrimination protections to students and staff.

At present religious schools can dismiss employees because they’re gay or transgender and expel pupils who express same-sex attraction. LGBTI campaigners want to see this change.

Responding to a question about whether a gay teacher at a Catholic school could marry without losing their job, Comensoli said it would depend on how visible their relationship was at the school and whether the teacher would still publicly support the school’s teachings.

He explained schools did not care whether staff identified as gay, lesbian or transgender, but were concerned about “the public nature of what someone might say or do in that regard.

“They’ve made it known privately to the principal that they’re in a same-sex relationship, but the person themselves is quite willing to speak publicly and act publicly within the school context in accordance with the mission and identity – there would be no question asked there I think.

“It’s not just a matter of one’s attribute – it’s what one does with it that makes a difference.”

Comensoli said the problem occurs “when it [one’s attribute] becomes an act of advocacy.”

In relation to LGBTQI pupils, Comensoli explained Catholic schools would not expel a student just because of their sexual orientation.

He said it’s important for Catholic schools to maintain laws that would protect their capacity to teach the Christian understanding of sexual ethics and marriage according to the Catholic faith tradition.

Frank FitzGerald, executive officer at Catholic Secondary Principals Australia, supported Comensoli’s views on advocacy, while others took a stronger line.

Mark Spencer, executive officer at Christian Schools Australia, argued teachers needed to uphold a school’s values “completely and authentically,” including in their private lives.

“We are looking for staff to actually have that consistency across the whole of their life – around what they believe, what they say they believe and how they act and behave,” he said.

Others took the opposite perspective and told the inquiry they would like the law to change.

Assistant federal secretary of the Independent Education Union, Anthony Odgers, said many staff and students at faith-based schools who fear persecution and suppress their sexual orientation, gender identity and/or their marital status are being harmed as a result.

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