UPDATE 3.30pm: NATIONAL debate about religious freedom and schools would be detrimental to the mental health and well-being of many LGBTIQ+ young people, headspace Bendigo says.
Maree Dixon, the centre’s LGBTIQ+ diversity worker, said every young person had the right to an education, whether it was in a public school or a private school.
“It should not matter what a person’s sexual orientation is, rather the opportunity to have what every young person has, a supportive educational environment free from discrimination,” she said.
“We are already aware of the lower educational outcomes for young people who identify as LGBTIQ+ in the community.”
She encouraged young people impacted by the discussion to reach out and talk to family, friends or a mental health clinician.
“Headspace Bendigo has experienced clinicians that can work with young people to provide support, guidance and strategies to assist with their mental health and wellbeing,” Ms Dixon said.
“Headspace Bendigo also provides diversity support groups for LGBTIQ+ young people on a weekly basis.”
She said people wanting support from headspace Bendigo should call 5434 5345.
UPDATE 1.07pm: CHRISTIAN Schools Australia says the ability of Christian schools to select staff who share the schools faith, values and beliefs is ‘a vital expression of parental choice and the diversity and pluralism of our society’.
Policy, governance and staff relations executive officer Mark Spencer was hopeful the continued recognition of the importance of religious freedom and expression through Christian schools would be recognised by all the community, ‘including LGBTIQA+ individuals’.
“All students in Christian schools will continue to receive the best support and care we can provide within a safe school environment,” Mr Spencer said.
“This simply reflects our commitment as Christian schools to demonstrating the love and care of Christ in our practice.”
EARLIER: THE director of Catholic education in the Sandhurst diocese has defended the rights of LGBTIQ+ people to attend and work in the region’s Catholic schools.
“Catholic schools in the diocese of Sandhurst welcome all comers, regardless of race or creed or religion, and will not be blocking the enrolment of any child because of gender or sexuality,” Paul Desmond said.
His comments came following reports a review into religious freedom recommended enshrining in federal law a right for religious schools to ‘select, or preference, students who uphold the religious convictions of that school community’.
The reported proposal to amend the federal Sex Discrimination Act would build upon laws in some states, which Fairfax Media reports allow religious schools to discriminate against students based on their gender identity, sexual orientation or relationship status.
Mr Desmond said all students and staffers at the region’s Catholic schools were expected to uphold the teachings of the Catholic church.
But he said the Catholic Education Office Sandhurst did not discriminate with sexuality.
Mr Desmond said staffers were appointed based on their merit.
“Once enrolled, all students would be treated with equal respect,” he said.
He said national debate over the reported findings of the religious freedom review – which have yet to be made public, despite being delivered to then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in May – was ‘a distraction’.
Mr Desmond said the review was intended to protect the rights of religious organisations.
“The broader Bill is probably not a bad thing,” he said.
Reports in relation to the rights of LGBTIQ+ people in religious schools in Australia coincide with Mental Health Week.
Today is World Mental Health Day.
LGBTIQ+ people are at higher risk of depression and anxiety, substance abuse, self-harming and suicidal thoughts compared with heterosexual people, BeyondBlue states.
“It is very poor timing,” Mr Desmond said of the discussion surrounding religious freedom and schools.
Of the LGBTIQ+ students likely to be affected by the reports, he said: “Let them be young and let them get on with their lives.”
Harry McAnulty, of Bendigo Says Yes, said LGBTIQ+ people did not want to take religious freedom from anyone.
They also believed children and teachers should be safe and secure in their schools and jobs.
Mr McAnulty was critical of efforts to discriminate against students, in particular.
“Sexuality is something that is very fluid,” he said.
“Young people do not need any additional pressures.”
The marriage equality campaign might be over, but he said LGBTIQ+ people still needed community members advocating for their rights.
“We still need organisations like Bendigo Says Yes,” Mr McAnulty said.
“We have a government that is actively waging a war against the community.”
The LGBTIQ+ community of central Victoria has had opportunities to celebrate in recent weeks, with the inaugural Rainbow Ball and an event in Bendigo on Monday tracing the history of advocacy in our region.
“There are people out there who are fighting for your rights,” Mr McAnulty said to LGBTIQ+ people.
He encouraged people to seek help and support for any distress they might be experiencing.
QLife operates a telephone hotline (1800 184 527) and an online chat service from 3pm – midnight, nationwide.
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