Page 4162 - Week 11 - Wednesday, 24 October 2018

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I would fight for a more inclusive community. So just as we are committed to ensuring freedom of religion, so too are we committed to ensuring the rights of children and the right to equality for all Canberrans.

The suggested recommendations of the Ruddock review will impact tens of thousands of Canberrans—how they live their lives, where they work, their mental health and the opportunities they will receive in their lives. Far too many LGBT students, teachers and other staff members are in a vulnerable position. They can be lawfully discriminated against simply because of who they are. This is an unacceptable situation. There is no place in the ACT for religious schools to mistreat LGBT students, teachers and other staff. There is no place for religious schools to contribute to serious mental health conditions in our city. As a progressive Labor government we must act. Limiting the right of religious schools to discriminate will promote the right to equality and the right that children have to care and protection during their education.

This impacts people in our city; it is not an abstract debate. A recent New York Times article on religious freedom laws includes a profile of a Canberra teacher, Hugo Walker, who resigned from his teaching position at a private school in Canberra in 2013 after he came out. Hugo Walker was 52 years old when he came out as gay to his family and his bosses at a private Christian school where he worked. It was July 2013 and Mr Walker had been a teacher at the school in Canberra, Australia’s capital, for nearly 14 years. He taught science and Japanese. He had an impeccable record, but he tendered his resignation that September, the end of the school term. If he had not, the principal would have fired him—legally. He was furious. Mr Walker said of the principal’s response to his coming out: “It was probably the most stressful three months of my life”.

The mental impact of discrimination is felt across our community. Young, gay, transgender and intersex people are five times more likely than the general population to attempt suicide in their lifetimes, according to national figures from the National LGBTI Health Alliance.

Discrimination and bullying remains a serious issue for the LGBTIQ community in Australia. The impact on vulnerable students of being treated unfavourably at school on the grounds of sexuality or other protected attributes such as gender identity can be serious and can cause long-term harm. The impact of this secrecy, shame and isolation of LGBTIQ students in the school environment can contribute to serious mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Just as our society recognises the importance of sufficient mental health support and significant awareness of mental health issues, we should not be adding more discrimination and mental health issues to our community.

Being the most LGBTIQ welcoming and friendly city in Australia means the ACT must ensure all our students can learn in classrooms that are free from LGBTIQ discrimination and that they are taught by the best teachers available, including LGBTIQ teachers and not just cisgender heterosexual teachers.

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