... and ain't i a woman?: Learning hatred from the church

Issue 

Learning hatred from the church

Jacqui Griffin, a qualified teacher with 11 years' teaching experience, applied to the NSW Catholic Education Office (CEO) in April for classification to teach in Catholic schools. The reply from the CEO, rejecting her application, read in part: "Your public position as the Co-convenor of the Gay and Lesbian Teachers and Students Association (GaLTaS) and your recent appearance on National Television in the program entitled 'Attitude' on the evening of March 24, would raise serious questions about your capacity, in the mind of the Catholic community, to fulfil the requirements of teachers in our schools".

Discrimination these days is not usually this blatant and unabashed. It is certainly not usually set down in writing. In a mainstream political climate which requires institutions at least to pay lip service to human rights, most acts of discrimination are indirect, covert and difficult to prove. Sexuality, gender, race and religion are not usually given as reasons for differential treatment, at least not in public.

But Catholic schools are different. Like all private schools, they are exempt from the NSW anti-discrimination legislation and grievance procedures and, like all religious schools, they are exempt from federal human rights law. They have a hard-won right to deny anybody their civil rights, and even to vilify and incite violence against whomsoever they choose.

The organisation of which Jacqui Griffin is co-convener, GalTaS, has released preliminary findings from its SchoolWatch Report on Anti-Gay and Lesbian Violence in Schools revealing that two out of three gay and lesbian school students aged from 13 to 19 have experienced homophobic physical violence and verbal harassment. The Young Lesbian Report indicates one in three young lesbians attempt suicide for reasons directly related to their sexuality. Griffin appeared on the ABC youth affairs program, Attitude, to publicise these findings and has, as a result, become the subject of legally condoned homophobia herself.

Why are religious institutions and private schools permitted to discriminate with impunity? Why do they fight so hard for the right to do so?

In 1982 the Catholic Education Commission published a report entitled Catholic Education and Homosexuality which stated: "Catholic Authorities have made it quite clear that they deplore personal discrimination against homosexuals. The church teaches that all persons are brothers and sisters under the fatherhood of God, assured of the love of Christ and the Church for them. In this sense homosexuals are assured of acceptance, guaranteed the human rights enjoyed by others and equally entitled to protection from unjust discrimination."

The CEO's director of human resources, Natalie McNamara, who signed Jacqui Griffin's rejection letter, has dismissed this report as s also denied that Griffin has been discriminated against, claiming that it is not her lesbianism but her public statements "against the teachings of the church" which disqualify her to teach in Catholic schools. She claims that a convener of a homophobic organisation would have received the same treatment.

The position of opposition to both homosexuality and homophobia is untenable. Opposition to homosexuality is homophobia. The church claims it teaches opposition to violence but in discriminating against a lesbian teacher it incites violence in its own schools. By this act of discrimination against Jacqui Griffin the church teaches its own teachers and students to revile homosexuality, in themselves and in others. This is the atmosphere in which hate crimes flourish.

By Karen Fredericks