Catholic schools' quest for LGBTIQ inclusion

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Various bishops and Catholic educational leaders last week assured their communities and the Australian public that Catholic schools do not exclude the enrolment LGBTIQ young people. In actual fact, Catholic schools are being encouraged to do more than not exclude. To be welcoming and accepting Christ-led communities, explicit inclusivity is necessary.

EREA studentsAt Edmund Rice Education Australia (EREA), a network of 54 Catholic schools inspired by the life of Edmund Rice and the Christian Brothers, we believe there is the need to ensure that the community and young people are in no doubt about the care and acceptance they will receive.

The EREA network includes flexible learning centres, mainstream all-boys and coeducational schools, a Montessori early years centre and two special education schools. Our diversity is one of our greatest strengths. However, the challenge of that diversity is to continually strive to ensure that all young people feel welcomed, accepted and valued.

It is EREA's mission to provide a quality, Gospel-based education whereby all young people come to know that they are not only loved by God, but are made in God's image, irrespective of their sexual orientation or gender. For this values-based education to be authentic, EREA works to ensure that all young people in its schools are able to learn and grow free from violence of any kind.

The existence of homophobic and transphobic behaviour diminishes the whole school community as it perpetuates narrow gender stereotypes that inhibit the flourishing of all students, not just those who are same sex attracted or gender diverse (SSAGD).

The impact of homophobic and transphobic bullying on SSAGD young people can be significant, leading to higher incidences of mental illness, self-harm and suicide than in the general population of the same age. School personnel should be supported by school policies and practices to explicitly address issues of homophobic and transphobic bullying.

While all EREA schools have broad-based anti-bullying programs, these are less effective when addressing these specific forms of violence. Young people who are SSAGD have been invisible in Catholic schools. There has been a distinct vacuum of acknowledgement and information hampering efforts to explicitly and effectively support these young people.

 

"At no point do those documents suggest that a student should be excluded due to sexual orientation or gender."

 

Some teachers have been unsure how to address concerns of bullying, provide pastoral support or respond to questions in the classroom while still staying true to the teachings of the Church. EREA attempts to provide further clarity for school leaders and teachers, including through the publication in May last year of a position paper outlining EREA's commitment to providing safe and inclusive learning environments.

The Inclusive Community Touchstone of the EREA charter is a constant challenge to ask who is being included and who is being excluded, who is being invited to the table and who has been left outside of the gate. This work has been enthusiastically welcomed within the network and been embraced by a number of other schools and education systems.

EREA schools are being encouraged to evaluate their school policies, culture and practices to ensure they explicitly promote and support inclusion for SSAGD young people. Staff are being trained to identify and combat homophobic and transphobic language and behaviour, to use inclusive language and to provide pastoral support for young people who are SSAGD.

Other Catholic education systems in Australia have joined EREA in developing resources to support schools in the pastoral care of SSAGD young people. Catholic Education Melbourne recently released a series of documents that provide schools with clear policies and guidelines on how to do this in line with Catholic moral teaching.

At no point do those documents suggest that a student should be excluded due to sexual orientation or gender. The next step is to be explicit about schools' care and acceptance, so that the community is clear and young people are in no doubt about the schools' support of their journeys.

 

 

Jo HartJo Hart is an Education Officer in the Identity and Liberating Education team of EREA and was co-chair of the EREA Safe and Inclusive Working Party. She facilitates formation and professional learning opportunities for school leaders and staff throughout the EREA network.

Topic tags: Jo Hart, LGBTIQ, discrimination, same sex marriage

 

 

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Existing comments

Thank you, Jo, for this clear statement of the policies of both Melbourne Catholic Education and the Edmund Rice schools. I'm not surprised, and it horrifies me that so many people, including Catholics, believe Catholic schools exercise a 'right' to expel students on the basis of their sexuality. No such right exists, or is, I believe, exercised in Catholic schools. (For one thing, the Catechism forbids all unjust discrimination against gay persons). Regarding bullying by other students - bullying is not OK, and I don't know why teachers feel there may be a difficulty in handling it pastorally while respecting the Church's moral teachings. Being gay is not a moral question, as it's not a matter of choice. (Once again, check the Catechism). There are questions of moral behaviour attached to sexual practice, however, but surely these apply equally to heterosexual students?
Joan Seymour | 18 October 2018


Great article and makes me proud to work in a catholic school that has gay and transgender students and parents and carers as part of its community. It seemed like only yesterday that some Priests and Bishops were turning away gay and LGBTQI people from receiving communion at Mass. I hope this non-discrimination and acceptance finally extends beyond the catholic education system and into the wider Australian Catholic Church.
Carmel | 18 October 2018


Carmel, in the instances to which you refer, people were not refused communion because of their sexual orientation but rather because they were subordinating and manipulating the Eucharist for ideological ends (in the classic Trotskyite tradition of politicising everything). The religious freedom issue is ultimately about about the primacy of the spiritual over the secular, the sacred over the profane.
John | 19 October 2018


That is debateable, John. All that the gay and lesbian Catholics approaching the Communion rails at St Patrick's Cathedral did at the time was to draw attention to their sexual orientation. In the homophobic society and Church of the time, especially at a juncture when the Archdiocese of Melbourne was led by a prelate who was known for his homophobic (as opposed to pastoral) theology and attitudes, to draw attention to the suffering of Gay communicants was palpably not a political act but done to shed light on their/our suffering. This happens in all sorts of explicit ways at refugee and other Masses in which justice is the hallmark of the liturgy. And, by the way, the Gospels are widely recognised to also be political texts in all sorts of radical and explicit ways. Well said, Carmel!
Michael Furtado | 19 October 2018


The gospels and the Eucharist have political implications but they are not primarily political texts or gatherings: they are, first and foremost, celebrations and nourishers of faith, and calls to the life of faith, providing the foundation of social justice that presupposes the natural order of creation of which God is the author.
John | 23 October 2018


While God is indeed the author of the natural order, the fact that we are still in the business of discovering it - rather than the closed and anti-scientific order that you imply (and impose!) accounts for two very different entelechies in this instance, John. Most intelligent and questing people, whether Christian or otherwise, would not accept your view. At best you're blindly obedient. At worst, your's is the kind of mindset that places more importance (not just some) on the authoritative voice of the Church than on reason as it continues to unfold and undoubtedly has an affect on Church teaching in the long run. What will you do when you find out that you were egregiously wrong? Blame your blind faith? Or even abandon it? Or perhaps urge the Church to hold the line against all evidence that sexual orientation is a feature of human identity that God's People are born with?
Dr Michael Furtado | 25 October 2018


Dr Furtado, I might adopt a tone similar to yours (ES editors permitting!) and charge you with a stance a naive scientific fideism; but that would not get us very far along the road to understanding on the matters we have for some time discussed, and, in the main, so far failed to agree on. Less personalised rules of engagement would, I'd hope, obtain in any future exchanges.
John | 26 October 2018


John, I don’t actually think it requires great ethical insight and regulation to introduce protections that recognise respecting a person's rights. These should offer appropriate protection when they have no choice but to declare their orientation. This has nothing to do with Church teaching, as you understand and I contest it, but relates to the civil protection of persons employed and enrolled in Catholic schools. Nor does my point constitute a personal attack on you. The sophistry we shouldn’t indulge in is to allow imagined cases of things that may never happen to stop us plugging loopholes in cases where events have shown the law to be manifestly inadequate. There’s just no real danger of mistaking everyday challenges in schools for human rights abuses in terms of our capacity to handle them. There’s obvious protection under existing laws for schools that do not approve of employing gay teachers. Surely you’re not arguing that this should not be the case? To withhold action on this pursuant to extending it to also protecting gay teachers and students seems perversely cruel to those persons on the receiving end of an injustice that has nothing to do with anyone’s opinion of another person’s orientation.
Michael Furtado | 30 October 2018


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