Sydney Anglican principal rejects right to sack gay teachers

The principal of a prominent Anglican school has broken ranks on LGBT discrimination, saying she wants no exemptions from legislation. .

The headmistress of Sceggs Darlinghurst in Sydney, Jenny Allum, said in a letter to parents she did not want the legal right to discriminate and “welcomes all – regardless of age, race, sexual orientation or religion”.

“There has been some media coverage about the bill in the Senate to remove exemptions from the Discrimination Act and the Fair Work Act,” Allum wrote.

“I want to make it clear that I don’t want Sceggs to have any exemption from any Discrimination Act or Fair Work Act based on our religion … I know we have students, staff, parents and alumni who are members of the LGBTIQ community. They are warmly welcome at Sceggs.” The government has indicated it may remove the exemption. On Wednesday more than 1,000 students and former students of the 34 schools wrote to their principals asking them to remove the “right to discriminate”.

One principal who signed the letter, the headmaster of St Andrew’s school, told Guardian Australia on Friday it had been misinterpreted and the exemption was something “we don’t actually want”.

John Collier said the issue had been misreported by media, and his school would never expel a student or sack a teacher for being gay.

He said he wanted the exemption removed, but that it should be retained as a “temporary expediency” until it could be replaced with other protections for religious freedom.

Collier said he agreed with Allum’s stance.

“We agree with our critics,” he said. “It’s ironic. Heads of schools are actually advancing the same argument as the critics.

“What we Anglican heads are saying is these exemptions are uncomfortable, that they operate in the area of discrimination, and let’s get rid of them. But only get rid of them when can replace them with positive terms which protect our rights to suit our ethos.”

He said religious schools needed the right to hire teachers who agreed with the school’s beliefs in the same way that environmental organisations only hired people who believed in climate change.

He said the exemption in the Sex Discrimination Act was unwanted but was “the only legal protection that schools currently have”.

“It’s the only thing we can cling to, and it’s very partial and we don’t actually want it,” he said. “It doesn’t really [protect the ethos of the school]. But there is not very rich legislation in the field. Schools rely on anything.

“We agree we don’t actually want the exemptions but they have got to stay there. Many of our old students have said now ‘we understand, and that’s fine’… People are reacting against trigger words which they have misconstructed,” he said.

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