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Wednesday 14 April 2010

Proclamations of the Red Queen

8th April 2010

United Kingdom: Homophobic Bullying and Faith Schools

Posted by: Craig Young

Under moderate centre-right governments, religiously-based ‘faith schools’ may be more able to get started, remain operational and attract students- so what about LGBT pupils?

Unfortunately, the faiths in question do not tend to be reasonably inclusive ones like Buddhism or Wicca, and while I would have no problems with Anglicanism or Reform Judaism in this context either, fundamentalist Christian (or UK Muslim social conservative) ‘faith schools’ are the ones that I have in mind here.

Should it become easier for these schools to gain certification, authorisation, any government funding for their operational activities and employ amenable teachers of their own religious persuasion, at the cost of more accessible state schools? As a former inmate of Middleton Grange, a particularly vile Christchurch fundamentalist private school, I thought I’d contribute my experiences back in the seventies. Until two months after my sixteenth birthday, I had had no idea that I was gay. Unfortunately, that didn’t prevent me from  receiving my share of jock school bullying and exclusion from adolescent top-stream peer social activities until my seventh form year. There was heavy nepotism and rampant monoculturalism- to be blunt, Middleton Grange was a ‘white flight academy’ at that stage. Some male teachers were martinet disciplinarians and condoned low-level peer bullying, urging me to harden up. They should never have been allowed into the teaching profession. Unfortunately, there is now Bethlehem Teachers College for teachers of their religious persuasion in Tauranga.

Somehow, I survived, made it through the system and escaped to university. Meanwhile, Middleton Grange had spawned erstwhile nemesis Graham Capill (whose dad Don was Vice-Principal there), organised against homosexual law reform in the mid-eighties and is now New Zealand’s largest fundamentalist private school. Granted, my experiences occurred during the Muldoon era of the seventies and it probably has far more Chinese and Korean students now, given the importance of our East Asian trading partners. However, with the benefit of organisational psychology, I can see that such schools are an obvious problem for LGBT students.

Their founders have sectarian reliious preferences which hold that lesbian/gay sexual identity is ‘against’ their theological prejudices and interpretation of the Bible (or Quran) and is therefore ’sinful’, ‘pathological’ or ‘unclean.’ Lesbian and gay pupils will therefore be pressured to adopt particular gender roles, although one imagines that lesbian athletic performers will receive some degree of social approval. Because their school cultures marginalise lesbian/gay sexual identities, though, homophobic bullying will be accepted and condoned within their school cultures. Consequently, LGBT pupils have several options. They can either come out to their parents or otherwise pressure them into transferal to more amenable schools, ‘act out’ or drop out early, blighting their later educational and employment prospects, or tough it out until they can escape to more convivial occupational training or higher education.

In a pluralist multicultural society like our own, we cannot prohibit the existence of such fundamentalist educational enclaves altogether. However, we can and should insist that government educational policies assert compliance with antibullying directives and referral of pre or current LGBT students to more amenable environments where they can achieve their full educational and social potential if needed. This should be one of the conditions of continued government funding and teacher and school assessment and regulation. Perhaps we should institute our own ‘league tables’ of safe and unsafe schools and lobby central government for penalty funding provisions if non-compliance is evident.

We need to insure that adolescent LGBTs are able to study in safe educational environments that prepare them to achieve their full potential as responsible and constructive citizens in later life.

Postscript: But apparently, not in Australia. After their shenanigans and electoral interference several years ago, the Australian Greens have been understandably incensed to learn that an Exclusive Brethren school with only a handful of students got a one million dollar grant for its school library, according to the Melbourne Age. Meanwhile, Queensland-born ALP federal PM Kevin Rudd has refused to go on air at JoyFM, a Melbourne LGBT radio station. Draw the dots…

Tags: Politics · Religion

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