Christian college tells staff to sign ‘gender identity’ document

Christian college tells staff to sign ‘gender identity’ document

07/13/2022

Key points

  • St Andrews Christian College in Melbourne’s east told staff to sign a ‘statement of belief’ that “acknowledges the biological sex of a person as recognised at birth and requires practices consistent with that sex”.
  • The statement of belief also states that “marriage, and therefore sexual intimacy, is to be between one man and one woman” and “sex should occur only within a monogamous marriage, with abstinence from pre-marital sex, extra marital sex, de-facto ‘marriage’ and homosexual relationships.”
  • Recent changes to Victoria’s Equal Opportunity Act largely prohibit religious schools discriminating against employees and prospective employees because of their sexuality or gender identity.
  • Workplace lawyer Paul O’Halloran says religious schools “will need to think very carefully about introducing policies” that might contravene the act, which states that gender identity means “a person’s gender-related identity, which may or may not correspond with their designated sex at birth”.
  • The schools regulator is continuing its review into St Andrews’ handling of a former teacher’s sexual abuse of students.

A Melbourne independent school has told employees to sign a document endorsing a statement that gender identity and biological sex are inseparable.

St Andrews Christian College in Melbourne’s east this year requested staff sign an updated statement of belief that “acknowledges the biological sex of a person as recognised at birth and requires practices consistent with that sex”.

St Andrews Christian College in Wantirna South. Credit:Eddie Jim.

“According to Scripture, our gender identity is to align with our biological sex, as designed by God,” the document states.

Staff members are required to affirm the statement of belief each year. The transgender reference was introduced this year.

The statement of belief also says that “marriage, and therefore sexual intimacy, is to be between one man and one woman” and “sex should occur only within a monogamous marriage, with abstinence from pre-marital sex, extra marital sex, de-facto ‘marriage’ and homosexual relationships”.

The statement has prompted warnings that Victorian schools could be sued for discriminatory practices under the state’s recently updated Equal Opportunity Act, which largely prohibits religious schools from discriminating against employees and prospective employees because of their sexuality or gender identity.

Paul O’Halloran, of Colin Biggers & Paisley Lawyers, said religious schools “will need to think very carefully about introducing policies” that might contravene the act, which states that gender identity means “a person’s gender-related identity, which may or may not correspond with their designated sex at birth”.

“The explanatory background material relating to exemption in the Equal Opportunity Act contemplates that action taken by religious schools in this area could result in harsh or unjust consequences,” he said. “Schools need to be cautious balancing their religious beliefs against the rights of individuals”.

The statement comes after parents of St Catherine’s girls’ school in Sydney successfully lobbied the Sydney Anglican Diocese to dump a requirement that their new principal sign a statement of belief affirming that marriage is between a man and a woman.

Christian Community Ministries, which runs 12 schools across Queensland, NSW, South Australia and Western Australia, on Tuesday declined to comment on an ABC report that its enrolment form requires families to agree that “God’s intended best for humankind is that we live our lives in accordance with our biological sex” and “sexual behaviour is to be limited to monogamous heterosexual, married couples”.

Victorian Attorney-General Jaclyn SymesCredit:Penny Stephens

Under the federal Sex Discrimination Act, faith-based schools may discriminate against students on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender.

The Albanese government has promised to scrap this right, as well as legislate to protect against discrimination because of religious belief.

Schools have an exemption to discriminate against staff under Victoria’s Equal Opportunity Act, but must show that the employee cannot meet the inherent requirements of their position because of this religious belief, and that discriminating against the staff member is reasonable and proportionate in the circumstances.

Outgoing St Andrews Christian College principal Catriona Wansbrough said the school was “committed to being transparent with current and prospective members of the school community about the college’s Christian education program, and like many faith-based schools publishes a statement of belief on its website”.

Wansbrough said the Wantirna South school was inclusive and committed to complying with equal opportunity legislation.

“However, as with any independent school, our staff are expected to support and uphold the college’s Christian education program, ethos and values within the context of their respective roles,” she said.

The Independent Education Union said it would defend any member “disadvantaged in their employment as a result either of a principled refusal to sign up to outdated and frankly irrelevant ideas around gender norms or of some perceived failure to fit them”.

Emily Howie, general counsel at the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, urged any student, teacher, or other employee of a religious school who has concerns about discrimination to contact the commission.

If you or anyone you know needs support, you can contact the National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732).

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