April 12, 2008 01:35am
Article from: The Courier-Mail
* Exclusive school bans gay partners at formal
* Say senior students must bring girls
* Issue of sexual discrimination arises
ONE of Queensland’s most prestigious boys schools has told final-year students they can’t take their gay partners to the senior formal.
Several students at Churchie – the Anglican Church Grammar School – have made it known they want to escort boyfriends to the June 19 formal, but the school is insisting they take a member of the opposite sex.
Churchie headmaster Jonathan Hensman said none of the students had approached him directly, but a staff member had raised the issue on their behalf.
“The senior dinner dance is an opportunity for our young men to escort a young woman in a formal school environment,” Mr Hensman said.
“We don’t intend to change our practice. As well as being a social occasion, it’s an education forum and to that end the school decides what is appropriate behaviour and what is not.”
Mr Hensman said the issue had not “formally” arisen in the past, that he could recall, but the question was not unexpected given “the changing times”.
“Not all students take their girlfriends. Some take a female friend. It’s about protocols and decorums,” he said.
But Mr Hensman said if any of Churchie’s seniors approached him formally, he would consider taking the request to the school council.
State schools made their own decisions on guidelines for school formals, a Queensland Education spokesman said.
Queensland’s Anti-Discrimination Commissioner Susan Booth said sexuality discrimination was unlawful, and that applied to private and public schools as well as other organisations.
However, Churchie is not alone in its stand against same-sex couples attending school formals, with Queensland Catholic Education Executive Director Mike Byrne saying their schools would not allow it either.
Mr Byrne said Catholic schools were committed to modelling behaviours in keeping with the values and principles of a Catholic institution.
“As such we would not see it as appropriate for couples in a same-sex relationship to attend an event such as a school formal,” he said.
“Where young people are concerned, there are often matters associated with sexuality and relationships – both heterosexual and homosexual – where schools provide a range of support services for students.”
Although Ms Booth could not comment specifically on the Churchie case because it was “a potential complaint”, the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner said schools should not treat students differently on the basis of their sexuality.
“What we hope is that there can be a discussion about the issue, that’s what happens in the commission, and that’s where we hope the matter can be sorted out.”
The Queensland Education spokesman said schools “consider the Inclusive Education policy when planning a range of activities, including school formals . . . and that requires schools to foster learning environments where all students are valued for their diverse backgrounds”.
Queensland University of Technology School of Justice lecturer Dr Angela Dwyer said Churchie’s stand on the issue of same-sex formal partners would be “devastating” to those involved.
“We’re talking about someone’s identity here. The way that they feel and the way that they express themselves is basically being squashed by the school,” said Dr Dwyer, who is writing a research paper on “How queer young people are policed”.
Another expert on sexuality and education, Iain Hay from the University of Canberra, said it would be very stressful for gay students prepared to come out in front of their peers, to then be told it was “inappropriate”.