The commonwealth’s schools chaplaincy program has been of deep concern to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI), community since its inception in 2007.
Leaving aside the fact that the program undermines the separation between church and state, the more worrying aspect of the program for many people is the inadequacy of qualifications for applicants or their questionable motivations.
To be a school chaplain it is enough simply to hold a Certificate in Pastoral Care or Theology and a diploma in Youth Work, a status largely founded upon belief in a supernatural being, a 2000 year old prophet and life after death.
It’s true that many chaplains have some qualifications beyond this, such as teaching or family therapy, but it’s not a requirement. They are not psychology graduates, professional psychiatrists or qualified counsellors and it’s very worrying that the origin of the chaplaincy program sprang from lobbying by evangelical and Pentecostal church groups when the Howard government was courting the votes of the religious right.
Supporters of the program like to defend the ‘chappys’ as lovely, Vicar of Dibley characters who offer care and support for troubled students. No doubt many of them are, but others have been exposed as having direct or indirect links to anti-abortion, anti-gay activities and holding harsh views on same-sex relationships. Some believe homosexuality is a sin and can be “prayed away”.
For many gay people, myself included, their school experience of awakening to a homosexual identity in early teens, not understanding it, being closeted, frightened, confused or a victim of teasing, ridicule or violence, can be very scarring. Some 30 per cent of all youth suicides are from LGBTI kids who didn’t or couldn’t get the care and support they really needed.
Which is why the notion of chaplains in public schools repulses so many gay and lesbian people. For at least 150 years, religion has been the main perpetrator of institutionalised homophobia and anti-gay intolerance.
Even in recent years, religious groups supported the criminalisation of homosexuality and fiercely opposed repealing such laws. They also opposed basic anti-discrimination laws for LGBTI people in employment, housing and the provision of goods and services.
Religious groups sought, and won, special rights to be exempt from these anti-discrimination laws so they could sack gay teachers, expel gay students and block anti-homophobia courses in the classroom.
Religious groups opposed civil unions and now campaign against equal marriage. And religious groups continue to use fake, discredited “research” to claim that same-sex parents are bad for children. Their history is one of fear, ignorance and persecution.
Despite all this, many of the same groups and individuals behind all of that are now defending their access to public schools, “to help students with problems.”
Given the track record, it’s highly questionable as to whether any student struggling with same-sex attraction or gender confusion can be objectively and compassionately addressed by a chaplain sourced from a religious body.
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