It will be harder for Christian schools to fire LGBTIQ+ teachers under an overhaul of Queensland’s anti-discrimination laws being considered by the Palaszczuk government. Queensland Human Rights Commissioner Scott McDougall has recommended exemptions given to church-run schools that allow them to discriminate on the basis of sexuality, gender identity, marital status or pregnancy be narrowed. In a 420-page report tabled in parliament Mr McDougall recommended that the “genuine occupational requirement” for staff in Christian schools to share its beliefs be replaced by a tighter definition. It would mean staff not directly involved in religious education, such as science, math and English teachers, would be better protected against discrimination.

“A specific concern from submissions was that the current act requires employees to hide or suppress who they are in the workplace,” the report read. “Hiding or suppressing sexuality and gender identity has been linked to psychological harm and can lead to ongoing mental health issues and suicidal ideation. “It was noted that being LGBTQ+ and holding a religious belief are not mutually exclusive.” Mr McDougall’s report comes after a Brisbane Christian school asked its teachers to sign employment contracts that warned they could be sacked for being openly homosexual. It was the second time this year that Citipointe Christian College was called out for discrimination after it asked families to sign a document that labelled homosexuality as “immoral” and offensive to God.

The contract, which asked students to denounce homosexuality and agree to specific gender roles, sparked national uproar and put a spotlight on the rights of Christian schools to teach traditional doctrines, which some Australian’s find hateful or discriminatory. Christian Schools Australia director of public policy Mark Spencer said parents should be able to choose a school that reflected their values and beliefs. “To suggest a science teacher, or any staff member, at a Christian school is not involved in ‘teaching, observance or practice of a religion’ shows a fundamental lack of understanding of the nature of faith and how it is expressed and communicated,” he said. “It is staggering the body charged with protecting human rights in Queensland could be so ignorant of the essence of such an essential right as religious freedom. We are calling on Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman to reject these extreme proposals.”

The Palaszczuk government will formally respond to the report by the end of the year, but Ms Fentiman said the recommended reforms “will mean LGBTIQ+ students and staff feel safe in religious schools, while still protecting religious freedoms”. “The actions of Citipointe Christian College at the start of this year highlighted the importance of having specific protections for LGBTIQ+ students and staff at religious schools,” she said. Under the new anti-discrimination blueprint, employers would also have a “positive duty” to eliminate sexual harassment in their workplace and people with an “irrelevant” criminal history could not be turned away from a job.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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