Opinion: Citipointe was just the ‘canary in the coalmine’

Opinion: Owen Marsden-Readford is an activist with Community Action for Rainbow Rights in Sydney.

I went to a high school like Citipointe Christian College, it was an Anglican school under the bigoted Sydney Anglican Church. A diocese infamous for its homophobia, sexism and ban on Indigenous smoking ceremonies. Citipointe’s anti-gay, anti-trans contract was shocking, but not surprising.

Bigotry is the ethos of the people who run these schools. Homophobia was commonplace. In a Year Seven religious studies lesson my teacher told the class how if she had a gay son she would consider abandoning him. I never had to sign a contract saying “homosexual acts are immoral” and that students should identify “with the gender God bestowed”, but I heard it regularly in weekly chapel.

The message was clear, to fit in I had to detach my sexuality, box it up and reject it with the rest of Sodom and Gomorrah. This is the experience of thousands of LGBTI+ students across the country.

Citipointe is not an exception. Australia is littered with similarly bigoted elite Christian private schools. Schools designed to train the next generation of the narrow-minded, upper class.

Schools like Citipointe will be emboldened if the Liberal’s Religious Discrimination bill passes. Citipointe’s disgusting contract shows that under the bill, LGBTI+ students, as well as teachers, will be targets. The Citipointe contract is the canary in the coalmine for what will happen if the bill passes.

The Religious Discrimination bill was from its outset a project of the hard religious right embittered by their loss to the marriage equality campaign. It is all about strengthening the legal cover for bigotry despite overwhelming opposition to it and the religious exemptions that already exist. Scomo’s bill gives these institutions the legal protection and the confidence to go on the offensive against LGBTI+ people.

While the Citipointe contract highlights the danger for LGBTI+ students, an amendment to prevent their expulsion would not fix the bill. The whole thing is rotten. Talk of ‘statements of belief’ and ‘religious freedom’ are code words for homophobia. It is a Trojan horse for hate.

It’s also not just about what the bill explicitly allows, but the message it sends. The conservative right wants to normalise Trumpian bigotry in daily life through passing the bill. If it passes, they will be back for more attacks on LGBTI+ people – with an apparent mandate to do so. There will be more Citipointes.

Mass public pressure from students, parents, teachers and their supporters across the country forced Citipointe to back down and withdraw the contract. This points the way forward. The righteous anger against Citipointe must grow over into anger against the Religious Freedom bill and its hard-right backers. It’s a fight not just against a system of bigoted schools, but against a conservative offensive on our rights.

Three quarters of voters oppose the religious discrimination bill’s key attacks. Yet, the Labor party is set to support the bill, covering their asses by “expressing concerns”. In the face of undemocratic bigotry from politicians, lobbying and last minute pleading is a dead end. We need to fight back. Taking to the streets and turning passive opposition into protests and mass action is our only chance at defeating this bill. It’s how our rights have been won in the past – from Mardi Gras to marriage equality.

We need to show up for this fight, not just to stop this bill but any future attacks. Mark Latham’s vile ‘Parental Freedom’ bill is looming on the horizon in NSW. That bill needs to be smashed, along with the already existing exemptions to the discrimination act that allowed lesbian educators Steph Lentz and Karen Pack to be fired.

In this spirit Community Action for Rainbow Rights has called for a protest on Saturday 12th February at Sydney Town Hall. If you’re enraged by the bigotry of Citipointe and the Liberal government, take to the streets.

For more details, follow the Community Action Rainbow Rights Facebook page.

Owen Marsden-Readford

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