Teachers sacked for being gay say Religious Discrimination bill will pave the way for ‘purge’

The senate inquiry looking into the third version of the Morrison government’s Religious Discrimination bill have heard directly from gay teachers who have been sacked from religious based schools who shared their concern that the proposed laws will open the gates for a “purge” of LGBTIQA+ staff members.

Karen Pack told the inquiry she was sacked from her position at a Christian Bible college in Sydney. She told the inquiry when she signed her contract in 2017 she was very careful to check it was something she could sign with integrity as a gay Christian woman.

Pack said the following the passage of the marriage equality legislation the college introduced a new community code that made clearer stance about their opposition to same-sex marriage. When asked to sign a new contract Pack she was upfront about her relationship status.

“I made it clear that I am gay, that I am in a relationship.” Pack said, explaining that she discussed with her superiors her thoughts on the balance between biblical statements and her own beliefs. However when she became engaged to her partner her employer began getting complaints.

“At the end of 2019 I got engaged to my same-sex partner, and the college and myself started receiving phone calls and emails denouncing me as demonic, my relationship as demonic, and so in March of 2020 I was called into meetings with the Principal where I was asked what my response to that would be.”

Pack told the college that she still held a belief that the while the bible’s description of marriage as only between a man and a woman was sacred, she could also appreciate that marriage rights could be extended to other people. She asked her employer what they planned to do about the harassment she was experiencing.

A fortnight later she was informed her position had been terminated. The day after she left the organisation a letter was sent to all staff and students informing them she had been dismissed because of her same-sex relationship. The letter praised Pack’s depth of faith and her excellence as a teacher.

“It was clear the problem wasn’t my teaching, my theology or my character, it was purely because I am gay and was getting married to my partner Bronte.” Pack said.

Pack told the committee that while many people question why a gay person would want to work in a religious institution her faith was a huge part of her life.

“I’m a person of faith, I’ve been an ordained minister for twelve years, my parents were ordained minister for over 50 years, my wife Bronte – her parents are ordained ministers. I have a sincerely held Christian faith, I’m not trying to insinuate myself into anything, I am within my community of faith as a gay woman, but what is happening at the moment with this legislation and others is essentially an attempt to purge the church of  people like myself.” Pack said.

Nathan Zomprogno said he too had been sacked from his role because of his sexuality. His experience came after he’d worked in a variety of non-denominational Christian schools in the Sydney area for almost twenty years.

Zomprogno told the committee that when he was confronted and asked if he was gay he answered honestly. He was then told he would not have a position the following year.  He said it had been alarming to hear testimony the previous day from peak bodies representing religious schools who claimed the sacking of gay teachers was not occurring, when in his experience it was happening regularly.

Both witnesses said in their experience teachers and students were experiencing disclination and it was not being widely reported.

“In the time since I have come out publicly, and particularly since my story was aired somewhat in the media, I’ve been approached by literally hundreds of teachers and students from Christian schools and Christian religious institutions explaining to me either the trauma they have faced as LGBTIQ people who feel forced to remain closeted in a very ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ environment.

“They’ve explained to me the trauma they’ve faced psychologically and emotionally, the mental health challenges they’ve faced.” Pack said noting that she had also heard from people who have felt excluded from their communities or fired from their jobs because of their gender identity or sexuality.

Pack said other people had been dismissed because they got divorced, or because they became single parents. Nathan Zomprogno concurred saying that people would often be pushed out of their roles.

“The provisions of this bill effectively empower those who want to put pressure on, and ultimately purge, people of a different religious conviction to themselves within religious communities, and worse – this bill would side in those debates with those who are less amicable, less moderate, less compassionate, and I don’t think the parliament should be weighing in and taking sides in what are, in many cases, doctrinal differences of opinion within faith communities.” Zomprogno said.

Brian Greig from Just.Equal Australia outlined that in Western Australia there had been two significant cases of discrimination against students and teachers in faith based schools.

“In 2015 a 7-year-old girl was effectively expelled, pushed out of a Christian school in Mandurah, south of Perth, when the Principal discovered she was being raised by two gay Dads. Then in 2017 during the postal survey on marriage equality History and English teacher Craig Campbell was sacked from his teaching job at a Baptist college in Rockingham.” Greig said.

“Those things were both able to happen because in Western Australia there is a great gap in our anti-discrimination act which says that  says discrimination of this kind is permissible, but it has long been the case that the community here has argued for that to end.” Greig said citing public polling on the issue.

Greig said it was concerning that while people in Western Australia, and the Western Australian government, have indicated a desire to stop this kind of discrimination occurring, the federal parliament was proposing a law that would effectively extinguish that desire.

The committee’s final report will be presented to the Senate on 4th February 2022.

Graeme Watson

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