Hamish Macdonald, host of the project, has criticized the Presbyterian Church’s proposed ban on gay and sexually active students of leadership positions.
Macdonald, an openly gay man, shared his views on the church’s controversial calls at Friday’s panel discussion, saying he doesn’t see how the ban would actually be enforced.
He is also a former student of The Scots College, one of Australia’s oldest and most respected Presbyterian schools in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.
‘I was prefect. I went to a Presbyterian school. There’s clearly the principle behind that, and I’m sure people have an opinion about it,” Macdonald said.
‘What strikes me is that there is a practical side to it.
“Are you seriously going to ask 16 and 17 year old kids competing for school prefect or head prefect ‘are you gay?’.”
The Project host Hamish Macdonald (right) wondered how The Presbyterian Church would enforce its proposed ban on gay and sexually active students from leadership positions
Macdonald also expressed concern that the proposal could create a new stigma around homosexuality in religious schools.
“Let’s assume they’re not going to run these kids around and declare themselves that way as part of a selection process. You get a bit of a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy, which I think we know is pretty damaging,” he said.
“I think kids grow up in an environment where there’s shame or some kind of negativity about whoever they are.”
He added that he struggled to grow out of the shame he felt about his own sexuality as a teenager.
“It’s that feeling of shame that’s kind of hard to shake off, I think. In my adult life, it’s something that has lasted for many years, and I think it stays with you forever,” Macdonald explained.
“When you grew up in such an environment where there’s constant shame attached to something you can’t change about yourself, it really takes forever to work that out of your system and be okay with who and what you are.”
News of the Presbyterian Church’s new stance broke earlier Friday when the organization claimed that students “will not be able to provide appropriate Christian leadership in a Christian school that requires a model of Christian living.”
The Presbyterian Church has over 500 congregations across Australia and operates over 20 schools and preschools, including prestigious private schools in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
Macdonald (pictured with his partner, Jacob Fitzroy) said the proposed ban could also create a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy around homosexuality in religious schools
The Church made the extraordinary demand in a submission to the Australian Law Reform Commission.
The Presbyterian Church also advocates extending the ban to anyone who has sex outside of marriage.
The ALRC is currently reviewing religious schools and their exemption from the federal anti-discrimination law.
Some schools are currently not liable to the law if the discrimination is consistent with their religious tenants and beliefs.
The ALRC has asked for feedback on some of the proposed changes that would make it illegal to discriminate against students based on their sexual orientation.
The Presbyterian Church argued in its speech that students should be able to provide “appropriate Christian leadership” if they are elected school leaders.
“If this student were in an active same-sex relationship, they would not be able to provide appropriate Christian leadership in a Christian school that requires exemplary Christian living,” the entry read.
This would also be the case for a student in a sexually active unmarried heterosexual relationship.
“In both cases, the proposal deprives schools of the ability to define an ethos by selecting appropriate leaders.”
The Presbyterian Church has over 500 congregations across Australia and operates over 20 schools and kindergartens (stock image)
The ALRC is also reviewing a proposal that would make it illegal to discriminate against teachers and staff based on their sexual orientation.
The Presbyterian Church revealed in its entry that it wants to retain the power to discriminate against staff if they don’t “consistently live the entire Christian faith.”
The church operates some of the most prestigious schools in the country, including Brisbane Boys’ College and Somerville House in Queensland.
Presbyterian Ladies’ College and Scotch College in Victoria and Presbyterian Ladies’ College and The Scots College in NSW are also listed.
Rainbow Families Queensland submitted its own submission saying some parents were too scared to speak out for fear of repercussions.
“Amending the law’s outdated exemptions on sex discrimination and ensuring that children are protected from discrimination by association will positively impact the culture of exclusion schools over time,” said the submission.
The assessment is expected to be handed over within a few weeks.
The Presbyterian Church also advocates extending the ban to anyone who has sex outside of marriage