11/12/2010 12:13:00 am

Gay Old Mess

Posted by Tom French |

I just started following this Ivanhoe Grammar thing.

The story goes Hannah Williams at Ivanhoe Girls Grammar invited her girlfriend, Savannah Supski, to the year 11 formal. Unfortunately Hannah was told she couldn't take Savannah, but she could bring a boy. This made Hannah angry. She told her friends, her parents, and the Equal Opportunity Commission. Somehow this made it to the papers, and now it's a big thing. Unfortunately for the school, they've kinda stuffed up their PR on this one.

The school principal, Heather Schnagl, said in defense of the school's decision: "I don't think it's appropriate they feel discriminated against, and I'm very upset they feel that... If we opened it up and said girls could bring another female they would all bring females; the policy is trying to create an event where boys are invited. We are a school that has an all-girls environment, and they are meant to invite guests, not partners."

She then goes on to give a second reason for not letting the girl take her girl, "It's an event for year 11s and the student's guest was in year 10."

This is an absurd thing to say.

From what I know of teenage girls, if given the opportunity to have a dinner dance event and they're told they can bring a partner, I cannot think there is any group except perhaps the Teenage Lesbians Alliance (if one exists) where all the girls would bring girls instead of guys. And I'm sure the girls who opted to bring no one were not told they must bring someone as they would throw out the girl:boy ratio.

The other issue is that the school also wants to say the problem is the students age, year 10s are not allowed at the year 11 event. This is a much better argument and the one the school should have stuck with the whole time, because age discrimination is encouraged and necessary in a school. And Savannah's age has nothing to do with her gender or sexual preference. Unfortunately for the school they didn't stick to that argument or to that rule, and they allowed boys at the event who were in year 10.

What is interesting is that same-sex couples are allowed at the year 12 formal, which means that the school's argument for not allowing a same sex couple to attend a year 11 formal holds even less water, unless the event really is for the girls to meet boys. This does seem terribly old fashioned as if girls at all girls schools have no way of finding boys. Girls and boys know how to find each other. I'm pretty sure they don't need a school to help them, but it's nice that the school would try.

I'm not sure but there may be something going on here with the faith of the school. The school doesn't seem to have said it publicly but it may be that because it is a school built upon Christian foundations (according to the website) that's why they don't allow the gay couple to attend. But I have no idea how Christian the school is. Probably not very.

Whatever is going on, this feels to me like a case of teenage outrage (which is a fact of life when you're a teenager, I encounter small scale teenage outrage on a regular basis) exacerbated by a school unable to find (or at least articulate) a good reason not to allow a same sex couple to a dance.

Oh, and now a whole lot of fuel has been added to the fire by the media's love of all things gay, especially lesbians, especially, especially pretty, teenage lesbians. Freakin' SMH.

Whatever the case it got me thinking about what I would do. If I was the school principal, I'd probably allow the couple to attend. If my only real reason for not allowing the student to attend was because she was a girl, I'd let it slide. If I hadn't been consistent in enforcing the rules I was referring to I'd know I didn't really have a leg to stand on, so I'd have to allow them to go together.

If there was a lesbian couple who wanted to attend my youth group, I reckon I'd let them. If my youth group was having a formal (as youth groups do from time to time) and a girl who attended youth group wanted to bring her female partner, I'd probably let her. If the girl said she was a Christian, then I reckon there'd be other conversations to be had first which were bigger than whether or not she could bring her girlfriend along.

I know this isn't what the story is about but it gets me thinking about the church. I'm sure that over the next 10 years Christian organisations are only going to face more and more issues with discrimination of people with a same sex preference. The Church is going to have to find the best way forward to be loving and welcoming without compromising on it's beliefs. But even then it'll probably still get hammered.

The recent issue with the Brethren campsite that didn't allow a gay support group to meet on its site is probably indicative of what's to come. The problem was that the Christian organisation didn't want to have its facilities used for the promotion of something that they felt was immoral. Unfortunately the Brethren were running a corporation, which is legally obliged to provide the same services to anyone regardless of their sexual preference. And so they lost the case on anti-discrimination grounds, despite the fact that they are clearly Christian.

People seem to feel like whenever Christians express a view about homosexuality that it's motivated by bigotry and homophopia. Except that for many Christians it's not an issue of bigotry and homophobia*. How they feel about homosexuality comes from a respect for and desire to obey the Bible. Christians aren't out to make the life of gay people hard, they're out to live their lives as an act of worship in obedience to the God they see revealed in the Bible. Rightly or wrongly the choice to do that has to be as acceptable in society as being gay.

It feels like the bias at the moment is leaning towards legally forcing Christian organisations to let all people do everything. But I'd say forcing the Church to be endorsing homosexuality as a valid lifestyle choice is as discriminatory as forcing gay people to believe that following Jesus is the only valid lifestyle choice.

I guess what I'm saying is that freedom of religious expression should be just as valid a right as freedom of sexual expression. And just as we should allow people people the right to have whatever sexual lifestyle they choose (within the context of non-abusive, consensual behaviour) and the right to advocate for that lifestyle, I also think Christians should have the right to hold different views, to publicly state those views and expect a certain type behaviour from those who want to work within the structures of the Christian community. If the Christian community wants to waive that right, so be it, but it should be their choice not one forced upon them by those who hold different values and beliefs.

*Of course sometimes it is and I ain't down with that.

Update: I accidentally deleated a paragraph before posting about bigotry and homophobia. I have added a sentence because I can't remember the paragraph, just to make sense of the paragraph a little better.

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