Dear Brother John

Words by Akira, 22 VIC

Dear Brother John,

This morning I woke up to a Sydney Morning Herald article outlining some alarming suggestions following the religious review commissioned in the wake of last year’s marriage equality victory.

The report calls for the federal Sex Discrimination Act to be amended to allow religious schools to discriminate against students based on sexual orientation, gender identity or relationship status. This is something some, but not all states already allow.

No school should have the right to discriminate against anyone. No person should have the right to discriminate against anyone. Why is it that these people can argue their right to religious freedom equates to a special right to discriminate against a child belonging to a marginalised group?

It’s no secret that the younger generations, and especially LGBTIQ youth, are overly represented in mental health statistics. If schools can turn away kids based on their sexual identity, what do you think this is going to do to these statistics?

I am an ex-student of Trinity Catholic College Lismore and the daughter of a rainbow family. I am lucky enough to have two mums, a step mum, a sperm-donor-dad and a brother Zak, who is completing year twelve at Trinity this year. My rainbow family is being attacked once again.

I am writing to you today because I am concerned about what is being portrayed about our schools, our families and our identities. I’m not sure if you remember me, as you became principal in my last year of high school in 2013. What I remember is the support you provided to my family when my mother was sick. You came across as a kind, genuine man. I believe you when you speak of living your catholic values, and so did the rest of the community last year.

I was weeping with pride when an article popped up on my newsfeed about a transgender student being welcomed into my old school’s community.

The ABC article outlined that you, Brother John Hilet, the principal of Trinity Catholic College Lismore, sent a letter home to parents urging them to support the students with a clear commitment that there will be no tolerance for bullying in the school community.

The article continued to say you felt privileged when two students confided in him that they were experiencing gender identity issues.

When I told my friends in Melbourne about this, they were shocked and surprised. It seemed quite radical that a Marist Brother, principal of a regional Catholic school, would be so open to supporting a transgender student to live their truth.

None of this surprised me. Although there were a few moments of dinosaur-like preaching, my take away reflection of what the culture of Trinity and its Catholic teachings stands for is love, community and compassion.

At Trinity, I embraced the religious education as a staunch 13-year-old agnostic. I challenged teachers, asked questions, argued back, spoke my mind.

In year 12, I was also comfortable enough to be out of the closet. I wasn’t ashamed to hold my girlfriends hand at lunch. I wasn’t scared for people to find out I was dating a girl. I was lucky enough to have a group of open minded friends and teachers.

In saying all of this, it wasn’t all good at Trinity.

Both my brother and I received the regular comments, ‘if your parents are gay that must mean you are too’. I always found this comment quite confusing, was it supposed to be an insult?

Whenever I heard kids hurling the word ‘gay’ across the playground, I was always quick to defend my rainbow family.

A few years ago my brother’s history teacher said in class, “If same sex marriage is legalised, all the Catholic schools in Australia will be closed down’.

Not only is this claim ridiculous and obviously deeply false, it’s harmful from a teacher in a position of power over a classroom of young students.

Our mothers instilled pride into us both at a young age, and this allowed us to be proud of our family and ignore these kinds of comments. Other kids aren’t as lucky.

Pushing kids back into the closet, to live in shame and hate themselves. That’s not the values I believe the spirit of Trinity community. It’s irresponsible, harmful and dangerous.

I know this isn’t all new news, but in a sea of religious conservatism you have a powerful voice and I believe you can use it, just like you did last year.

When a student confided in their story to you and requested you allow them to live their truth, you listened. And you acted. You were an ally. I ask you to do the same this time around.

Yours in pride,

Akira Boardman

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