Senate inquiry hears testimony from two educators who say Christian schools will use legislation to ‘purge’ the church of gay people
Two gay educators have spoken out about being sacked for their sexuality, warning an inquiry the religious discrimination bill will make it easier for such dismissals.
Karen Pack said she was sacked “purely because I’m gay and I was getting married to my partner” while Nathan Zomprogno warned a Senate inquiry on Friday that schools “can and do” discriminate on sexuality.
LGBT equality groups have said the bill will override state laws with more limited religious exemptions to discrimination laws on hiring and firing and give schools stronger rights to sack teachers for their views on sexuality and marriage.
Pack told the Senate legal and constitutional affairs committee she was sacked as a lecturer at a Christian theological college after she became engaged to her same-sex partner in 2019.
In March and April 2020 the college sacked Pack after it received complaints denouncing her relationship as “demonic”, despite praising Pack for her depth of Christian faith.
“It was very clear that the problem wasn’t my teaching, my theology or my character,” she said. “It was purely because I’m gay and I was getting married to my partner, Bronte.
“I have a sincerely held Christian faith. I am not trying to insinuate myself into anything. What is happening at the moment with this legislation and others is an attempt, essentially, to purge the church of people like myself.”
Teacher Zamprogno told the hearing that Christian schools “can and do” sack teachers for their sexuality, and he and Pack were “just two examples of very many”.
After working in private Christian schools for 20 years, Zamprogno said he was “well regarded and good at what I did” and believed his sexuality had “nothing to do with my ability to do my job”.
“When I was challenged about my sexuality, I answered honestly and then I was told that there was no place for me at the school the following year,” he said. “The connection was crystal clear.
“Employers will often obfuscate the reason that they’re letting their employee go, even when it is clear that it is because of their religious conviction or their sexuality,” he said.
“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.”
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The attorney general’s department has submitted that although the bill does not affect schools’ ability to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation it “would allow a religious school to consider a person’s religious beliefs about issues such as sexuality” where it is part of the beliefs of the school.
The Sydney Anglican church has defended an unnamed Christian school against the widely reported claims that teacher Stephanie Lentz had been sacked for being gay, by arguing she was sacked for her belief that a person can be a Christian and be gay.
“A heterosexual teacher who held the same theological views on sexuality and relationships, and therefore was unable to sign the statement of belief, would also have had his or her employment terminated,” it said.
Two parliamentary inquiries into the bill are due to report by 4 February.
The bill is likely to require Labor support to pass, as three Liberal MPs are reserving their right to vote against it and a further group of four Liberals agreed to support it in return for greater protections for LGBTQ+ students that the attorney general appears to have reneged on.
Michaelia Cash told a Christian webinar in December protections for LGBTQ+ students will have to wait for 12 months, despite Angie Bell, Fiona Martin, Dave Sharma and Katie Allen claiming they’d won support to pass them at the same time as the religious discrimination bill.
Independent candidate for Wentworth Allegra Spender said “gay students should never be penalised or expelled from school for their sexuality”.
“We mustn’t discriminate on the basis of religion but students and teachers must be protected in any laws,” she told Guardian Australia.
“Once again the community is left guessing what the government is going to do.
“The government needs to explain how it is going to protect vulnerable young people, rather than leaving us guessing.”
Bell told Guardian Australia she will “continue to work with the attorney general and all stakeholders”.
“I am certain there will be further discussion on amendments and possible solutions to ensure the safety and protection against discrimination for all Australians once the bill is reintroduced in parliament.”