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Louise Pratt calls for end to chaplaincy program
Jun18

Louise Pratt calls for end to chaplaincy program

LAST UPDATED // Wednesday, 18 June 2014 23:37 Written by // Cec Busby

In her valedictory speech Western Australian Senator Louise Pratt gave voice to her concerns regarding the Coalition's planned School Chaplaincy Program in Parliament last night.

Pratt spoke passionately regarding the potential for discrimination against young LGBT people through the Chaplaincy program.

“I have worked with school chaplains over the years and I have found them to be well-intentioned people. But I also know about the very real suffering that the anti-gay beliefs that some of them hold can cause LGBT young people, even when no harm is intended,” Pratt commented.

Pratt went on to discuss the statistics of disproportionally high rates of suicide, self harm and feelings of shame amongst LGBT youth  

“These feelings are generated not because there is any wrong with their identity but because of the stigma directed towards them by others. And so, while many young people may have positive chaplain experiences ourselves, we in this place have to listen to what young people tell us, especially our most vulnerable youth,” Pratt said.

Pratt then went on to read from first-hand accounts from LGBT students who had been subjected to the chaplaincy program – with many describing their experience as explicitly ant-gay.

The stories were collected as part of a survey by All Out, who assembled the responses from 2200 people around the country. It marked the first time LGBT students were given a voice to raise their concerns.

Whilst Pratt said there were many accounts of discrimination it was important to acknowledge around 5 percent of students had a positive experience.

“Of the 1,000 or so parents and other adults who were part of the survey, about 25 per cent reported positive chaplain experiences, including how chaplains had boosted confidence. However, most of the stories were negative, and almost all of the stories from LGBT young people were negative.”

Pratt reported some LGBT students had been advised to sleep with a member of the opposite sex to correct their same-sex attraction, while others had been told to pray the gay away.

“One very serious story involved a student being told by a chaplain that they should leave home because they had homosexual parents. The family felt unwelcome at the school and subsequently moved. Many non-Christian students also reported that chaplains had harassed them about adopting religion.”

Pratt said she had heard countless accounts of breaches in duty of care and implored that state services should not be biased on grounds of ideology or sexuality. Pratt said the system was failing our most vulnerable youth.

“I know some great chaplains. They work with love and authenticity, doing wonderful things for our young people. But on a national level we must face the fact that our chaplaincy program is failing Australian young people. We know this because of a steady accumulation of media investigations revealing everything from the distribution of homophobic 'biblezines' in our schools to continuous proselytizing to students, against their parents wishes. We know it because of the findings of the Northern Territory Ombudsman in 2009 and similar findings in 2011 by the Federal Ombudsman. We know it because of the damning reviews of this program by academic experts such as Professor Marion Maddox.”

The Senator continued to highlight links made between Australia’s three largest school chaplain providers – Access Ministries, Scripture Union and GenR8 Ministries and extreme anti-gay movements.

This week, the High Court will hand down its decision on whether the National Schools Chaplaincy Program is unconstitutional. Pratt said she hopes the Court finds the chaplaincy program unconstitutional.

“I hope the court will find the Constitution does indeed prevent the federal government from handing over money to religious providers to put untrained chaplains in our schools—chaplains who, however well intended, are in many cases harming our children.

"Regardless of the outcome, it is important to me to see this program stopped. Any person giving counselling to our young people should have the proper qualifications, as recognised by organisations like the Psychological Association, and should not hold discriminatory views. Our young people have told us very clearly that they do not feel safe at school, and it is our job to listen to them and to respond.”

Read the students' accounts below:

Student 1

My best friend was getting bullied by other students last year for being gay, so went to speak to our school chaplain about it. ... He suffers from anxiety and depression, has attempted suicide in the past and occasionally self-harms. He spoke to our chaplain about being bullied and about how he has begun to believe what people are saying about him being a 'fag' and 'a disgusting, gay idiot'. ... The chaplain told him that his bullies were right and that homosexuality is a degrading sin that sends people to hell. .... That night I got a phone call from his Mum telling me he had tried to overdose on medicine pills and was in hospital having his stomach pumped.

Student 2

This term the Chaplain warned us against ... non-marital sex. When I asked him about what a lesbian couple of faith would do if they couldn't get married, he simply replied that gay and lesbian people could never be proper Christians. … He went on to talk about how ... gays and lesbians were ... unnatural, indecent and perverse. ... this event made me feel as if my sexuality was something to be ashamed of. I consider myself a strong person, and for this to affect me so deeply made me realise the dangers of mixing religion with public education.

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Cec Busby

Cec Busby

Cec Busby is the news editor of SX and GayNewsNetwork.com.au.

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