Queer at a Christian school: Religion and homophobia
By: Jax Bulstrode
“If you’re for, go to the left corner. If you’re against, head to the right.”
My English teacher pointed to the bright red signs he’d stuck to the walls for our class debate. I could feel my cheeks warming; my skin was prickling and itchy. This was it: the moment I’d been dreading and hiding from.
It was ‘persuasive essay week’ in English, but that wasn’t my issue. The issue was the question written on the board: Should marriage equality be legalised in Australia?
Image: Stephen Kiers
This type of thing was not an uncommon occurrence at my school, nor at Christian or Catholic schools around the country.
In January 2022, a Christian school in Brisbane made headlines for sending home a homophobic ‘enrolment contract’; it quickly sparked controversy and public outcry.
The contract stated that by signing, students would agree to live by the school’s code of conduct, which declared homosexuality to be a sin. The contract gave the school the ability to discriminate against – and potentially expel – students who were LGBTQIA+, or simply questioning their gender or sexuality.
The school required families to return the signed contract within two weeks, or they would be asked to find other education options.
As soon as I saw this news, I was hurt, but I wasn’t surprised. Sure, the outright explicitness of bundling homosexuality in with bestiality was a shock, but I’ve attended a couple of Christian schools over the years, and I grew up in the Christian church. I’ve experienced firsthand the intolerance that can run free within these communities.
After reading headlines about the homophobic enrolment contract, I began thinking about my own high school days. I never felt encouraged or welcomed to stray from the straight and narrow path.
When a fellow student in my sex ed class raised their hand to ask about same-sex relationships, they were simply asked to leave the room. The message was clear: do not bring your whole self to school, because it does not belong here.
After that incident, I knew that when I stepped into the classroom, there was always a risk I would be asked to leave.
Over the years, I saw queer students discriminated against and homophobia allowed to exist without objection. One particular story that stuck with me was when a young trans student was dragged across a classroom into the ‘boys’ group, and made to attend counselling sessions without the school asking for their parent’s consent. Years later, a quick Google of my school’s name would reveal two teachers who came forward after they were fired for being gay.
This wasn’t just occurring at my school. I spoke to Cassie, a student who graduated from a Catholic school in Western Australia.
“When two boys wanted to go to the formal together, [the school] made them go to a counselling session. They were then denied,” Cassie tells me.
Soon enough, I tired myself out from spending each day in such a vulnerable state.
I feel privileged to have left when I did. I was able to move to a school where I instantly felt safe coming out to my classmates; I didn’t have to give it a second thought.
If I had been forced to stay at my Christian school, I would have lived in secrecy. I would have been trying to fit in with students and staying quiet during class discussions that debated my very real life.
Religion itself isn’t solely the problem. I have many beautiful and affirming religious people in my life who wholeheartedly accept me and my queerness. What I can say is that if people in positions of power at churches, in schools or in religious communities are unwilling to learn, listen and change, they’re leaving their queer young people behind.
This is all still happening. Not just at schools that outwardly present their homophobia through contracts and guidelines, but also at schools that allow a culture of ignorance and discrimination to remain in their classrooms and on their playgrounds.
I graduated from high school in 2018. That was almost five years ago. Looking at the headlines of earlier this year, it’s as if I never left.
Jax Bulstrode is someone who likes to write poems, cry and preferably do both while taking a bath. Jax has had work published in Voiceworks, Verandah Journal, Gems, Plumwood Mountain and Blue Bottle journal. You can find them online at @jaxlb1234 on Instagram. They are from Naarm/Melbourne.
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