'Most hu­mil­i­at­ing mo­ment of my ca­reer': an­other Angli­can prin­ci­pal apol­o­gises for dis­crim­i­na­tion let­ter

The Guardian Australia - - Headlines - David Marr

“This is the most hu­mil­i­at­ing mo­ment of my ca­reer,” the head­mas­ter of Shore, Dr Tim Wright, told Guardian Aus­tralia. “I love the school. I love the boys. I feel I have let them down. I am sorry.”

Wright was one of 34 head­mas­ters and head­mistresses of Angli­can schools in Syd­ney who signed, at the di­rec­tion of the lo­cal church, an open let­ter call­ing for fresh le­gal pro­tec­tions for re­li­gious free­dom. The let­ter cited – and did not step back from – rights re­li­gious schools al­ready have to ex­pel gay stu­dents and dis­miss gay staff mem­bers.

Wright helped draft the let­ter. He now calls it an in­ept com­mu­ni­ca­tion. “I thought we had put aside the is­sue of dis­crim­i­nat­ing against gay kids and gay teach­ers.”

But the minute the let­ter ap­peared he had par­ents and old boys on the line ask­ing: “What on earth are you try­ing to say? What is this all about?”

The Estab­lish­ment is ap­palled. Old boys, old girls and par­ents with kids at a slew of the most pres­ti­gious – and ex­pen­sive – schools in Aus­tralia are de­mand­ing to know what’s go­ing on. In the face of this up­roar, the heads of Barker and Ab­bot­sleigh have both apol­o­gised for sign­ing the let­ter.

Me­gan Krim­mer of Ab­bot­sleigh said on Tues­day: “Re­flect­ing deeply on the feed­back and is­sues raised, the in­con­gruity between say­ing Ab­bot­sleigh does not dis­crim­i­nate, and sup­port­ing highly dis­crim­i­na­tory leg­is­la­tion, al­beit tem­po­rar­ily, has be­come clear.”

Wright adds his name to that list. He says he is dev­as­tated by the hurt that has been caused by the let­ter. “It is just aw­ful.”

He spoke to Guardian Aus­tralia from the bush, where he has been meet­ing old boys – par­tic­u­larly gay old boys – to dis­cuss their time at Shore. Wright ad­mits to find­ing much of this har­row­ing. Their mes­sage to him is one of re­jec­tion that goes way back and hasn’t much changed.

“I think the re­al­i­sa­tion is grow­ing that the re­la­tion­ship between the LGBTI com­mu­nity and the dio­cese is badly af­fected by at­ti­tudes of re­jec­tion,” says Wright. “We’ve not done a good job of com­mu­ni­ca­tion.”

Wright says: “We have all been re­as­sur­ing our gay staff.” Ear­lier this week he held a Q amp;A for se­nior boys at the school. Re­ports from Shore con­firm he faced a lively in­ter­ro­ga­tion. Wright also wrote to par­ents as­sur­ing them: “All staff and stu­dents are treated equally at Shore.”

But along with the other heads of Angli­can schools, he is call­ing for pro­tec­tions in law that will al­low them to ap­point only staff will­ing to sup­port the “ethos” of their schools. That, he says, was the pur­pose of that hastily writ­ten let­ter.

But what is that ethos?

At­tempts by Guardian Aus­tralia over the past few days to have the Syd­ney Angli­can church ex­plain this have proved largely fruit­less. The dio­cese – which is among the most hard­line in the Angli­can world – ac­tu­ally owns Shore and all the schools whose heads signed the open let­ter.

A church spokesman, Rus­sell Powell, as­sured Guardian Aus­tralia that the up­roar over the let­ter “was never meant to hap­pen” and claims the Angli­cans of Syd­ney no longer want laws to al­low their schools to ex­pel gay kids. Haven’t for years. Per­haps haven’t ever.

So why didn’t the let­ter say so? “The let­ter was press­ing for pos­i­tive pro­tec­tion for le­gal free­dom.” So what is the church’s un­der­stand­ing of the “ethos” Can­berra is sup­posed to pro­tect? Surely straight not gay?

Powell de­murred. Surely ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity re­mains a grave sin in the eyes of the Syd­ney church? Powell pre­ferred not to speak about the­o­log­i­cal mat­ters. He sent read­ing ma­te­rial. It’s vague.

Wright ad­dressed the ques­tion with care and de­ter­mi­na­tion. “The ethos has to be about re­spect, love and hu­mil­ity – the fun­da­men­tal Chris­tian virtues. We have to get away from defin­ing the ethos in terms of sex­u­al­ity. There is far more to be­ing a hu­man be­ing than sex.”

David Marr went to Shore

Pho­to­graph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

The heads of Ab­bot­sleigh, Barker and Shore have apol­o­gised for join­ing 31 other schools in en­dors­ing a Syd­ney Angli­can dio­cese ap­peal forfresh le­gal pro­tec­tions for the right to dis­crim­i­nate.

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