ivanhoe girls’ grammar bans lesbians from ball
Earlier this month, Australia was alerted to an incident involving two girls who wanted to go to their school’s ball together. The school subsequently banned the couple from going to the ball. One of the girls was told either to go with a boy or go alone.
The school allegedly gave a number of reasons why the girls couldn’t go together. One of these reasons was that that it was a year 11 ball and one member of the couple was in year 10. This is despite the fact that plenty of year 10 boys were allowed to attend the ball. They also said that because Ivanhoe Girls’ Grammar is a girls’ school, the point of the ball was to make an environment where boys could come and inviting a girl would not be within the spirit of the event. Obviously these ‘reasons’ weakly cover up deep discrimination.
The incident has sparked debate about whether schools are within their rights to do this. Ivanhoe Girls’ Grammar is a religious school as well as a private institution. Are they within their rights to discriminate against same-sex couples in this manner?
Many commenters on The Age’s article believe that the school is well within their rights to disallow lesbians to go to the school ball as it is a private and religious institution. They commented though that at the very least, the school should have been honest about their viewpoint rather than offering a series of inane and obviously untruthful statements. The theory was that if the school was honest about its discriminatory behaviours, at least it could be condemned for it. In short, there’s nothing stopping religious institutions from being discriminatory and homophobic as this is within the rules of their religion and we should not infringe on their rights to hold up their religious values.
I personally think that this is ridiculous. Rather, it’s necessary to re-frame the issue: what rights do gay and lesbian (or any other minority) have? Let’s not think about the school’s ‘rights’ – it is an institution with a lot of power and money behind it. Let’s think about the rights of minorities.
I think it says a lot about heterosexual privilege that we equate the rights of powerful institutions on the same level as the rights of homosexual people. Letting lesbians going to a school ball does not hurt anyone, not does it change the personal beliefs of the people running the school – they are still free to be as homophobic as they want.
On the other hand, not letting these girls go to the ball hurts a lot – the girls now have to move schools in order to be in a ‘safe’ place so that they won’t be discriminated against. This is a tremendous inconvenience, particularly as the girls are ending their education and these sorts of distractions can be detrimental to their education. They are also reminded of the fact that wherever they go, there will be closed-minded individuals stopping them from doing the things they want to do and being who they are, despite the fact that they’ve never hurt anybody through their sexual orientation.
Moreover, as the It Gets Better Project demonstrates, we live in a world where people kill themselves because they and their sexuality aren’t accepted by other people and by institutions that are important in their life such as their school or church. Heterosexual people are welcomed everywhere. They aren’t burdened with the idea that they need to choose schools or churches very carefully in order to escape scorn and extreme restrictions. Most heterosexuals will never encounter these limitations or other people stopping them from being themselves or will ever understand the scope of these limitations. Most heterosexuals will not be driven out of their school, or in some extreme cases, driven to suicide, just because others decide that they don’t like them.
We really need to re-frame how we, as a society, see rights and see how by giving a school the right to discriminate against individuals, we strip those individuals of all the privileges non-minorities take for granted.
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