Christian schools welcome Muslim students, so why not transgender children?

The inclusion of transgender students alongside gay students in strengthened protections in the Sex Discrimination Bill passed last night may get some Christian schools off the hook. Many teachers and principals in quite conservative institutions who don’t want to discriminate against either group of students, will be able to point to new laws in the face of a vocal minority of their schools’ supporters.

New laws will move them past the idea that to be a Christian school is to exclude or punish transgender or gay students. Many schools that belong to churches with a conservative or evangelical ethos now happily welcome Muslim students – allowing girls to wear hijab in school colours. Once controversial, this now goes without notice.

The same can happen for the students who unfairly have been at the centre of national debate this week.

Muslim students will notice that they are in a Christian School. They attend the compulsory chapel at least in some schools. But they are welcomed, included and celebrated. Schools have trodden this path already.

“I will follow the regulations, once we know what they are,” the head of one of the largest schools in what is arguably the most conservative Christian school networks once told me.

The objections some schools might have to transgender students is no different in principle to the objection they might have once had to gay students – but that objection has been already discarded at least in terms of enrolment or expulsion by even the most ardent religious freedom advocates.

Toilets can be unisex, single-sex schools can exchange students with brother and sister schools of the same religious network.

This does not mean there is no longer anything to discuss.

Christian schools will want to teach their doctrine, with a range of schools having different views from progressive to conservative. They should be free to do so. The challenge, as with Muslim students, is how a school with a conservative or biblical view on sexuality makes LGBTIQA students feel welcomed and respected.

The path for that lies somewhere between the examples of two great footballers, Haneen Zreika, the first Muslim to play in the women’s AFL, who declined to wear a pride jumper, and Rugby League’s Israel Folau who at one stage had a clause in the Religious Discrimination Bill tagged with his name.

The purpose of Christian schools is not to vaccinate students against Christianity – although that is sometimes held to be their effect far too often. No one has ever been coerced into the kingdom of God. With all sorts of students in the classroom, chaplains and other Christian teachers and their Christian schoolmates will need to show what following Jesus looks like with gentleness and respect. After all, the Bible tells us to do that.

John Sandeman is Writer at Large for Eternity.