The Australian media went into hysterics Wednesday morning over the story of Hannah Williams, an Ivanhoe Girls’ Grammar student who was barred from inviting her 15 year old girlfriend, Savannah Supski, to the school’s annual formal dance and dinner for senior students. Within hours of the news being announced, social media, radio and even the newspapers went into overdrive, with a range of comments calling the school’s decision an act of bigotry, through to “Oh boy…. Here we go again” from LGBT advocates and conservatives alike.
Being a “Teacher’s Brat”, I can partially see where Ivanhoe Girls Grammar is coming from. Having seen my Mum organize similar events in the past, I agree that disruptive events are to be avoided at such functions, particularly when minors are involved. More often than not, students will attempt to sneak either alcohol or cigarettes into the venue, or try to disappear into a secluded area for a “pash”. In that regard, schools have got to be on their guard, as they are responsible for the duty of care of students during such events.
On the other hand, I think that the administration of Ivanhoe Girls have a lot to answer for. Like it or not, Teenagers are sexual beings and no school should have the right to enforce either a sexual or gender identity upon students. As evidenced by medical science, hormones will often start influencing a child’s mind and body from the age of 10 onwards. By the time that they are 15, they normally have a firm grasp of what their sexual identity is and how they would like to pursue it. Everybody is born with a per-determined sexual and gender identity,and no amount of formal events or private education will ever change that.
In light of the recent spate of teen suicides amongst the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community in the US, it is crucial that we give all kids the same opportunities, regardless of their sexual, gender or ethnic identity. Soon after The Agepublished this story, Hannah’s father appeared on Melbourne radio via 3AW Breakfast, claiming that the school’s heterosexual students were allowed to attend the function with their dates, regardless of their age. Meanwhile, Ivanhoe Girls Grammar claimed that it was a co-educational, age-restricted event specifically for Year 11 students, where Girls are supposed to bring “Guests” rather than “partners”.
That raises the question: Is a student being open about themselves disruptive to the students around them, or is only disruptive to a conservative private school that requires Anglican donations to survive?
In many ways, Hannah’s story is just the latest battle of a war that’s being fought worldwide within the Anglican Communion over the issue of LGBT rights. If Ivanhoe Girls Grammar had allowed Hannah to take her date to their annual dance and dinner, many parents and alumni would have undoubtedly heard about it. That in turn would have resulted in a short-term drop in funding to the school, which for the school’s administrators would have been like having a nightmare for Christmas.
Furthermore, if Ivanhoe Girls Grammar had have truly wanted such an event to be co-educational, they could have made the function a co-educational event with an all-boys school within the Melbourne area, such as either Melbourne or Brighton Grammar for students between years 10 and 12. In doing so, neither straight or gay students would have been discriminated against, while students in a relationship (as well as supervising staff) would have been less likely to have been involved in any incidents. When you take all of this into consideration, the school’s argument that it was supposed to be a co-educational event without “partners” doesn’t hold water.
From a personal perspective, I think that Hannah’s story also highlights the level of institutionalized bullying within Australia’s academic system. As many of my regular readers would know, I am openly Transgender and have been so for the last 3 years. Having grown up within a conservative social environment where I wasn’t allowed to explore who I was as a person, I can say with certainty that having something forced upon you that doesn’t feel personally normal or natural can be extremely traumatic. A school should be a place where everybody feels safe, rather than alienated or abused.
I sincerely hope that the youth involved in this story both directly and inadvertently, haven’t been traumatized as a result of the school’s decision. Life is too short to be unhappy, and as even President Obama has said: “It Gets Better”.
___________________________Kate Doak is a Postgraduate student at the University of New England, Australia. Since 2004 she’s changed career paths twice, genders once and has developed a major interest in radio. These days, Kate mostly focuses on Modern History and International Politics. Kate tweets regularly on Twitter via @KateDoak