Violence, death threats and verbal attacks targeting a group of students demonstrating their support for the LGBTQIA+ community broke out at a school in Tauranga on Friday.
A group of students from Bethlehem College, a state-integrated Christian school, were participating in the International Day of Silence Against Bullying when they were subjected to death threats, name-calling, sexual comments and ” missiles” launched by an opposing group including other college students.
The abuse included chants of “kill the gays”, and students at the event said their phones were confiscated so they could not record video footage.
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Things realizes that one of the students has been injured by a thrown object. The incident was reported to the police.
A parent of a Bethlehem College student says protest participants received verbal death threats, ‘lewd horseplay’ and ‘sexually shaming’ comments from other teenage students at the school .
“It’s ironic that people who protest bullying become victims of bullying themselves,” the parent said.
Bethlehem College offers a Christian education for students in grades 1-13.
The annual Day of Silence is a day of action where students across Aotearoa pledge to adopt a form of silence to draw attention to the silent effect of homophobic bullying, name calling and harassment , biphobes and transphobes in schools.
The goal of the day is to “make schools safer for all students, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression,” according to its website, which also cites research that has shown that students from the LGBTQIA+ community were three times more likely to be bullied at school than other children.
A well-known gay rights activist, Shaneel Lal (they, them) said Things that young people had also contacted them about the event and said that their phones had been confiscated so that they could not record video footage. Lal also said the students were chanting “kill the gays”.
“All children have the right to be safe at school, and it is the duty of the Ministry of Education to ensure that schools do so,” they said. “Obviously some children at this school are not safe when they are the targets of such abuse.”
Lal, a law student, is now calling on the government to launch an independent investigation into the college, after students and former students contacted Lal over the weekend ‘crying for help’.
They led the campaign that led to New Zealand banning conversion therapy earlier this year, making it a criminal offense to attempt to change or remove someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
Lal launched another petition over the weekend, pressuring the Department of Education to investigate the practices at school.
They launched the petition on their Instagram and Twitter pages after students contacted them about experiences of “sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism and other forms of discrimination at Bethlehem College”.
“Hundreds of people have contacted me with their stories,” Lal said. Things. “These are young people – children – and they are crying out for help.
“If a state-integrated school allows hateful abuse and bigotry under the guise of special character or religious beliefs, then there is something seriously wrong with the system and it requires a change in the law. I’m sure it’s not the only school where there are incidents – that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
Lal said it was encouraging that young people were showing a real “appetite for change”.
The petition to the government quotes students sharing their stories. A former student said she was told the girls were “at fault” if they were sexually abused.
“We were told at an assembly that boys ‘can’t control themselves,’ and that ‘their brains aren’t fully developed until they’re 25…depends on what you’re wearing,'” she said.
Lal said he heard many stories of conversion therapy at Bethlehem College.
“Students shared that counseling services and teachers at Bethlehem College were trying to make them non-gay,” they said. “Students report teachers verbally insulting them for being gay.”
Lal also pointed to the school’s “statement of belief,” outlined in its school charter and posted on its webpage.
It reads: “Marriage is a God-created institution in which a man and a woman enter into an exclusive relationship destined for life, and this marriage is the only form of partnership approved by God for sexual relations.”
The school’s rules, listed on its website, state that students, administrators, and staff “must always act in a manner that honors the school’s Statement of Special Character and Statement of Belief.”
A parent whose child went to college and who spoke to Things on the basis of anonymity, a student was told by a member of staff that he had “a demon inside that needed to be exorcised”.
Another parent said Things that a member of staff had told them that there were “no gender fluid students here, they are all boys or girls”.
Tauranga LGBTQIA+ lawyer and former Bethlehem College student Katerina Clark said discriminatory statements in the school’s charter could encourage harmful bullying at school, which could have devastating consequences for victims.
Clark, now 31, said she was ‘terrified’ to come out as students were told ‘gay people go to hell’. She was also bullied, which led to depression, self-harm and a suicide attempt.
Clark praised the petition and said remembering how she was treated at school was a “trigger”.
“It takes me back to how I felt in my late teens, this feeling of overwhelming confusion and this almost unbalanced ideology of what I think is right and wrong can really confuse you,” Clark said.
“I understand that a Christian school has a curriculum and is based on religious beliefs, and it’s a choice if you send your child to that school, but the school has to be very careful how it expresses things. .
“I can tell you that there are LGBTQI identified people in this school, even if they don’t know it for themselves yet, like I didn’t know at the time. Ultimately, we should teach kindness and remember that love is love and God loves everyone.
Lal said the government and Education Minister Chris Hipkins needed to act.
“The Ministry and Minister of Education cannot claim that they cannot do anything or that their hands are tied,” they said. “How many more students need to be abused by Christian extremists before the authorities act?” They are already aware of the issue as they left me on ‘seen’ on Instagram but did not comment.
Lal was recently included in the Forbes 30 under 30 Asia list for social impact, recognizing influential young leaders, advocates and entrepreneurs around the world.
In a media statement that was also released for parents, college board chairman Paul Shakes said the college strives to “live our beliefs in a loving and respectful way.”
“Bethlehem College was founded to provide a Bible-based Christian education, and that’s why many parents choose to send their children to Bethlehem College,” he said.
“We therefore have a duty to our school community, as well as a legal responsibility, to maintain our special character as a Christian school.
“We openly express our special character through commitments such as our Statement of Creed, which includes a well-recognized mainstream Christian understanding of marriage. Our Statement of Belief is not intended to tell anyone what they are required to believe, but rather to transparently explain what we believe.
“Respectfully, there appears to be a misunderstanding of New Zealand law as well as the purpose of a statement of belief. New Zealand law, including the Human Rights Act, does not give anyone the right to force others to adopt their beliefs.
“We strive at all times to live our beliefs in a loving and respectful way, and encourage all of our students to speak to our experienced and caring counselors if they need support in any area.
“It should be noted that our Christian beliefs support and enhance the health and well-being of our students: as our most recent Education Review Board report notes: our particular Christian character contributes to a strong sense of student well-being and belonging. »