Teacher Samantha Cairns speaks out about the harm of religious exemptions in religious schools

Si Gladman / 16 September 2021

Teacher Samantha Cairns is no longer fearful about talking about her sexuality as a gay woman.

Earlier this month, she shared her story at a school assembly as part of a new leadership role in supporting LGBTIQ students and helping to make the school environment where she works even more inclusive. 

But things were different earlier in her career when she was working at a different Christian school.

In 2010, Samantha (pictured) began coming to terms with her identity as a gay woman while working in a school that did not accept homosexuality.

To this day, she remembers vividly the moment when, in 2012, she was asked to meet the vice-principal.

Thinking that the discussion would be about finalising details of a new contract, she was shocked to be told that she could no longer work at the school because the leadership had become aware of her sexuality.

“I just remember bursting into tears and recognising, ‘Is this right? Am I actually this person? I shouldn’t feel this way.’ There was so much regret, fear and shame,” she told the Rationalist Society of Australia.

“It was actually quite traumatic to realise that these people who I had worked with for seven years prior to that and the community there basically shunned me – which was horrible.

“It was very damaging to me in a lot of ways and it has taken a long time to process and to heal through that experience.”

Samantha is just one of many LGBTI staff who have suffered the traumatic experience of being fired or disciplined at work for their sexuality.

As we have highlighted in our campaign to raise awareness on how religious exemption harm and hurt, religious institutions throughout the country enjoy wide-ranging exemptions from discrimination laws.

In schools, these exemptions allow them to discriminate against teachers, staff and students in ways that aren’t acceptable in the state school system.

Samantha is troubled knowing that schools across Australia continue to legally take action against teachers for their personal circumstances such as their sexuality, marital status or pregnancy outside marriage.

“The realistic element that I still can’t fathom is that some of these institutions…are actually getting government funding,” she says.

“The unfortunate part about that is that taxpayers don’t recognise or understand what is actually happening…in these institutions because these stories aren’t shared. They’re not spoken about, they’re hushed, they’re pushed aside because that’s not what the institution stands for.”

Donate to our Fighting Fund to help us raise awareness about how religious exemptions harm and hurt Australians.

Si Gladman is Campaigns & Communications Coordinator at the Rationalist Society of Australia. You can contact him at sigladman@rationalist.com.au or follow him on Twitter at @si_gladman

All the more reason.