From: Michael Barnett
Date: 22 March 2016 at 01:10
Subject: Will you break your silence on homosexuality, bisexuality and transgenderism?
To: James Kennard <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Dear Principal Kennard,
Tonight I attended a Save Safe Schools rally at the State Library of Victoria.
Present at this rally was State Education Minister James Merlino, along with a range of teachers, students, parents and other concerned parties.
These people are collectively concerned about the welfare of students, and in particular, those students who experience difference in terms of their sexual orientation and gender identity.
Their concern stems from credible research that shows without necessary support, there are elevated levels of suicide. Let me repeat. Elevated levels of suicide.
I know you are an orthodox rabbi. You are also the principal of a school. I know that as an orthodox rabbi who is a principal of a school you are personally conflicted, because your training as a rabbi puts you at odds with the research, sadly. And despite this you are a signatory of the Statement of Principles, a document that could be so much more but ultimately is one that pities homosexual people and blames them for their rates of suicide.
I am writing to you not to plead or beg for you to change your perspectives on homosexuality or related issues because that would be a complete waste of my time.
What I am writing to you is to ask you how you are making the students at your school understand how you can comfortably live with the knowledge that in not talking openly and inclusively about the the wonderful diversity of sexual orientation and gender identity, you are elevating their levels of mental illness, self harm and risk of suicide.
I know you probably don’t ask them what they think of your attitudes toward these icky issues, but trust me, many other people are talking about you and your intolerance of such diversity. And these people are not just the parents, but also the teachers and the principals of other schools.
They are looking at you and wondering how a dinosaur like you can be in a position of authority at a prominent day school in Melbourne. I know dinosaurs are supposed to be extinct, but someone recently discovered a Christenosaurus and a Bernardi-Rex, so it stands that a Kennarderatops could still be alive.
I’m not joking. These dinosaurs are killing our students. They are driving them to the depths of despair, exacerbating their anxiety levels and making life unbearable.
Personally, I’d rather not have to write this letter but if I didn’t write to you I’d feel I hadn’t made my best effort to stamp out bigotry, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in Mount Scopus Memorial College.
If my dreams were to come true I’d see a response to this letter saying “But Michael, we’ve had Roz Ward come to talk to us and we’re signing up to Safe Schools tomorrow, just like King David, Bialik and Sholem Aleichem have done. We know Safe Schools is best practices, has proven outcomes and is respected nationally.”
I’m not sure that I’ll be so lucky in my wishes, but I can hope.
This is not complicated. Either you are committed to the best outcomes for your students or you are ripping off the parents at your school. If you are committed to the best outcomes for your students, in terms of overall well-being, academic excellence, sporting excellence and self-respect, then unless you are talking openly and unconditionally about these issues, I’d say you’re failing the entire school community.
Except perhaps those people who believe the Torah has it right about homosexuality, the bit where we are sinners.
I’ll let you in on a secret. I was bullied at school. I was tormented and ridiculed. I was scared to fucking hell of being gay, because when I had the shit kicked out of me on a regular basis, told I was a poofter and a pansy, that I was a fag and a homo, when I was scared to be creative, to be expressive, to shine as a student because that would make me gay, because I was scared I would be kicked out of home if my parents found out I was homosexual, because I had terrible anxiety through my teens and I hated every day I was alive, because I barely passed my year 12 exams because I didn’t want to excel in English because I was hiding a secret and found failure more rewarding, this was all because I had no one tell me that I was ok, that I was normal, that I was fine, that I was not a sinner, not a pervert, not an abomination, not aberrant, not broken and not deviant.
How many students at your school are openly accepted and affirmed because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex or any other configuration other than heterosexual and cis-gender? Do you know or do you bury your head in the sand and go la-la-la-la-la?
How many same-sex marriages of past students does your school recognise in it’s newsletter? How many rainbow families are reflected in the school’s religious program, like the shabbat service with two ima’s and/or two aba’s? How many students are openly supported in transitioning their gender at your school?
I will confidently tell you that unless you can make a public statement that addresses all of these issues in a positive, affirmative and inclusive light, free of harmful religious rhetoric, you are failing your entire school community, your students, their families, your board and ultimately yourself.
I don’t need a lesson on halacha in reply. I just need you to understand that every day of silence is another day you haven’t done your best to prevent the death of the next trans, bi, gay, or queer student at your school. And if you haven’t done your best, you are not worth being the principal of any school.
What is it Principal Kennard? Are you doing your best or are you failing everyone?
PS. As a courtesy, I’m letting you know this letter is going online and will be distributed to a variety of people who care about the welfare of students at your school. I want people to see the harm that is being inflicted on their students by your ongoing silence.
Staggering to see Principal James Kennard ‘like’ a post on Facebook questioning the merit of the Safe Schools program. He has since reversed the ‘like’ on the post, but that he liked it in the first place is unfathomable for someone of his standing.
A selection of my photos from the Save Safe Schools rally at the State Library of Victoria and down Swanston Street: