James Kennard: dinosaur or responsible principal?

The principal of Mount Scopus Memorial College needs to speak up on LGBTIQ inclusion at his school.

From: Michael Barnett
Date: 22 March 2016 at 01:10
Subject: Will you break your silence on homosexuality, bisexuality and transgenderism?
To: James Kennard <jkennard@scopus.vic.edu.au>

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.

Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 7.06.21 PM
Rabbi James Kennard – signatory to ‘Statement of Principles’

Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 7.09.12 PM.png

Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 7.07.58 PM
It’s the intolerance that’s the problem, not the homosexuality!

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?

Michael Barnett.

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.


A helpful background piece on this issue can be found here along with a petition here.


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:

Protesting the cuts to the Safe Schools programme
James Merlino, Minister for Education
Protesting the cuts to the Safe Schools programme
Nevo Zisin and others protesting the cuts to the Safe Schools programme

Mount Scopus Memorial College – not the safest school on the block

Mount Scopus Memorial College is not offering the safest schooling experience possible under its principal Rabbi James Kennard.

Mount Scopus Memorial College

Come on Mount Scopus, it’s 2013 and it’s ok to say the words GAY, LESBIAN, BISEXUAL, TRANSGENDER, INTERSEX and QUEER.  Really, it is.

It’s also ok to teach kids about homophobia and transphobia.  Offering a safe environment for students goes well beyond a basic anti-bullying program.  Telling students it’s not ok to tease or bully another student because they’re “gay” or “fat” or “stupid” is only the start in educating them about diversity, inclusion and acceptance.  It goes well beyond that, something that any educationalist worth their salt should know.

Parents, watch this video and then ask your Principal, Rabbi James Kennard, why he is refusing to give your students the safest possible schooling your hard-earned money can buy when he says he won’t join the Safe Schools Coalition Victoria (web site / Facebook page).  You are currently paying for a SECOND RATE school while many others, including King David School, are offering a far safer environment for their students than Mount Scopus.

Sign Daniel Baker’s petition too and leave a message about why a safer school for your precious children is so important.  They only get one chance.  As parents, ask yourself if you and your school are doing the absolute best to make it the safest chance possible?

Update (Mar 6 2013): Bialik College signed up as a member of SSCV on March 1 2013.  Read the Aleph Melbourne media release.

A response to Rabbi James Kennard on why some Jewish marriages fail

My 2009 response to Rabbi James Kennard’s column on why there is such a high failure rate in marriages in the Jewish community.

The following letter was published in full (see letter “Hidden Anguish in Marriage”) in the Australian Jewish News on Nov 6, 2009, in response to Rabbi James Kennard’s Matters of Principal column “Building the blocks of marriage” (AJN; Oct 30 2009 p23).

A copy of the column appears below my letter.

In talking about why so many marriages in the Jewish community are failing, Rabbi James Kennard neglects to mention two of the most important attributes a person must bring to a marriage: honesty and integrity. Without either, any marriage is doomed before it has even begun, no matter how hard the couple perseveres.

Roughly five to 10 per cent of any population is not attracted to the opposite sex, but rather the same sex. In the Jewish community this is often conveniently swept under the carpet and ignored, if it is ever even acknowledged. Many of these same-sex attracted people get married under pressure, possibly have children, find themselves in loveless relationships and the next thing is their marriages have fallen apart and they’ve got broken homes. Sadly I’ve met all too many of these people.

What is lacking in these marriages is honesty and integrity, and the reason why is because of intolerant attitudes in the community that make it a taboo to be in a relationship with a person of the same sex. The net result is false, hollow heterosexual relationships. The Orthodox community won’t even tolerate the idea of recognising same-sex Jewish relationships, let alone considering same-sex marriages (despite the position of the federal government). In this atmosphere of intolerance, same-sex attracted people will always be second-class and the marriages they find themselves in will inevitably be unhappy.

Perseverance is not the answer to sustaining a marriage if the foundation it’s build on is one of lies. What we need to teach our children is honesty, integrity and that it’s ok to have relationships with the people they want to love, not the people they are expected to love. We might then find that the percentage of happy marriages actually increases.

Michael Barnett.
Aleph Melbourne.

Australian Jewish News
Oct 30 2009
Page 23

Matters of Principal
James Kennard

Building the blocks of marriage

In an age of instant gratification, we are failing to teach our children the skills of perseverance, especially when it comes to sustaining a marriage.

GOOD news! Australia’s divorce rate last year was its lowest since 1992 and the number of marriages is on the rise. But before we become too complacent and begin to believe that we live in the land of matrimonial harmony, we must note that even this record low constituted no less than 47,000 divorces, compared to only 118,000 nuptials. Four in 10 marriages are still estimated to end in divorce.

So although the short-term trend is encouraging, the longer-term changes over decades show a significant decline in the number of marriages both commencing and enduring.

Every divorce is a personal tragedy. Often no-one is to blame, although many have to suffer. But as parents and educators, we must ask if we are preparing our children well for what will be the most important and consequential task of their adult lives – creating a loving and lasting marriage, for their own sake and that of their own children.

In some crucial respects, we are not succeeding. We are failing to teach our children to compromise or to persevere.

In striving to give our children self-esteem – a vital and difficult challenge in the world of competitive and sometimes cruel teenagers – we too often confuse self-worth with self-importance.

We put our children on a pedestal and tell each of them they are the most important person in their world. Bar and bat mitzvah parties turn into coronations of princes and princesses, with no indication that the youngster has any more to achieve in order to reach perfection.

Yet marriage requires precisely the opposite approach. Suddenly each partner in a couple has to realise that they are, at best, the second most important person in the world. They have to learn to share, to compromise and to yield. When in our children’s childhood and youth do we teach them these skills?

If a marriage hits a bumpy moment, as it often does, are future partners prepared? To the delight of advertisers and manufacturers, we live in a culture of “ending is better than mending”.

As soon as the iPod or iPhone looks tarnished, it’s time to get a new one (and that’s if we haven’t already upgraded simply because a new, slightly improved, model has been released). If a child has problems at school, the solution is to try a new one.

Clothes that suited us well 12 months ago are now “so last year”.

The same applies to challenges. In an era of instant gratification, if a problem cannot be solved quickly, it cannot be solved at all.

But marriage requires a mindset that is diametrically opposed to this cult of the new. We have to find opportunities to teach our children that often it is the old things that are worth preserving and that persevering with a problem may, in time, bring a solution.

Our children are not helped by the messages about relationships they receive from the media. The most popular movie genre, the romantic comedy, follows the same formula as the fairytale that was its cultural antecedent: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl again – and they live happily ever after.

Dramas, on the other hand, usually start with a couple in a relationship and chronicle its dissolution. So the real (and best) story, of a couple working on their marriage and making it last, is rarely told.

One message that young people learn from their peers – that may or may not be endorsed by their parents – is the devaluing of sexual intimacy. In the past, society understood that sex was reserved for marriage and, even though this convention was often ignored, the expectation itself showed how physical relations can serve as a unique bond between couples permanently committed to each other for the long term.

Now such a view seems quaint or even so antediluvian as to be laughable. But if sex is used today to say “I like you” or even to say “hello”, what is left to say “I love you”?

The decline of marriage matters. It is not only human beings – parents and children – who suffer when a family is shattered, but society as a whole. Nature (whether the designer is God or Richard Dawkins) has arranged for the children of human beings to live with their parents for longer than the young of any other species, so that they can learn values and skills with which to prosper and build the next generation. The family is the building block of society itself.

A stable family does not guarantee stable children and many single or separated parents raise happy and confident young people. But to help our own children with the challenge of building their home and hence creating their own world, we must show them that the greatest happiness may take much time to achieve, but can last forever.

Rabbi James Kennard is principal of Mount Scopus Memorial College, Melbourne. His column appears monthly.