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HUMAN RIGHTS

Gay teachers banned from International Christian School in Sha Tin

'Morality job contract' draws criticism, including from Anglican Church, for discriminatory stance

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 March, 2014, 4:46am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 March, 2014, 11:32am

A Christian school has imposed a ban on gay teachers under a controversial "morality contract", drawing criticism from activists and from a senior Anglican churchman.

The International Christian School in Sha Tin, which has about 1,200 pupils, requires existing staff and job applicants to sign a contract that makes having a gay relationship or living with someone of the same sex outside marriage a sackable offence.

The school says it wants to employ "good Christian role models for our students".

Gay groups have criticised the rules, while the Equal Opportunities Commission says it wants local laws expanded to cover discrimination on the grounds of sexuality.

The Reverend Peter Douglas Koon, provincial secretary general for the Anglican Church in Hong Kong, said: "We don't support this policy because it is discrimination. Our Anglican schools [in Hong Kong] would not apply the same rules.

"You cannot assume gay people will promote homosexuality [to pupils]. A teacher should be judged on their professionalism. There are doctors and lawyers and people in many professions who are openly gay. If a judge is gay, we cannot say they would not be a good judge."

Teachers applying for jobs at the school, where fees range from HK$95,200 to HK$129,300 per annum, must agree to guidelines saying in part that they will be above reproach in areas of "sexual orientation and behaviour, marital and parental relationships". Any contraventions, the guidelines state, are grounds for dismissal.

The ICS administration and recruitment co-ordinator Sandy Burnett said in an e-mail to a recent applicant that the rules meant the school did not condone "same-sex relationships, extramarital relationships [or] couples of opposite sex living together outside of marriage".

Burnett added: "We are a Christian school. On our website it's very plain what our mission and vision is. It's on our application form so it's very obvious what our belief system is … We have a right to our beliefs."

Headmaster John Nelson declined to comment.

Michael Morrill, a US teacher at a primary school who won the Mr Gay Hong Kong contest last year, said he had lost teaching jobs in the past because of his sexuality. The school's morality code "isn't surprising at all".

"It is alarming the grounds on which schools can practise this discrimination," he said. "There needs to be a change in the law. There definitely needs to be protection from the government so the International Christian School doesn't get away with what it is doing."

Betty Grisoni, co-founder of Les Peches, the city's largest lesbian organisation, said: "Many of our members are teachers and sadly many have to keep their sexual orientation hidden from their employers in fear of repercussions on their employment."

The ICS ban on gay teachers is a breach of government guidelines against job discrimination - but legislating against it is likely to draw opposition from religious and conservative quarters.

The government says in its Code of Practice against Discrimination in Employment on the Ground of Sexual Orientation that denying people jobs on the basis of their sexual orientation is "morally wrong and irrational". The code, however, is only voluntary and not legally enforceable.

The commission said it would explore discrimination and "tackle this issue, including legislating against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity".

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