Australia

Academics sign open letter after law dean compares trans students to teens with eating disorders

The University of Queensland. Source: Rae Allen/Flickr

Close to 40 academics from the University of Queensland law school have signed an open letter promising to support transgender and gender diverse students after the religious head of school came under fire for arguing schools should be able to reject student's gender identity.

University of Queensland academics have signed an open letter committing to foster diversity and inclusion after the University's law school dean published a paper comparing transgender children to teenagers with eating disorders. 

Professor Patrick Parkinson, who is the head of the University's TC Beirne School of Law, said earlier this month that religious schools should have the freedom to reject student's chosen gender identity.

In the paper, 'Is Gender Identity Discrimination a Religious Freedom Issue?', Dr Parkinson said that a "crisis of conscience" may arise for school principals if they believe that it is not in the best interest of a young person to affirm their gender identity in the same way it would not be in the best interest "of an adolescent girl with an eating disorder to affirm her body image as overweight".

"It is one thing to ask me to respect your beliefs. It is another to ask me to act towards you as if I share your beliefs about you," Dr Parkinson said, presenting the paper at a Freedom for Faith - a Christian legal think tank - conference earlier this month.

Following the statements, 37 staff members of the law school have released an open letter committing to "continually strive to foster an inclusive community for all students, including LGBTIAQ+ students".

"We want to affirm our support to transgender and gender diverse students. We will use their preferred names and personal pronouns. We are here to listen," the letter, which does not explicitly mention Dr Parkinson's comments, reads.

"We welcome suggestions on how we can continue to cultivate an open and welcoming environment within the Law School through support of the LGBTIAQ+ community."

Professor Patrick Parkinson.
Professor Patrick Parkinson.
Freedom for Faith

In a statement to The Guardian, Dr Parkinson said he supported the open letter and added that he had "a very strong commitment to diversity and inclusion within the law school".

“It does not matter in the slightest what someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity is either for the study or practice of law. As law school staff, we are unanimous in that view, and it is the clear policy of the university," he said.

The University of Queensland Law Society also released a statement last week, acknowledging concerns expressed by students and staff following Dr Parkinson's comments.

"The UQLS rejects the sentiment expressed and recognises that these statements do not reflect the lived experiences of transgender people, as well as those transitioning or who identify as gender fluid or non-binary. These sentiments are not reflective of the inclusive culture fostered amongst law students," the statement, posted last week, read.

"It is part of our objectives to help break down barriers faced by law students and members of the legal profession of all sexualities and those who are gender diverse. We hope to create an environment where everyone feels welcome."

The dean has previously worked in child protection, including as a member of the NSW Child Protection Council and Chairperson of a review of state law regarding the care of young people. 

Dr Parkinson declined to provide further comment.

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