“Announcing yourself to the world is pretty terrifying,” said Finn Stannard, a gay Australian Catholic high school student, adding that it’s nerve-racking to think, “What if the world doesn’t like you?”
Stannard, then a 17-year-old student at St. Ignatius College, an all-male Jesuit Catholic high school in Sydney, was giving a speech to 1,500 of his classmates, and in it announced that he was gay. In what could have been a moment of rejection, Stannard was instead greeted with a standing ovation from
students and staff, and the school community has since responded positively. (You can read his entire speech by clicking here.)
The announcement from Stannard occurred in the wake of Australia’s “yes” vote on marriage equality, a landmark decision – which two notable alumni from the school, former prime minister Tony Abbott and his former deputy Barnaby Joyce, opposed.
Yet, despite opposition from alumni in Australia’s public sphere, the school’s administration’s opinion on LGBTQ issues is quite different, according to principal Dr. Paul Hyne:
“I don’t think that anyone chooses their eyes, or their hair color, or how tall they are – I’m not sure anyone chooses their sexuality, that’s who they are. And therefore, we need to be open to that, and to accept it, and to make sure that we live in communities of inclusion.”
While a supportive school community is essential for an LGBTQ-identifying student to feel comfortable and welcome, so is a supportive society as a whole. Stannard cited the “yes” vote in the plebiscite on marriage equality as a significant boost of confidence that helped him come out fully and publicly. He told SBS News:
“When the results of the plebiscite came out, that’s when I knew that I could do the speech and it would be alright in the end.”
When national governments make decisions that affirm the identities of LGBTQ people, it allows the greater public, including those in religious settings, to be more comfortable in their own skin. Immediate affirmation of Stannard’s sexuality by the entire school community is a sign of how some Catholic schools are changing.
While coming out may not seem very significant, it is. LGBT students and faculty at Catholic schools experience discrimination, oppression, and pressure to be invisible. For an institution to model simple inclusion instead of raising a moral uproar over someone’s sexuality is a sure sign of progress — especially in a country that had recently experienced a contentious marriage equality debate. . May other Catholic schools follow suit, and embrace the difference of sexuality in community members with love and welcome.
—Lindsay Hueston, New Ways Ministry, January 18, 2019