I’m going back. Of course I am.
As if I ever had a choice: As a former prefect of Bethlehem College, this is all pretty strange. Let's get into it.
I wanted to start off with some responses I got after writing about Bethlehem College (my old school) and its outdated and damaging stances towards the LGBTQI+ community.
Let’s start with Paul, AKA “Burnsy”.
He wrote me this clanger — I’ve screen-grabbed it below, as part of the fun is the overall layout and vibe, which would be lost in a straight copy-and-paste:
I replied to Burnsy, telling him I was not an atheist.
He sent another long reply, which included the phrase “I too have a way with words, and was told that I’d make an accomplished investigative journalist.”
Oh, to have the self-confidence of Burnsy. If only his investigative journalism skills had been deployed so he could uncover the giant secret that I am agnostic.
Then there was Mike. His email is probably the most straight-forward example of the kind of reaction that made its way to my inbox over the last week.
Imagine reading a story that is quite personal — and speaks to things like a student attempting to take their own life — and coming back with this (like an AI whose only source of information was a copy of the King James Bible):
I’d like to point out that amongst your ramblings….
Central to all of Christianity is Genesis 2:24/25
Which Jesus reiterated in Matthew.
This is central to God’s relationship to man & for families in society in Christendom.
It is also threaded throughout scripture in it’s various doctrines.
To change that, as you assert iro LBGT people nullifys all of the above.
Those who claim to be Christians who acquiesce to your point, cease to be Christians as a result, as they move away from a God who wrote all of scripture.
Indeed their position becomes one that the God who made the Universe and all within it, actually made a mistake in regard to LBGT people.
Or isn’t in control of His writing of the Word.
Or He is a Liar.
Essentially, you are at war with all of ordinary traditional Christianity.
That is a few billion people of all ages & stages.
I just wanted to point that out!
So that sort of thing was a fairly common reaction. There was also plenty of high drama:
So you accept you are at war with traditional Christianity?
“At war?” Some people have watched Braveheart too many times.
Now we know the Ministry of Education has told Bethlehem College to remove the ‘marriage’ material it snuck in without telling anyone, and the ‘gender’ material. If not — “The Ministry can consider a formal intervention.”
We know that hasn’t happened yet. Sweet F-all has been removed.
I imagine Bethlehem College are digging their heels in. As Webworm understands it, school funding is paid out by the Ministry quarterly — so there isn’t any real pressure for BC to resolve this until quarterly payment time. As in many corners of modern Christendom… money talks.
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I was curious about what the Teachers Council would make of all this. Because in Bethlehem College’s ‘gender document’ — which essentially makes clear that trans people are not real people to the point of not even existing — it also says: “The following practices are to be maintained by the college and its staff”.
With that in mind — as was pointed out to me on Twitter — it appears Bethlehem College is causing multiple teachers to violate the clear standards set out by the Teachers Council.
Stuff like this — “Promoting and protecting the principles of human rights”:
As well as things listed in the Teachers Council’s “Commitment to Learners”:
-Respecting the diversity of the heritage, language, identity and culture of all learners.
-Promoting inclusive practices to support the needs and abilities of all learners.
The Teachers Council also specifies that teachers need to provide “physical, social, cultural and emotional safety”, and to provide an environment where learners “can be confident in their identities, languages, cultures and abilities.”
It gets more specific, saying teachers need to develop an environment “where the diversity and uniqueness of all learners are accepted and valued.”
How is that even possible for teachers at Bethlehem College to do when it comes to LGBTQI+ students, when the opposite is written into the school’s DNA?
Let me be clear: LGBTQI+ students at Bethlehem College don’t stand a fucking chance.
As I stumbled around the Teacher’s Council website, their chatbot appeared in the corner of my screen:
School Pride Week. I asked the happy looking bird a question:
“I don’t know that.” Despite its apparent enthusiasm for celebrating rainbow youth, the bird came up empty.
A few days ago I wrote an email to Paul Shakes, the chair of the Bethlehem College board. I’d put a series of questions to Bethlehem College earlier in the week, which were ignored. Instead, I received a generic PDF press statement.
I am a strong believer in giving institutions the right of reply (this was drilled into me in journalism school, and in the newsroom I worked in for over a decade) — so in good faith I emailed Paul to clarify my stance going forward:
Paul’s reply wasn’t exactly forthcoming. I’d paraphrase it by saying he told me to Get Fucked:
In one short email, Paul had poetically summarised his attitude towards certain people: To dismiss; to invalidate; to ignore. Which is Bethlehem College’s way to treat certain people in society.
I sighed, and I replied:
I am yet to hear back from Bethlehem College’s Paul Shakes. As someone on my Instagram commented, “He is probably googling at what temperature you can melt a plaque.”
From what I can tell, Bethlehem College is very good at erasing certain people. They like it so much, they put it in writing.
As I looked back over all these messages, I noticed something. You see it all the time when dealing with people like this. I got it all throughout my Arise reporting, too — when dealing with John Cameron, the PR company Arise hired, and the Arise Board.
After being dismissed entirely, or smugly lectured from a place of perceived moral superiority, there’s always the sign-off:
“Nice to hear from you, have a great weekend.”
“I just wanted to point that out!”
“Peace be with you.”
An email written basically saying “fuck off” or “your experience is invalid”, is ended with an artificial upbeat high. It’s all fake smiles and posturing; a skinsuit pulled over the intolerance.
I don’t want to read too much into this, but for me it’s a reflection of what underpins this type of religious belief, and what I’ve encountered as I’ve reported this story and others like it, including City Impact and Arise.
That these men (it’s always men) are happy to tell you you’re a piece of shit that isn’t worth their time — before tying it up in some happy, sanctimonious bullshit.
It’s that “we hate the sin, not the sinner” thing, writ large.
As I pondered this, I got some more emails that reminded me of just how this discriminatory thinking can play out:
Until recently I was a very involved member of an evangelical church, however because I support and affirm two of my kids that are part of the LGBTQIA+ community I’ve been removed from ministry.
I now see the damage the evangelical church has done, how incorrect their doctrine and actions are.
I was thinking yesterday that this problem will be so much bigger than one Christian school, but probably most (if not all) of them, and they should all be held accountable for discrimination
Nga Mihi, and thank you again.”
And then there was this, from New Zealand — and similar emails from small towns, scattered across the planet:
“Man. I can’t read this one it’s too personal (I’m from ******** and being closeted was probably the right choice). But thank you for your work.”
It’s incredibly sad to read that reality hitting my inbox: That it can be terrifying to be part of the LGBTQI+ community.
Why? Why is it so terrifying? The Pulse Nightclub shooting runs through my brain. There are so many fucking shootings we forget.
People are scared. In America; in New Zealand. Jennifer Shields writes me this:
“I work for Qtopia, a social support service for the whole rainbow community down here in Ōtautahi — tomorrow we’ve got our second Pride Ball, with 550 rainbow rangatahi from across the motu attending.
The suspected arson of the Gender Dynamix and RY drop in centre up in Tauranga has obviously raised security concerns for us, which got me thinking and starting to draw a thread between what we’ve seen over the last few weeks here in Aotearoa.
Earlier this month, a queer church in Greymouth was vandalised with homophobic and antisemitic graffiti.
Around the same time, a Christchurch Pride display in Ballantynes in Cashel Mall was vandalised.
This week, a drag queen storytime event in New Plymouth received a heap of online backlash explicitly mimicking the drag queens = pedophilia = grooming rhetoric we’re seeing come out of the States.”
New Zealand and America — united under God, I guess?
“Over the last week the Christchurch City Council has had to remove over 200 comments from a post about Pride — I’ve just got off the phone with the council comms staff member who dealt with that who gave me a summary of what was said.
It ranged from the usual “how much taxpayer money did you spend on this” to the also usual “this is disgusting” but also very explicitly “keep those drag queens away from our kids”.
We’re going to share screenshots of anything of particular concern with us so we can keep track and an eye on this rhetoric — particularly because I’ve had people from the community raise concerns that this is the same kind of content Ōtautahi’s Muslim community raised warnings about (to no effect) pre March 15th.
We’re acting out of an abundance of caution here - most likely this is a few individuals from a very vocal minority - but the suspicious fire in Tauranga along with the graffiti we’re seeing feels like a definite escalation.
We’ve been in touch with the Police’s Diversity Liaison Officers here to make sure they’re aware of what’s happening, and our events have security ramped up.”
This is how people are having to think. In New Zealand. In the UK. In America. Everywhere.
There is some hope out there. Some good stuff.
Interestingly, the Bethlehem Tertiary Institute (the Teacher’s College that sits right next to the Bethlehem College campus) has released a statement which essentially gives the middle finger to BC’s caveman-esque thoughts on queerness and gender:
Our students are of many faiths and of none, many cultures, ethnicities, and different identities including LGBTQIA+.
We welcome everyone who wants to study at BTI. Students or their whānau are not required to sign a statement of belief.
There is no place for discrimination or bullying for those in the BTI whānau.
This is meaningful, as both the Bethlehem Tertiary Institute and Bethlehem College were birthed from the Christian Education Trust. I guess the strange thing is, if those teachers graduate and go to teach at Bethlehem College, they’ll be signing up for the opposite views. Will Bethlehem College even hire them?
Also — over $58,000 has been donated to the Rainbow Youth drop-in centre that was burnt down in Tauranga last week. That is hugely encouraging. I threw in. How could I not?
There is so much good work to counter the harmful views being pushed. The In The Shift podcast does amazing work in this area — a series run by Michael Frost, who managed to extract himself from megachurch culture. He quietly dissects his old beliefs, and what they are now.
If you have anyone in your life in the religious world that is struggling to understand this stuff — I have two episodes to recommend. I hope Paul Shakes listens to them as he melts my plaque:
Episode 23: “When you’re outside on the inside”:
Ben grew up in a conservative Christian home, but as a young man had to wrestle with an emerging sexuality that didn’t fit the Christian script he’d been given. This is a personal and honest discussion exploring that journey.
Episode 24: “LGBTQI & overturning exclusion”:
Frost talks through his own personal and theological journey of change. From being surrounded by, inheriting and adopting conservative and exclusionary views toward LGBTQI people, through to a full change of mind and heart.
Both of those episodes were a lot to take in. Tread carefully, and be kind to yourself.
Stay safe out there.
If you want to get in touch confidentially about anything in this piece, I am firstname.lastname@example.org. Otherwise see you in the comments below.
PS: This might not be for you, but for me this song is my weekend anthem. This band has been an escape for as long as I can remember.
I’m goin’ back
Of course I am
As if I ever had a choice
Back to what I always knew I was
Like an exit, like an end, like an end, like an end, like the end
I am forgiven, I am free
I am the field on fire