Sitting in the back of the gym at St. Pat’s, I was struck by how 95% of the boys had black hair. In Minnesota, it would have been 75% blondes due to our Scandinavian and German immigrant history. Many St. Pat’s families had come from Italy and Lebanon. There were a few redheads, maybe kids of Irish ancestry, some Chinese kids, and one Aboriginal kid who was on an exchange with another Catholic school in Alice Springs. All of them wore smart uniforms.
The ceremony opened with what I learned was standard in Australia, an acknowledgement of the Aboriginal people who originally lived on the land on which the school was situated.
This was followed by remarks by the head of the school, which included a statement about how bullying and intolerance were just not anything in which any boy should participate—including bullying of fellow students who were gay. This took me by surprise. It was a Catholic school after all, and while I wouldn’t expect them to encourage bullying of gay students, I was surprised it was mentioned explicitly. The church my mother’s husband belongs to didn’t allow me to stand on the altar at their wedding because I am Jewish. I’ve heard there is a sign at the entrance now making it clear that practicing homosexuals, divorcees, and other sinners must not take communion.
I asked Heidi about it later. I wondered if the Catholic Church in Australia looks upon homosexuality in a “hate the sin, love the sinner” way, or if they “love” gays as long as they are celibate.
Heidi looked thoughtful, then said mildly, “It’s just not an issue.” She is a regular church-goer, if not every week. “I can’t recall it ever coming up at church, or at St. Pat’s, except in the context of bullying. One kid posted a homophobic comment on social media a few weeks ago and the boys came down on him. He’s a good kid who had a moment of poor judgement, and he was embarrassed.”
Australians voted to legalize gay marriage last year. So the law is catching up with general opinion, if indeed is it so open minded. Of course there are people who opposed the change.
“Does the Pope know what’s going on down here?” I asked.
“Oh, probably, but he’s likely more concerned with other matters.” Like priest sexual abuse. There’ve been almost 5,000 claims. The Australian Church is paying out hundreds of millions of dollars to survivors. To its credit, it started facing this issue early on—in the 90s—and has done a better job of apologizing and making up to survivors than other countries, from what I’ve read and heard.
The ceremony was very moving. It involved announcements of which year-twelve (senior) boys would hold leadership positions next year. These included things like social action, sports, house leads, and so on (the boys are organized into “houses,” like in Harry Potter).
As each boy’s role was announced, he and his parents came forward from wherever they were sitting to meet at the front. Some parents gave their boys big bear hugs; others shook their hands and gave them a clap on the back. The parents then gave the boys a pin they would wear to indicate their leadership role.
Afterwards, Heidi and I had tea in the Diverse Learning office and I met her coworkers. They were friendly and talked about where they would go on their break, which started the next day. One was going camping in Tasmania and I told her how one iteration of my trip had included four days in Tasmania.
“Aww yeah, you can’t do Tassie in a few days,” she said. “And you would need a car.”
When the head of the department learned that I work for the Center for Victims of Torture, she asked if I would talk to the boys about it after the holidays. I was game, but made a mental note to buy some professional clothes.
I wandered around in the hall and noticed this poster.
Some smart alec had stuck sticky tack on the poster kid’s nose. Boys will be boys, after all.