A prestigious Christian school's Board of Trustees have been told to attend a human rights awareness course after sacking a netball coach because he was gay, the Christchurch Star has reported today.
Middleton Grange School also had to apologise to the 28-year-old and pay him a confidential reparation sum. Yesterday, the man broke his silence about the situation, hoping it would prevent the same thing happening to someone else.
"It's hard enough to go through finding yourself and accepting yourself and being `out' in the first place," said the man, who wished to remain anonymous. "Having to go through discrimination doesn't help."
The man said he was trying to look at the positive and that the apology from the school had given him closure.
The Star has learned that the man was hired to coach one of the school's girls' netball teams in February. He attended the netball trials and selected a team. However, he was later told by the principal that the school's Board of Trustees had decided his homosexuality was a problem and he could not continue in the coaching position.
The Star understands they made the decision based on Christian teaching that homosexuality is a sin. "At first I was shocked. I've never felt so small in my life...I started to kind of blame myself," said the 28-year-old.
It wasn't until he spoke to friends that he realised he had been wronged, he said. "It's similar to saying I can't be their coach because I'm Maori," he said. He said many staff and parents at the school did not support the board and principal's actions. The 28-year-old has since secured a coaching position at another city school with the help of one of the staff members, he said. Board of trustees chairman Andy Van Amyede declined to comment yesterday citing a confidentiality agreement. But Middleton Grange School principal Richard Vanderpyl said yesterday, "We're thinking of the impact on him."
He said he had "huge respect" for the 28-year-old. "We get on very well, very amicably. We care for him and respect him," he said. Spokeswoman for New Zealand AIDS Foundation, which supports gay rights, Dawn O'Connor said the school's action was "surprising and shocking". "We're very surprised at this kind of action has been taken in this day and age," she said. "New Zealand and Christchurch is no place for homophobia and schools should be a place that support each individual in a safe social environment and where homophobia will be unacceptable."
The 28-year-old said he was "very happy" with the resolution between himself and the school.
He was pleased the people behind the decision had attended a human rights session "so they aware what they did was wrong and don't do it again."
"I am glad it won't happen to anyone again at that school. It was definitely a hard thing to go through."
"Now I know it was wrong, you should do something about it if it happens to you."
"People get discriminated (against) all the time. Race, gender, sexuality. Discrimination is always going to be there."
A friend of the man said it "amazed me that in this day and age it did happen."
"He was teaching a shoolgirls' team - he's gay, what interest is he going to have in girls?"