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By Susie O’Brien - The Mercury, Tasmania

Fourteen per cent of young Australians now identify as gay, up from as little as 3 per cent nearly a decade ago, new research shows. The rate of 18-to-25-year-olds in the LGBTIQ community has more than doubled between 2012 and 2020, analysis of nationally representative data from more than 15,000 people by the University of Tasmania shows. The same proportion of same-sex status young people went to conservative religious schools and secular state schools. “Students are increasingly non-religious, and accepting of alternatively sexualities, and increasingly identify as lesbian, gay, and bisexual,” author Professor Douglas Ezzy said in the Journal of Beliefs and Values. “Homosexual relationships are now almost universally accepted among Australians of all religious traditions, and there is little difference in attitude depending on a young person’s educational type.” Dr Ezzy’s research also shows teachers are broadly accepting of homosexual relationships, with little difference between those in government and non-government schools. “These changes are important because they present a very different picture … to that portrayed by the conservative religious authorities who shape the policies and practices in these schools,” he said.

Such church leaders, who often have a dominant role on the school boards running elite private schools, have continued to strongly defend their right to teach that marriage is only between a man and woman. Many have argued they should be allowed to only hire staff who adhere to heterosexual Christian lifestyles.

Professor Ezzy found students and teachers at religious schools are more progressive than the church leaders running them. “Conservative leaders have had some success in enforcing conservative morality. For example, many teachers have lost their jobs at religiously affiliated schools after their LGBTQ+ sexuality or gender was discovered,” Professor Ezzy said. The findings come as nearly one in five Australian children attend a Catholic school, with another 15 per cent attending other private schools. The growth in religious education comes amid a substantial decline in the religiosity of Australians, with 43 per cent saying they have no religion – up from 26 per cent in 2004. This rises to 62 per cent of people aged 18 to 25. Only 16 per cent of the 18-to-25-year-olds who attended non-Catholic religious schools go to church monthly. This compares to 9.5 per cent of those who went to Catholic schools. Despite church leaders arguing that parents send their children to private schools for religious reasons, other research shows faith is near the bottom of the list.

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