Australian lesbian teacher battles for her job

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A teacher's right to speak publicly on controversial issues is at the heart of a battle being waged by Australian school teacher and socialist feminist lesbian Alison Thorne. [...] On one side are Thorne, unionists, civil liberties advocates and feminist and lesbian/gay activists; on the other are vacillating public officials, some union bureaucrats, and a right-wing radio station bent on driving Thorne out of her profession.

The furor erupted when Thorne, a secondary school teacher in Melbourne, Victoria, was interviewed by 3AW radio station regarding the November 5, 1983 arrests of nine gay activists in the Pedophile Support Group, a discussion and consciousness-raising organization. The arrests followed the taping of six of the group's meetings by a police spy. Speaking for the Victorian Gay Legal Rights Coalition, Thorne deplored the arrests as part of an anti-gay witchhunt. She labeled the vague and archaic "conspiracy to corrupt public morals" charge leveled against the nine man as a dangerous threat to civil liberties. And she stated that while she was vehemently opposed to the sexual exploitation of children, she questioned the necessity for age of consent laws. The following day, 3AW talkshow host Derryn Hinch repeatedly broadcast an edited version of the interview. He identified Thorne as a teacher, declaring, "I would not let this woman teach my child." [...]

Some voices of reason emerged, however. Justice Kirby, chairman of the Australian Law Reform Commission, stated that while an arbitrary age of legal consent is convenient, "it is not always relevant or just." Responding to the media blitz against Thorne, he added, "a person should {not} be punished for making the suggestion {to lower the age of consent} by denunciation in the media." Initially, Victorian Minister of Education Robert Fordham, for the Australian Labor Party, agreed. He defended Thorne's right to free speech when, in state parliament, the reactionary Liberal Party called for her firing. But Fordham soon capitulated. On November 11, 1983, despite support for Thorne from students and parents, he "temporarily" transferred her to administrative duties in the Victorian Department of Education. [...]

The Technican Teachers Union of Victoria (TTUV) backs Thorne's fight as a civil liberties issue crucial to all public employees. The union agrees with Justice Kirby on the need for rational sensible discussion of age of consent laws. [...] The Australian Labor Party (ALP) includes support for gay rights in its platform, and Thorne supporters have won the endorsements of six ALP locals for the call to reinstate her. Other support for Thorne includes aboriginal organizations, the Victorian Council for Civil Liberties, Victorian AIDS Action Group, Stonewall Collective, Gay Solidarity Group, the Victorian Secondary Teachers Association, the Freedom Socialist Party and Radical Women. [...]

In January 1984, Fordham told Thorne that she could return to teaching if she found a school that woulds take her. Three schools offered immediate employment, but the Minister reneged on his promise, saying her case was too controversial. [...]

In May 1984, all conspiracy charges against the Pedophile Support Group were dropped. [...]

In November, the Appointments Board sent out a memo granting her transfer from her administrative position to a teaching position at Tottenham Technical School. However, Victoria's Premier, John Cain, denied her appointment and said the government did not regard Thorne "as a person appropriate to be placed in a classroom." [...]

But the rising right wing, in the midst of a worldwide economic depression, has begun to beat the anti-gay drum. They have latched onto the AIDS epidemic. According to Thorne, "The right wing is whipping up a panic, saying that lesbians and gays are child molesters, corrupters of youth, and spreaders of disease." But Alison Thorne will not let the Australian right wing stop her. "I'll never quit," she says, "no matter how long it takes, no matter how complicated the fights get. I couldn't call myself a revolutionary feminist if I did. We will keep pushing the union to get them to do what they should be doing: representing the teachers and fighting for our right to free speech. And we will fight the right wing and anyone who will discriminate against us on the basis of sexuality and political ideology."

source: Article 'Australian Lesbian Teacher Battles for Her Job' by David Fagan & Merle Woo; Taken from: NAMBLA Bulletin, Vol. 6, N. 3; April 1985; Reprinted from: COMING UP! (San Francisco); March 1985