Yesterday, Melbourne photographer James Robinson broke into his old high school, St Kevin’s College in Melbourne, set fire to his old school blazer and made out with his partner on the lawn, and it’s one of the most powerful things you’ll see this year.
You see, what Robinson did was not an act of vandalism or disrespect, but an act of peaceful and artistic protest. A call-out for people who experience toxic masculinity, homophobia, transphobia and bullying in all-boys colleges to unite under the one burning blazer.
The photograph was prompted by Jordan De Goey being arrested for allegedly assaulting a woman on a New York dancefloor, and punching her male friend. Although the charge of ‘forcible touching’ against De Goey has since been dropped, the point still stands
De Goey is an ex-student of St Kevin’s College, just one of many private schools across Australia that have been the subject of allegations around unaccountability, violence, misogyny and heteronormativity. This alleged behaviour is damaging to the boys who attend the schools, but even more so to those who identify as LGBTQIA+.
Robinson’s burning blazer and partner pash represent this culture of helplessness promoted in queer people who attend these schools, and is an act of bringing “love back” to a place that only teaches you shame.
Here’s the iconic photo:
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“I broke into the school yesterday to protest,” writes Robinson.
“Something snapped in me this time. The patriarchal culture I saw inside the school gates [appeared to have] burst out and made its way to New York, my new home for the last five years. (Allegedly) assaulting someone in a city, where many in my queer community, like me, are rape and sexual assault survivors.
“St Kevin’s is a bubble where privileged young men can rehearse oppression without consequence, before graduating with flying colours into the public,” he continues.
“A place where ‘locker room talk’ exists openly in hallways and classrooms.
“I saw revenge porn against girls from ‘sister schools’. I saw the objectifying of female teachers and the transphobic bullying of a teacher who transitioned. I saw friends make a pact of silence to protect two students who pulled a knife on a taxi driver… I saw a system designed to let young boys think they can do anything, assault anyone, and get away with it.”
As someone who attended an all-boys catholic school in Sydney, and identifies as queer, this post completely resonated with me.
Some of the alleged behaviour that James describes at St Kevin’s is in line with what I witnessed during my own schooling. A knife was pulled on a queer kid while they were on the bus, teachers went on homophobic rants in the middle of classes unrelated to sexuality, young boys were allowed to say awful things about women without any consequence.
This is why posts like this that create a conversation are incredibly important in generating awareness amongst other queer people, and letting them know they are not alone.
For fuck’s sake, we go to these schools to get an education and better ourselves, and yet all I saw was a culture of toxic masculinity, homophobia and misogyny developing in straight students, and a culture of fear and isolation amongst queer kids.
It’s not good enough, and something needs to change.
St Kevin’s principal Deborah Barker has told the ABC that she hopes to meet with James in the near future.
“I think James can teach us and help us as other students can, there are some wonderful opportunities for students to bring forth their stories,” she said.