Attending a Catholic high school and identifying openly as LGBT are often seen as mutually exclusive realities for many students, who fear bullying and discrimination from their principals, priests, and peers. Yet, two gay students’ stories reveal the changing landscape in some Catholic schools that will hopefully propel more students to merge these realities and feel comfortable in coming out.
Johann Go waited two years before coming out at St. Patrick’s College Silverstream, New Zealand, fearing the repercussions of doing so at a “conservative, Catholic all-boys’ school.” Go told The Dominion Post:
” ‘I was bracing myself to lose all my friends by coming out. I assumed the worst because I knew of people that had been kicked out of home and expelled from school because of it.’ “
Instead, he found love and support from the school’s principal and his peers. More than 30 LGBT alumni have contacted Go expressing their delight that he had the courage they had not had to come out while at St. Patrick’s. Go, who graduated last spring, used his openly gay status to advance inclusion at the school by speaking about homophobic attitudes present among the students and facilitating an LGBT peer support group.
Go’s parting gift to his alma mater was achieving approval for same-sex prom dates, which he asked rector Gerard Tully for and received “no objection” in what Go described as a “meaningful and remarkable step.” Tully said of the now alum:
” ‘Johann’s a fantastic young man who has made a positive contribution to school life, and we’re all very happy for him . . .’ “
In New York state, Robert Paque spoke with the Olean Times Herald about being gay at a Catholic high school. The recent graduate thanked administrators during his commencement address for welcoming him, and specifically not expelling him, after he came out.
Paque was Olean, New York’s Archbishop Walsh Academy salutatorian this year and was lauded for his achievements during high school. During this time however, Paque was coming out to himself and feared he would be expelled if his sexual orientation became public. The Times Herald reports:
“[Paque] struggled with accepting his own sexual orientation and taking baby steps to make it public — all the while hearing news of religious schools elsewhere booting out gays — he feared his days were numbered…
“The day that haunted him never arrived. Conversely, Archbishop Walsh Academy administrators were staunchly supportive, he said.
” ‘It was just kind of like, “OK, we have a gay student in our school,”‘ Robert said. ‘Nothing changed. I’m still a student at the school. I didn’t act any different. I didn’t do my school work any different. It was just another fact, and it didn’t really change anything.’ “
He was open with his school because it was exhausting to hide, and faced only one bad incident when a schismatic priest was invited to Spanish class by the teacher and condemned Paque for being gay. That teacher was let go, and Principal Mykal Karl quickly met with the student to let him know he was supported.
The school’s board president, Beth Powers, said expelling Paque for being gay was “never a consideration” and said further:
” ‘Robert is a wonderful person. He is respected by everybody in the school, young and old, teachers, faculty and the kids…He is hard working. He is respectful. He’s honest. He’s got a really upbeat perspective on life.
” ‘From the board perspective … this issue never came up. Nobody expressed any concerns about him being in the school. We think he’s a wonderful person, and it was never a point of discussion to have him leave the school.’ “
Paque, who will be attending George Mason University, Virginia, in the fall, now says of his alma mater:
“ ‘Walsh has done nothing but support. They could easily have not, but they chose to support me…They’ve allowed me to grow as a person how I see fit for myself without trying to sway me any way. They’ve accepted me in their school community, and I’ll be forever thankful for that.’ ”
It will be a wonderful day when every LGBT student who walks across the graduation stage can speak so highly of their Catholic school. Though troubling incidents prove we’re not there yet, stories like Go’s and Paque’s are proof that in some places, students, faculty, and administrators are working hard to make Catholic education a supportive place to come out.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry