Lesbian Student Ejected from Catholic School’s Prom for Wearing a Suit

prom-dress-code-controversy
Aniya Wolf

A Catholic high school in Pennsylvania ejected a lesbian student from the prom for wearing a suit rather than a dress.

Aniya Wolf was escorted out of Harrisburg’s Bishop McDevitt High School prom last weekend by a school official who grabbed the student’s arm and threatened to call police. Wolf’s ejection was the culmination of a debate over dress code between Wolf and her family, and Bishop McDevitt administrators.

Wolf said she has “always been more masculine,” wearing a shirt and pants for her school uniform all three years she has attended Bishop McDevitt. But ABC 27 reported that a sudden change in the school’s dress code occurred right before prom:

“The [Wolf] family said a last-minute email explained girls had to wear a dress to prom. . .Wolf’s mom called the school. ‘I told them that I had read the dress code that was given to the students and I didn’t think that it precluded her from wearing a suit.  I said that this was very unfair, particularly at the last minute.  We had gone out and bought a new suit. I think my daughter is beautiful in a suit,’ Carolyn Wolf said.”

Knowing school officials objected to her suit, Wolf went to prom anyway because she had anticipated the event for a while, and believed her experience “shouldn’t be any different than anyone else’s because of something I was born with.” Bishop McDevitt’s student body is generally affirming of her sexual orientation, Wolf said. The manner in which school officials treated her, in contrast, makes her feel like “a mistake.”

In a statement, Bishop McDevitt denied any wrongdoing. School officials claimed the dress code had been announced three months ago, and when they became aware that Wolf would not be wearing a dress, contacted her mother to resolve the situation. The statement concluded with a commitment to “practice acceptance and love for all of our students.”

What administrators ignored was the real issue behind this troubling incident, problems with the dress code itself rather than the timeline of events. I offer three points for consideration.

First, the dress code, as made available by ABC 27, does not specify that female students must wear dresses. It details what are considered acceptable dresses, but does not mandate them, though it mandates that male students “must wear a suite and tie.” Aniya and her family’s reading of this dress code is correct; it does not bar her from wearing her suit.

Second, dress code controversies in Catholic education need not exist, but, sadly, church officials keeping causing them. There is nothing in church teaching to support gender normative clothing, nor is it wise pastoral practice to insist these norms be maintained. Gender-based dress codes have nothing to do with the Catholic faith. Gender-based dress codes are outdated, sexist, and transphobic. Enforcing them so forcefully appears simply to be an attempt by school officials to impose traditional gender norms.

Third, the priorities of Bishop McDevitt administrators are called into question by this incident. To ensure an archaic dress code is upheld, they were willing to ruin a student’s prom night and cause her to feel like “a mistake.” Not a pastoral response.  And they created an issue where there needn’t have been one. The ejection of Aniya Wolf from prom would be a prime moment for reflection for the school’s administrators about how they really can practice acceptance and love for all students.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

14 thoughts on “Lesbian Student Ejected from Catholic School’s Prom for Wearing a Suit

  1. lynne1946 May 10, 2016 / 2:48 am

    Excellent article. Very sad that it happened at all.

  2. Sharon May 10, 2016 / 2:50 am

    I see this as something Pope Francis has warned against – picking fights.

  3. Will May 10, 2016 / 3:41 am

    And Priests in black gowns, were walking their rounds,
    And binding with briars, my joys & desires.

    • Loretta Fitzgerald May 10, 2016 / 6:42 am

      That’s disarmingly true, Will. Original?

      • Will May 12, 2016 / 3:54 am

        William Blake (1757-1827) from The Garden of Love

  4. Friends May 10, 2016 / 5:30 am

    “Women must wear dresses”??!! What kind of old-fashioned thinking is THAT? I’d invite these school administrators to take a walk around any college or university campus. They will observe that almost all women — both students AND faculty — routinely wear jeans and slacks and casual shirts. And for formal occasions, women in three-piece pant suits are considered to be quite properly dressed. This school needs to update its standard dress code out of the 19th Century, and move it at least into the 20th, if not the 21st!

  5. fr gerard o brien May 10, 2016 / 7:55 am

    this is a very sad reality of life today in usa, its a frenzy like the political frenzy of not treating everyone with respect and dignity created in gods image and likeness,

  6. Frank Linsalato May 10, 2016 / 9:27 am

    Very sad. A very poor example to the world of Christian/Catholic faith, hope, charity, morals, beliefs, understanding and acceptance of each other and one another. What would Pope Francis do? What would Jesus do? What should the school administration have done? Very simple…be Christian. Love all. Understand where people come from. Accept differences and don’t cast the first stone…like the leaders of that school orDiocese is/are without sin. Build bridges. Don’t take away the faith (our Catholic Faith) from others (no matter who or what they are). We build the faith, we build the Church by lifting people up, welcoming them, embracing them and lettering all peoples know that “IN THIS CHURCH YOU ARE ALL WELCOME”. I am deeply offended and ashamed for what happened. I go to daily Mass and Communion and to think/or see/or know that our Church leaders or school officials behave in such a way, and because of their poor actions, how many will leave the Church and not know Jesus and follow Jesus on life’s journey. I hope this young person (and all people) reads this and knows that Jesus, God, the Communion of Saints, Our Heavenly Mother and Her Spouse Joseph and all the Saints of God do not think the way these sad minded individuals do or acted. Pentecost is coming. I hope all Church leaders will RECEIVE THE HOLY SPIRIT and awaken to what Jesus taught and not cast upon people of our faith unnecessary burdens which very often they themselves don’t follow and live up to. FAITH, HOPE AND CHARITY AND THE GREATEST OF THESE IS LOVE…PRAISE BE JESUS CHRIST, NOW AND FOREVER. AMEN. AMEN. AMEN.

  7. Judy May 10, 2016 / 12:04 pm

    The school was clear about the expected attire and gave ample notice. The school even contacted the parent to clarify the expectation. The student did not follow the rules. The student was ejected. I fail to see the problem.

    • Friends May 10, 2016 / 9:56 pm

      Judy, I think the problem is that if the student is modestly dressed — as clearly she was — and if her own parents presumably allowed her attire (as I assume they did), then the school should not be countermanding the joint judgment of the student and her parents. “In loco parentis” — which enables a competent external entity to act on behalf of missing parents — has its merits. But if the student and her parents jointly agree that her attire is perfectly modest (which it is), and perfectly elegant (which clearly it is), then why would you allow the school to reject the consensus judgment of both the student and her parents? If she showed up in a thong, the school would have a legitimate right to object. But I see no valid reason for the school’s basically sexist objection here.

  8. Paula Mattras May 11, 2016 / 9:48 am

    One step forward – two steps backward. Education is key – opinions matter when they are based on facts. For far too many years those who did not have GLBTQ members in their families failed to educate themselves on this subject – I was one of them – until I learned about my own dear son. We are all created in the image and likeness of God, and that must mean that God has a very wide spectrum of being. On my desk is a small plaque with a quote by Michelangelo: “I am still learning.” Please join the class.

  9. GREG SMITH May 12, 2016 / 6:10 pm

    Everything else aside, I’m shocked that a staff member put her (hope to God it wasn’t a him) hands on her.
    That’s the kind of thing a teacher does only when braking up a fight. As for calling the police, what would the cops arrest her for? Looking forward to reading about fewer of these stupiditys

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