By Glen Bradley, New Ways Ministry, October 18, 2016
What is Spirit Day?
It is an annual national event reminding schools to confront anti-LGBT bullying and bias. Click herefor more info from GLAAD.
When is it?
THIS Thursday, October 20, 2016.
What happens? What can I do?
Wear as many purple clothes as you can on Thursday, October 20th. The display of purple will show that you are against anti-LGBT discrimination and you support your LGBT students, faculty, and staff. Wearing purple will show you want to have a safe and inclusive school!
What if I am a student and have a dress code or uniform?
If you can’t wear a purple shirt or skirt/pants/dress, your school might allow you to wear a purple sweater, a ribbon pinned to your shirt, or a bracelet that is made of anything purple (ribbon, yarn, etc.). If you are comfortable, you could ask your parents for advice. Or, you can usually find your school’s dress code online if you Google your school’s name and “dress code” or “uniform.” If your school allows a non-uniform sweater and/or jewelry, wear them in purple!
What about social media? What should I post?
Spread the word! Share this page with your friends and teachers.
Use #SpiritDayAtCatholicSchools, @NewWaysMinistry and @GLAAD on all your social media posts and photos to join our new hashtag campaign. It will help you find fellow LGBT and ally students, faculty, and staff at Catholic schools while helping them find you!
Use GLAAD’s app (iPhone & Andriod) to make your profile pictures purple.
We know we’ve said this a lot, but don’t forget to use #SpiritDayAtCatholicSchools for all your Spirit Day photos! This hashtag is new and making it go viral can bring attention to the work needed at Catholic schools. You can join this new social media trend!
Want to find out more? Need help explaining Spirit Day to others or to your school? Wondering about the Catholic school context?
Download and print this resource from New Ways Ministry explaining Spirit Day from a Catholic perspective! (PDF download available here).
Click here for our original post calling Catholics to participate in Spirit Day 2016.
By Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 26, 2016
A Catholic high school in Tennessee is facing a discrimination lawsuit from a gay former student banned from attending a formal dance in 2015.
Lance Sanderson’s lawsuit claims Christian Brothers High School (CBHS) in Memphis violated multiple non-discrimination laws when it prohibited him from bringing a same-gender date to the school’s homecoming dance last year. NBC News reported:
“With his lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Circuit Court, Sanderson is seeking up to $1 million from CBHS on several state and federal claims — including breach of contract, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent training and a violation under Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments.”
Sanderson was suspended when he returned to CBHS on the Monday following the homecoming dance which he elected not to attend. School officials told him at the time that they did not “appreciate the unwarranted publicity.” Sanderson’s supporters had organized under #LetLanceDance, and a Change.org petition gathered nearly 28,000 signatures, but to no avail. Facing bullying from administrators and students alike, Sanderson completed senior year through online coursework and missed graduation. He is now studying at DePaul University, a very supportive Catholic institution in Chicago.
The lawsuit claims CBHS’s decision about Sanderson’s male date request was discriminatory, as was their subsequent actions. The suit includes new details about the aforementioned events, too. Sanderson’s lawyers pointed out the CBHS code of conduct explicitly includes sexual orientation among protected classes, so that all students will “feel safe, secured and accepted.” This was not the case, however:
“Days before the homecoming dance, however, the school began to broadcast daily messages over the intercom that students were not allowed to bring boys from other schools as dates.
“With each announcement, the lawsuit states, Sanderson ‘felt bullied by both the school administration and by some of the students.’
” ‘As a private school, CBHS held itself out to be nondiscriminatory with regard to sexual orientation,’ Sanderson’s attorney, Manis, said. ‘In our eyes, it seems very clear those were hollow words … They were not interested in treating [Sanderson] the same as other students.'”
Most significantly, Sanderson is claiming violations of Title IX, the federal civil rights law which prohibits sex discrimination in education. This law traditionally focused on equality in education for women, but has been interpreted under President Barack Obama’s administration to protect LGBT students, too. If successful, Sanderson’s lawsuit could build upon the 2015 favorable ruling involving a private institution, Pepperdine University, thus establishing a stronger precedent. NBC reported:
“Notably, Pepperdine — like CBHS — is a private institution that receives additional federal funds, and Sanderson’s legal team is hoping that case will serve as an important precedent for theirs.
” ‘We have confirmation that CBHS receives federal funding and also potentially state funding for certain programs at the school,’ Howard Manis, one of Sanderson’s lawyers, said. ‘That makes them responsible for following the letter of the law under Title IX.’ “
Having graduated and begun college, Sanderson’s lawsuit is not about directly rectifying the situation for him at CBHS. His appeal last year to administrators, in a letter where he said he had not “done anything wrong” nor “hurt anybody” but simply wanted to be treated equally, went unheard. Sanderson told NBC that he is taking action now because he really does not “want anyone else to go through what I went through this year.”
Even if we leave the legal issues involved in discrimination cases and religious entities to the lawyers, it should be clear that Catholic institutions, because of their religious values, should not discriminate. This is especially true when they explicitly claim to welcome marginalized communities, as CBHS did in its code of conduct.
Rather than waiting for the lawsuit to play out, at great time and expense for all involved, school officials should offer an apology and take concrete steps to ensure no discrimination against LGBT students, faculty, or staff will occur in the future. And at this year’s homecoming, they should welcome Lance and let him dance as one of their newest alumni.
At Bondings 2.0, we often find that there are almost always too many Catholic LGBT news stories and perspectives to cover. Not to mention the fact, that some of the best stories often have important follow-ups. Today’s post covers developments in stories which our blog has previously covered.
Lesbian Student Ejected from Prom Welcomed by Neighboring School
Aniya Wolf, a lesbian student ejected from her Catholic school’s prom for wearing a suit, was welcomed by William Penn Senior High School in York, Pennsylvania, suit and all. Principal Brandon Carter said the school does “embrace all” students and had welcomed its own students many times in attire which was comfortable for them.
Wolf had been removed from the prom of Harrisburg’s Bishop McDevitt High School because, school officials claimed, female students were required to wear a dress. Wolf showed up in a suit purchased for the occasion, which she was finally able to wear to Penn’s prom. Her mother, Carol, told The Washington Post:
” ‘This is Aniya. . .This is who Aniya has been since she’s very young. And she would not look right in a dress. She looks great in a suit.’ “
This is not the first instance where gendered clothing in Catholic education has caused tremendous pain and public controversy, but it hopefully might be one of the last.
Bolivia Passes Transgender Law Against Bishops’ Opposition
Despite heavy opposition from Catholic bishops, Bolivian legislators passed a transgender rights bill in late May that President Evo Morales then signed into law.
The law affords transgender people the right to alter government records in accordance with their gender identity, reported TeleSur. Reuters reported that a recent study shows that Bolivia becomes now only one of five nations in the world to constitutionally protect the rights of LGBT people, the others being Britain, Fiji, Malta, and Ecuador. Legislators had been pressured by some Bolivian Catholics to reject the law, according to The Washington Post:
“Predictably, the gender identity law has met with stiff resistance, not least from the Catholic Church. There have been protest marches, particularly in Santa Cruz, the conservative city that is Bolivia’s economic motor. Writing in Bolivian newspaper El Diario, theologian Gary Antonio Rodrígues Alvarez even warned that the concept of ‘hate,’ as used to define crimes committed against gays because of their sexuality, is ‘highly dangerous.’ “
Bolivia’s bishops specifically criticized the law, according to Crux, because it “wasn’t publicly debated, and didn’t receive the necessary consensus.” It did not, in their opinion, “solve the underlying problems.” The bishops did affirm the church’s opposition to discrimination. This recent response from the bishops softens slightly language from Bishop Aurelio Pesoa, president of the nation’s episcopal conference, who said in December that the law “aims to subvert one of the foundations of our human lifestyle” and was “a clear attempt of cultural colonization.”
Florida Implements LGBT Youth Protections Opposed by Bishops
A policy which bans the bullying and harassment of LGBT foster children in group homes has finally been reinstated by the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF), after it was withdrawn for a time as a result of religious opposition, reported the Orlando Sentinel.
DCF Secretary Mike Carroll said the process was “basically just listening to all involved,” and the decision had now been made about “how you best protect young people who have already been abused and neglected and who are the most vulnerable in our system.” An ombudsperson position has been created to monitor discrimination. The new policy explicitly bans “reparative therapy.”.
This policy was again criticized by the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops who said in a statement the policy “goes too far” and does not consider other children’s well-being if they must share space “with someone who ‘identifies’ as the same gender, but remains biologically different.” The Conference, in conjunction with partner religious organizations, had successfully had the policy reversed late last year. Bondings 2.0 said, at the time, that the Conference’s treatment of this issue was “misguided and ill-informed.
To keep current on all the latest Catholic LGBT news and information, subscribe to Bondings 2.0 by entering your email in the box you can find in the upper right-hand corner of this page.
Should Catholic high schools host LGBT student groups, commonly referred to as gay-straight alliances or GSAs? Louis Fisher certainly believes so.
Twice this past spring, Fisher, a senior at Judge Memorial High School, Salt Lake City, Utah, appealed to school administrators to recognize a GSA. Noting the school’s generally welcoming environment, Fisher explained to The Salt Lake Tribune:
” ‘We talk a lot about inclusivity and bullying, but I feel like we never dialogue about the experience of being gay in high school. . .It’s not that I feel unsupported at Judge; it’s that I feel there needs to be explicit support.’ “
Judge Memorial officials did not agree, denying in two letters the student’s requests that had included a 1,200 signature petition. Officials refused any club with “LGBT” in the name or that they see as promoting homosexuality. They suggested concerned students should participate in the Peace and Social Justice Club and add LGBT issues to those discussions. The Tribune reported:
“Principal Patrick Lambert said student safety and inclusion are top priorities for Judge administrators, teachers and counselors, many of whom have rainbow stickers plastered to their doors. . .But Lambert, who said he consulted with officials at other Utah Catholic schools, believes the issues raised by Fisher can be addressed without a new club.’ “
Fisher disagreed with the idea of integrating LGBT issues into an existing student group, saying it makes LGBT people “feel marginalized at Judge” and “would make people less enthusiastic about joining.” A second round of meetings between Fisher, his parents, and school officials produced similar rejection. Fisher has promised to resume his campaign in the fall.
Unlike public schools, religious institutions like Judge Memorial are not bound by federal laws which support GSAs in schools. The Tribune cited only three groups at Catholic schools in the U.S., these being Dowling Catholic High,Des Moines, St. Mary’s Academy, Portland, Oregon, and Xavier High, New York City.
Recently, two incidents at other schools serve as reminders that more proactive support for LGBT students is needed in secondary education. In one case, Catholic high school refused to recognize a gay student’s scholarship, and in another case, a Catholic school expelled a lesbian student from prom for wearing a suit.
This situation at Judge Memorial shows that younger students in Catholic education are not settling for broad claims of acceptance, but they want resources and spaces specific to LGBT students. Administrators’ denial of these supports entails high costs for all persons and institutions involved. The vulnerability of LGBT youth must be the prime concern Catholic educators in these cases. These youth experience higher rates of bullying, harassment, and violence that translates into higher rates of self-injurious behavior and suicide.
Catholic education, at its best, should help every student come to know themselves more fully as God created them. Rather than lumping LGBT students into general concerns, their situation mandates a special option. Coming to know one’s identity is a complex process, particularly in adolescence, and coming out as LGBT can be immensely difficult without love and affirmation. But this is a holy journey that Catholic education can and must support.
Note: Bondings 2.0 writer Bob Shine is a 2008 graduate of Saint John’s High School, Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. This open letter is based on correspondence he sent to several school administrators this spring.
Dear Saint John’s Administration,
Earlier this spring, junior Matthew Barrett asked Saint John’s High School to allow same-gender prom dates. His petition garnered nearly 1,400 signatures, and the effort was widely supported in my conversations with fellow alumni. You can imagine my disappointment, then, when no positive response appeared from school administrators.
It was at Saint John’s that I came to know firsthand the deep harm caused when students are forced to hide and mitigate their authentic selves. These were the experiences of my best friends. Organizing in college and working in LGBT ministry since then has only affirmed this truth. And it has convinced me that, overwhelmingly, the church’s pastoral care for, and inclusion of, LGBTQ people is tragically deficient, despite magisterial statements of welcome and acceptance. Rates of self-harm, substance abuse, and suicide among LGBTQ youth remain sinfully high due to realities such as 84% of LGBTQ youth reporting harassment and 90% hearing prejudiced comments at school, according to the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Educators Network (GLSEN).
Acknowledging these realities, Catholic education should employ every means available to let LGBTQ students know they are good, as they are created in God’s image, and they can expect full inclusion as members of the community. Many of my close friends from Saint John’s have come out since we graduated in 2008. I cannot speak to the school’s environment today, but I know from their experiences that the high school years can be a traumatizing experience for gay, bisexual, and questioning students, even in schools offering the highest quality education.
Allowing same-gender prom dates would contribute positively to creating a safer space at Saint John’s, and it would also advance the school’s mission “to bring Christ to life in young men.” There is an evangelical aspect to becoming more inclusive, which invites your students to know the church we love as a place of mercy and of inclusion, rather than hostility and exclusion. These ideas are very much in keeping with the mission of the Xaverian Brothers who sponsor the school.
For your consideration as you weigh this request from students, I highlight two instances where Catholic education allowed same-gender prom dates. Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne, Australia, approved such a policy this past January, saying “These are quite often emotional situations and it’s very important that we always have respect for the dignity of the human being involved.” McQuaid Jesuit High School in Rochester, New York approved same-gender dates in 2013. Fr. Edward Salmon, the president, cited Pope Francis when explaining his decision and wrote:
“[Gay people] as is true of every human being, need to be nourished at many different levels simultaneously. This includes friendship, [brotherhood] which is a way of loving and is essential to healthy human development. It is one of the richest possible human experiences. Friendship can and does thrive outside of sexual involvement.”
Allowing same-gender prom dates and recognizing the Gay-Straight Alliance students have organized for St. John’s would be big steps towards greater pastoral care. It may not seem much, but in this instance welcoming a diversity of prom dates could be considered pastoral care if it actively helps students experience further the inclusion, acceptance, and love that God offers us. I pray that you may hear the voices of your students with God’s ears and respond as Christ would with mercy and with understanding.
* * * * * * *
For those interested in the betterment of life for LGBT students in Catholic education, the Gay & Lesbian Alumni of Notre Dame & St. Mary’s will be hosting a fundraiser for LGBT student scholarships in California. It will be Sunday, June 26, 12:00pm to 3:00pm in Malibu, CA. For more information and to register (requested before June 17th), please visit www.galandsmc.org.
A Catholic high school in Iowa which previously fired a gay teacher is now refusing honors to a graduating senior who is also gay.
Officials at Dowling Catholic High School, West Des Moines, have said senior Liam Jameson may not receive an LGBT scholarship from the Eychaner Foundation during the school’s awards ceremony this Thursday. Jameson is asking school officials to reverse their decision, so that he can be recognized equally for his accomplishments, reported OutSports. A Change.org petition, which you can sign here, has more than 1,000 signatures already. The student wrote an open letter explaining his appeal, stating in part:
“I’ve worked hard to prevent suicides, and having this scholarship presented allows other students to learn that LGBTQ students are valued in society, not shunned. That’s why the Committee presents the scholarships at Senior Awards Programs, to try and help save other young lives who feel isolated and worthless, like I once did. . .Bishop Pates, President Deegan, Principal Meendering, please choose life and demonstrate that all lives are worthy of ‘wholeness and dignity’. Doing so shows the entire Dowling Catholic student body that they are truly valued and loved regardless of who they are.”
The Eychaner Foundation describes itself as a “non-profit organization committed to promoting tolerance and non-discrimination,” and notes that it is “dedicated to anti-bullying.” Jameson was awarded the $40,000 Matthew Shepard Scholarship, named after hate crime victim whose 1998 murder in Wyoming sparked a national call to end violence against LGBT people. The scholarship recognizes Jameson’s leadership as a gay student at Dowling Catholic where he helped organize a 250-student walk-out last year protesting the firing of gay teacher Tyler McCubbin. He also led efforts to found an LGBT club, called One Dowling Family, which provides a safe space at the school. Of this latter work, Jameson shared:
“I wanted to leave Dowling a better place, one worthy enough to educate all the brave souls who have had lives far better and far worse than mine. A space for all. A space that valued the few just as much as it valued the many. That space is now called One Dowling Family, formerly One Human Family. . .I can leave Dowling knowing that I made it a better place, one that provides students a place where they can be free.”
Dowling Catholic administrators released a brief statement yesterday, stating that scholarship organizations are not allowed to present awards during the ceremony, and thus Jameson would be honored in a manner consistent with his peers. The statement reads:
“At Dowling Catholic High School we are proud of all of our senior students who have received awards and scholarships to further their education. All scholarship recipients are honored during the Scholastic Award Assembly. Each senior selects up to two scholarships to be read out loud when a slide that includes their name and picture comes up on the screen. We do not allow organizations who are awarding the scholarship to attend and individually present the scholarship to the student. This policy was shared in writing with the Eychaner Foundation regarding the Matthew Shepard Award. We are pleased one of our students received the Matthew Shepard Award and he will be honored in the same manner as his classmates.”
The Eychaner Foundation refuted this claim with their own statement from Rich Eychaner, which said Dowling Catholic “misrepresents the efforts the efforts the school has gone to in dishonoring Iowa’s Matthew Shepard Scholarship.” The statement continued, noting the scholarship had been presented at Dowling Catholic in 2014 without problem:
“Since then, Dowling constructed and then revised a policy to limit scholarships presented to their students. Dowling further tightened their policy to specifically target the Matthew Shepard Scholarship by writing in ‘rules’ that the school could deny the student’s choice of scholarships that were publicly read under criteria that targeted our scholarship. . .
“After Principal Meendering became aware that Liam intended to apply for Iowa’s Matthew Shepard Scholarship Program the policy was revised to state. . .’Students may choose to accept any award; however Dowling Catholic High School reserves the right to not acknowledge any award.’ (emphasis added)”
Other Iowa Catholic schools have welcomed the Foundation, though not without some controversies. In 2012, a student at Prince of Peace Catholic High School was also the recipient of the Matthew Shepard scholarship from the Eychaner Foundation. Bishop Martin Amos of the Diocese of Davenport originally denied permission for the scholarship to be announced at graduation, but he reversed the decision and allowed the presentation to go forward. The bishop also congratulated the student, and re-affirmed the diocese’s support of anti-bullying and anti-discrimination principles.
In a related note, there are questions about the safety of One Dowling Family as a space inclusive of all students. Fr. Zach Kautzky, the school’s chaplain whose oversight of the safe space group had been mandated by the school, tweeted a link a news story which denigrates transgender identities. Though students have requested Kautzky be replaced, Principal Matt Meendering “downplayed the group’s LGBT focus” and said the matter was being discussed, wrote a columnist for the Des Moines Register.
It is inexplicable why Dowling Catholic administrators will not allow a graduating gay student to be honored alongside his peers, and why rules have been repeatedly revised. Jameson has contributed greatly to the school community, testifying to the power of being one’s authentic self, and to helping his peers do likewise. He should be celebrated not only for receiving this scholarship, but for modeling the type of student that Catholic education seeks to form when it is at its best. School officials will hopefully find a wisdom and courage similar to their student’s and reverse their discriminatory decision. Regardless, Jameson will surely excel at Iowa State next year and then wherever life takes him. Congratulations, Liam!
The Rhode Island Catholic school whose ban on transgender students ignited controversy last week has released two statements which have potential for opening doors to reconciliation and to greater inclusion.
Officials at Mount Saint Charles Academy responded to the intensifying criticism to their policy change which excluded transgender students from school with an initial statement last Friday, saying the policy which explicitly bans transgender students:
“. . .is not intended to be discriminatory toward transgendered [sic] students nor is Mount Saint Charles Academy’s intent or desire to exclude transgender students. The policy was put in place for the simple reason that Mount Saint Charles feels that its facilities do not presently provide the school with the ability to accommodate transgender students.”
Citing other personal needs which may disqualify applicants from attending Mount Saint Charles, such as academic disabilities, the statement suggested the school was incapable of serving all students. Administrators added that they were “exploring ways in which it [the school] might provide reasonable accommodations for transgender students and fulfill its mission.” The statement concluded with an appeal for help, as the school “would very much like to correct the problem” inherent to this policy’s existence. According to the school, this policy was not prompted by any transgender applicants or students.
A second statement released within an hour of the first one added an opening sentence which said Mount Saint Charles “deeply regrets the unintended hurt feelings at and seeming insensitivity of our policy,” reported Go Local Providence.
Alumni claim they knew trans students who have attended Mount Saint Charles in the past. 2007 graduate Johnelle Bergeron told NBC 10that alumni “would never expect that from Mount because they always preached about tolerance and God is love, everyone’s equal.’ ” Parents of current students have been critical of the policy change , too, with Kristine Kinnear saying she hopes the school would make necessary accommodations if it were her child.
YouthPride, an LGBT organization in Rhode Island, released a statement saying the transgender ban is “not an acceptable solution” and offered to help Mount Saint Charles become capable of supporting transgender students, reported RIFuture.org.
Last Friday morning, with little information about how and why the policy came into existence, I suggested that Mount Saint Charles administrators seemed indifferent to accommodating the needs of vulnerable transgender students. In view of the school’s two statements later that afternoon, it seems it is not indifference that is the problem. It appears the ban on transgender students was an honest acknowledgement by school officials that they had not addressed gender identity issues to the point where they could provide a safe space for trans students. Despite good intentions, the administrators’ ban on transgender students was a misstep, which has been understandably painful for alumni and the local community.
But with the school’s new resolve to address these issues head-on, and with alumni support for transgender students, there is tremendous potential right now for Mount Saint Charles Academy to help students of all genders can be “known, valued, treasured, and taught,” as their mission statement declares. Alumni have crowdfunded over $4,000 to provide an “actionable solution” to this problem, saying the money should help create accessible restrooms and locker rooms for transgender students along with supportive policies and non-discrimination protections. Mount Saint Charles officials should follow through on their statements’ desire by reaching out to alumni seeking to help and others in the community with relevant expertise and resources.
Banning transgender students was a harmful decision, but if all involved can tune into the reconciliation called for by yesterday’s readings at Mass, this could be a tremendous moment for Catholic education.