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

May 10, 2016

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


Australian Archbishop Allows Students to Take Same-Gender Dates to Dances

January 23, 2016

The archbishop of Melbourne, Australia, has made a decision which is one of the healthiest and most realistic ones that I’ve heard a church official make regarding LGBT issues in a long time:  he is allowing students in Catholic high schools in the archdiocese to take a same-gender date to the prom or formal dance.

Archbishop Denis Hart

The Age newspaper reported:

“Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart has urged schools to be sensitive and respectful to students who wanted to invite a same-sex date to the biggest night of the year.

” ‘These are quite often emotional situations and it’s very important that we always have respect for the dignity of the human being involved,’ he said.”

The decision came after the Academy of Mary Immaculate in Fitzroy initially denied a female student to bring another girl to the school’s formal dance.  The student responded with a Change.org petition which gathered 1250 signatures.  The school then reversed its decision, and the archbishop praised the school’s “sensitivity” in reversing the decision, stating:

“Students in a secondary school are growing up and in developmental stages where relationships are more like strong friendships and are not usually permanent, they are not in a situation where they are committing.

“The Catholic Church respects any relationship but always sticks quite firmly with its teaching that a relationship in the eyes of the church is heterosexual, between a male and female, and that is something we would always stand by.”

The issue of students taking same=gender partners to proms has long been an issue here in U.S. Catholic school systems.  In 2013, the president of McQuaid Jesuit High School, Rochester, New York, an all-boys school, allowed a student to take another boy to the junior prom.  The president cited Pope Francis as his authority on this matter.

Yet, last year Christian Brothers High School in Memphis suspended a student who tried to take a same-gender date to the homecoming dance.

What I find refreshing about Archbishop Hart’s decision is that he recognizes that dance dates do not imply sexual activity.  When schools have denied same-gender dates attending social functions, they cite the Church’s disapproval of same-sex sexual activity.  But by that logic, school officials would also then be saying that they expect that bringing someone to a dance is evidence or a prediction of sexual activity.

What about the many, many students who take a cousin or sibling as a companion to the prom or formal dance?  Clearly, the church does not approve of incest, yet these students are allowed to bring a relative.  So why would they allow people with familial ties to attend together, but not same-gender companions?

The decision not to allow a same-gender partner is purely homophobia.  It is a double-standard that says that allowing same-gender couples implies that same-sex activity will occur, but that the presence of heterosexual couples does not make the same implication.

The archbishop, sadly, does not approve of committed same-gender sexual relationships, yet what is good about his statement is that he recognizes that not all same-gender couples are going to have sex.  He is treating same-gender couples with the same expectations of heterosexual couples.  He recognizes that what is important is the the student’s choice about how to celebrate their academic successes with their classmates. That kind of attitude is a sign of respect for the student’s human dignity and equality.

Tim Christodoulou, a leader of “Minus 18,” an LGBT youth group in Australia, praised Hart’s decision:

“It’s hurtful if you can’t bring the partner you want to celebrate this milestone.

“The result is that sometimes young people disengage from their education. Seeing this progress coming from the Catholic Archbishop is really promising but there’s much further to go.”

Christodoulou explained the “much further to go” as “allowing trans- and gender diverse students to dress in the clothes they prefer.”

Let us hope and pray that Archbishop Hart’s decision will inspire other bishops and church leaders to take the same, reasonable course of action.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

NEWS NOTES: May 17, 2012

May 17, 2012

News on Catholic LGBT issues has been coming in so quickly lately that it has been hard to keep up with “News Notes.”  So, here’s a long list of  links to some items you might find of interest:


1) “Do you think it’s appropriate for the Catholic Church to promote petitions for anti-gay marriage Referendum 74?” is the question that a Washington State newspaper asked its readers in reference to the ballot initiative to repeal the state’s newly-minted marriage equality law.  You can get a flavor of the 5,400 responses by reading The National Catholic Reporter’s blog post entitled “Washington newspaper readers split on church’s role in same-sex marriage petition.”

2) The Columbus Dispatch (Ohio) reports that when a lesbian couple were barred from their Lexington, Kentucky, Catholic high school’s prom, they threw an alternative prom in the school’s parking lot, enjoyed by many students.  Read about it in “Barred from prom, gay couple come out(side).”

3) In Minnesota, the Council for the Baptized, which is described as a “collegial voice for Catholics in the Archdiocese of St.Paul/Minneapolis,” has issued a statement of “Opposition to Marriage Amendment,” explaining why they oppose the state’s proposed constitutional amendment against marriage equality.  You can read the full statement here.


1) The Constitutional Court of Colombia has awarded pension benefits to the male partner of  a deceased Catholic priest.  Read the PinkNews article “Colombia: Partner of gay Catholic priest wins pension rights.”

2) The Associated Press says that the heavily-Catholic country of Argentina is now the world’s leader in transgender rights and equality, with the passage of a new law “giving people the freedom to change their legal and physical gender identity simply because they want to, without having to undergo judicial, psychiatric and medical procedures beforehand.” NPR.com carries the full AP story entitled “Argentina Gender Rights Law: A New World Standard.”

3) In “Catholic bishops denounce threats to religious freedom,” CBC.com (Canada’s public radio) reports that Canadian bishops have issued a pastoral letter which encourages “civil disobedience in cases where public policy runs afoul of private morality on questions such as abortion, contraception and gay marriage.”

4) When an Australian former judge says he is a ‘second-class citizen’ because he cannot marry” at a recent senate inquiry on legalizing same-sex marriage, a Catholic MP there relied on her faith as her reason for supporting the legislation:   “Catholics have a responsibility to form their conscience. . . . A Catholic who has formed their conscience cannot be compelled to act contrary to it.”  GayStarNews.com carries the full story.

5) The Church’s role in marriage equality debates in heavily-Catholic countries such as Italy, France, and Portugal is examined in GayStarNews.com’s article “Why same-sex marriage is spreading in Europe.”

6) Ireland’s Association of Catholic Priests has been working for reform in many areas of church life.  A recent survey they commissioned shows that 60% of  Ireland’s Catholics disagreed with Church teaching that same-sex  relationships were immoral.  Read about the ACP’s work in the BBC’s report “Association of Catholic Priests discuss Church’s future.”

7) A “Filipino lawmaker urges colleagues to fight homophobia” by coming out of the closet in this heavily Catholic nation.  Read the whole story on AllVoices.com.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry



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