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Christian schools scapegoat LGBT youth and it’s time it stops

Why we should care when a gay student is told to "go back in the closet"

Austin Wallis (Right)
Courtesy of YouTube

Should private Christian high schools allow out LGBT students to enroll? Luther High North in Houston, Texas found themselves navigating that question last week when news surfaced the principal had allegedly asked one of their students to “go back in the closet.”

Video blogger Austin Wallis, who attended Lutheran High North, was also out to his YouTube audience as gay. He came out to his online audience six months ago and has since posted various videos discussing LGBT topics with his boyfriend.

In a YouTube video, Wallis claims the principal of his high school called Wallis’ mother into a meeting and asked that his YouTube channel be deleted.  According to Wallis, the principal said the LGBT content was having a “bad impact” on the school. This led the school to give Wallis an ultimatum: delete the YouTube channel and go back in the closet or leave the school. Wallis, unwilling to be dishonest about his sexuality, chose to leave the school.

I’ve only ever gone to private Christian schools and have had to face similar discrimination from administration. In elementary school, I was being bullied for liking “girly” things. Instead of having teachers come to my aid, my principal said I needed to “toughen up.” (As many LGBT people know this is a common response from Christian leaders on how to masculinize your possibly queer child.)

At my private Christian high school, I finally understood my sexuality. I understood that sexuality wasn’t binary. My innate romantic and sexual attractions were affirmed when I first read the word “bisexual.” Naively, I came out to anyone that asked — and even to some who didn’t ask. I was elated to finally come into my own and understand who I was.

Unfortunately, my academy wasn’t as thrilled and gave me the option of withdrawing or being expelled due to issues concerning my sexuality. (When you pay 12k a year for private education you get the benefit of having “withdrawal” on your transcripts instead of “expulsion.”)

I was devastated. Ten years after the fact, I still am. It’s one of the reasons that I haven’t written about this publicly until now. Yet, there are many LGBT youth who face situations like mine and Wallis’. And these cases can be complex.

Both my former Academy and Lutheran High North are private institutions and can discontinue a student’s enrollment for the smallest of things – as long as it’s vaguely in their student handbook. And “homosexuality” is most definitely in those handbooks.

Principal of Lutheran High North, Dallas Lusk, responded to the media frenzy surrounding this story saying, “Lutheran High North welcomes all students and their families to the LHN community. We profess and proclaim our Christian beliefs with the foundations and authority taught in the Bible, all within the teachings of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod,” Lusk told the Texas Observer. “We respectfully require students to adhere to these accepted values and moral beliefs. Sometimes, as in this case, students have to make choices and decide whether their beliefs align with our community and we respect their choices.”

Again, the school has every right to enforce their stated code of conduct. In this case, Lusk is points to the “morals clause” which states: “Lutheran High North reserves the right, within its sole discretion, to refuse admission of an applicant and/or to discontinue enrollment of a current student participating in, promoting, supporting or condoning: pornography, sexual immorality, homosexual activity or bisexual activity; or displaying an inability or resistance to support the qualities and characteristics required of a Biblically based and Christ-like lifestyle.” [emphasis added]

Private Christian schools – especially those of first and secondary education – have legal leeway to discriminate according to their religious beliefs. Unlike Christian Universities, who have accreditation and federal funding to worry about, private Christian high schools don’t have the same restrictions.

Still, I have some issues with how this discrimination is being handed out. For example, what exactly is “homosexual behavior”?

It’s a term that is used often but has various definitions depending on who you ask. I’m going to go on a limb here and assume it means same-sex sex. So unless Wallis and his boyfriend put a sex tape on his YouTube channel (I can ease your worries now — he didn’t) how is being an out gay person “homosexual behavior”?

Should out (and proud) LGBT youth be allowed to enroll at private Christian schools? If the “sin” according to the majority of non-affirming denominations is same-sex sex, what is wrong with having out LGBT students?

If it’s the fact Wallis is in a same-sex relationship – should the school enforce a no dating policy for all students if they assume dating will inevitably lead to sexual relations?

These questions point to the blatant double standard and the sexualization of LGBT identities in religious communities. These questions go unanswered in our churches and our religious schools are having to answer them before the church does.

Except most don’t answer them.

Instead they resolve LGBT situations by scapegoating their LGBT students and dismissing them. Situations like Wallis’ and mine are grave miscarriages of justice.

Wallis and I aren’t the only ones. I’ve met with dozens upon dozens of LGBT students who were unfairly let go due to our sexual or gender identities. Our religious schools are grossly unprepared to engage with LGBT students.

Lutheran High North says they welcome all students. But a welcome with caveats that deny the existence of LGBT students is not a welcome.

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