Lance Sanderson, a senior at Christian Brothers High School (CBHS) in Memphis, who had sought permission to bring a same-sex date to the school’s Homecoming Dance last weekend, not only was excluded from last weekend’s dance, but found himself suspended by school officials when he arrived for classes on Monday.
Sanderson’s explained his request in a Change.org petition which has gained nearly 25,000 signatures:
“I just want to bring a date of my choice to homecoming like the rest of my friends and classmates. I’m not asking for special treatment. I’m just asking for respect, and the chance to make my last homecoming a truly memorable experience.”
A CBHS teacher told him last spring that the school “doesn’t discriminate” and the decision ultimately is the principal’s, Sanderson reported. When school resumed in September:
“One administrator told me that even though some people interpreted Pope Francis’s teachings on the issue as meaning they should support same-sex couples, these people are, ‘not the authority to which Christian Brothers High School is accountable.’ And now my school is making daily announcements across the whole school, saying that students can’t bring same-sex dates from other schools.”
Another administrator mentioned a gay couple he knew, saying Sanderson was “a lot like this one person” but that “the guy’s boyfriend murdered him” in an event the student understates as “a little rough.”
The daily announcement mentioned above is a new policy implemented in response to Sanderson’s request, reported The New Civil Rights Movement. It allows female dates from other schools, but “for logistical reasons” bars male dates.
Sadly, CBHS officials believe that seeking equality warrants a week long suspension for Sanderson. Called to the office when he arrived, Sanderson was told that the administration “had 890 other students to worry about” and did not “appreciate the unwanted publicity,” reported NewNowNext.
CBHS officials are defending their actions in a statement that claims outreach to gay students was a goal for the school year and that the community was “a kinder and gentler school. . .not homophobic.” Several steps, including training for teachers and appointing a gay alum to the board, are listed as evidence.
Having been out at CBHS since he was a freshman, this is not the first time Sanderson has faced harassment or discrimination. One time a classmate “kept referring to one of the main characters [in a movie the class was watching] as a ‘fag’ at least 17 times.”. However, receiving punitive sanctioning from the administration is new. Sanderson, still excluded from receiving his education this week, wrote a letter to school officials that said, in part:
“I am hurt by this exclusion. It goes against the Lasallian value of brotherhood that the school is supposed to stand for. You won’t let me dance with my date and you won’t let me go to class now either. I had hoped that today would be one for positive conversation going forward. Instead, I was sent home.
“I haven’t done anything wrong and haven’t hurt anybody. I want to be welcomed back to the school building today and I want this mean-spirited semi-suspension ended, so that I can do my classwork like anybody else.”
Thankfully, Sanderson is receiving growing support from the outside. Crowds at the Mid-South Pride Festival chanted “Let Lance dance!” over the weekend, including several gay CBHS alumni reported NewNowNext.
One gay alum, Mike Halford, is however defending the school’s actions, reported Fox 13. Halford claims the reasons behind the suspension are unclear and CBHS officials may simply choose to remain silent on these matters, though Halford is optimistic “eventually that part of the policy [on dance dates] will be changed.”
Administrators at Christian Brothers High School owe it to Lance, to the school community, and to Memphis Catholics to end that silence and be transparent about why they have pursued this course of action. There seems little reason other than punishment and intimidation why an otherwise good student like Lance Sanderson receives a week long suspension. Further, barring same-sex dates at Catholic school events is not the only option.
Other institutions, like McQuaid Jesuit High School in New York, have found ways of truly welcoming LGBT students when it comes to homecoming dances and proms. CBHS officials should apologize for the deep harm they have caused, welcome Sanderson back to classes immediately, and when prom comes in the spring, let Lance dance!
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry