A cloud has been hanging over Catholic schools in the U.S. these past few weeks, when some students from Covington Catholic High School, Kentucky, became involved in an interracial dispute near the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. Intense media scrutiny became focused on the students and what level of responsibility they should bear in this incident. LGBTQ issues have not emerged as a facet in any of the stories, but as Catholic Schools Week is celebrated this week, there is an positive and instructive story from the Diocese of Covington, too.
As we have pointed out on Bondings 2.0 many times, Catholic schools have been places of great progress and great shame concerning LGBTQ issues. (Just check out our blog categories on “Schools and Youth” and“Campus Chronicles” to read our many posts on Catholic education.) While people continue to explore how much impact the Covington Catholic High School had on their students’ recent public behavior, I’d like to point out a testimony from an alumnus of one of the diocese’s other Catholic high schools, who praises how his education taught him respect for LGBTQ people.
The New York Times recently asked online readers to send them stories and remembrances of their Christian education experiences. The newspaper posted brief excerpts from a variety of types of experiences from a variety of denominations. This Catholic story about LGBTQ issues caught my eye:
“I am an alumnus of the Diocese of Covington school system in Kentucky. One time at Bishop Brossart High School, I said some things that were derogatory toward the L.G.B.T.Q. community. I really didn’t mean what I said, yet I was wrong and paid the price. I ended up getting detention and was scolded for the way I acted. I learned a valuable lesson for the first time that your words hold meaning no matter if you meant them or not. Bishop Brossart taught me how to respect others and how to be open to seeing different viewpoints. While we are not all perfect human beings, with the right guidance and discipline, we can be transformed into good people.”
— Andrew Graus, 22, Lawrenceville, Ga.
The incident described is not a very dramatic one, but it obviously had an impact on this young man. As his testimony shows, the disciplining of him not only worked to shield LGBTQ people from denigrating remarks, but also taught the young man himself about the value of respect for differences. Something that often gets lost in the debate about LGBTQ issues in schools and education is the fact that promoting positive approaches to LGBTQ people not only helps members of that particular community, but it also helps to heal the fear and resentment that some heterosexual and cisgender people may experience. Fear and resentment of LGBTQ people are learned responses, and too often support they are supported and encouraged by the invisible, but powerful, force of an institution’s culture. It is a telling fact to recognize that one little intervention to oppose those messages of fear and resentment can have a strong effect at weakening the grip these hold on people.
Bishop Brossart High School is not Covington Catholic High School which is where the students involved in the recently reported interracial incident attend. The administration at Bishop Brossart has set an example for countering homophobic attitudes, which should be basic policies at all Catholic schools. We need to remember that those same policies about homophobic and transphobic comments need to also be applied to comments that are racist, anti-Semitic, sexist, and disparaging of any other group of people or individuals. The times we live in require zero tolerance for harmful language of all sorts.
For ideas on how to introduce LGBTQ policies, practices, and programs in Catholic Schools, check out New Ways Ministry’s “Back to School” page on our website.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, January 31, 2019