With the school year beginning, new controversies have emerged around Catholic schools’ policies regarding LGBTQ students and community members. Today’s post features a Catholic school that denied re-enrollment to a transgender student. Tomorrow’s post will include information about two more schools’ trans-negative policies.
According to The Anchorage Press, Holy Rosary Academy in Anchorage, Alaska unenrolled student Morgan Smith. His parents say the decision is because Morgan came out as transgender earlier this year, while school officials cite different reasons.
Joe Joyner, Smith’s stepfather, explained that last April, they met with the school’s principal to discuss plans for Morgan to be out in the coming school year:
“[Joyner said:] ‘We weren’t pushing for anything that year — there were only 3 or 4 weeks left to the school year — we were just saying, hey, next year Morgan would like to present as a boy. We weren’t asking for use of boy bathrooms or anything like that, just a pronoun change and a uniform change.’
“The family left the meeting feeling confident everything would be cool, and as weeks went by they figured no news was good news.
“‘Through the summer we e-mailed them, tried calling, tried getting any sort of correspondence, but they were always pushing us off, saying somebody will call you back,’ Joyner said. ‘It was no response until basically we were like, OK, since you aren’t talking to us, Morgan will present as a boy and we’re getting boy uniforms — just be aware.’
“That silence ended once the Joyners received their 2021-2022 enrollment packet at the end of July that included additional pages promising adherence to the Nicene Creed of 325 A.D. [the creed recited at Catholic Mass] and extensive language that seemed to single out gender identity and sexual orientation.”
The closing of the enrollment contract includes a section titled “Statement on Marriage, Gender, and Sexuality,” which includes language that “one’s biological gender is established by God and cannot be changed” and that marriage is only for heterosexual couples.” The concluding line is an admonishment to employees and volunteers about their “special duty” to enforce these LGBTQ-negative views.
Joyner wondered if this language was directed at his child’s decision to come out. He explained:
“[Joyner] said [his wife] Tasha went to the online app to re-enroll both children for the coming year only to find they had been deleted from the rolls. After all, Joe supposes, if Morgan Smith is going to enroll as a male, rather than a female, then that may as well be a whole new human being made to re-apply as though he were a brand new enrollee. And since each student at Holy Rosary enrolls as a family, that meant Natalie was likely out of luck, too.
“‘He’s now a new student instead of somebody who’s been going there. We could sign this and turn it in and pay another $600 fee to the school to get both Morgan and Natalie in, but they already know about Morgan because we told them,’ Joe said. ‘Also, according to this contract, if they kick us out we’re still liable for the year’s tuition, which is about $10,000 per kid.”
In the end, the Joyners contacted the school and its new headmaster, Mark Newcomb, directly:
“Five days later, Newcomb wrote in an email to Tasha Joyner that Morgan could not be considered for re-application at the school because of an overtly rebellious social media post in which Morgan painted one arm red and one arm black with a pentagram on his left wrist, putting fingers from both into his mouth, face otherwise cropped, and because of Mrs. Joyner’s assertion that ‘demons are not real.'”
The Joyners were told by Newcomb that they and the school “do not have a functioning partnership with you for building up the Catholic culture of the school” and that “you will need to find other educational options for your children for next year, in a setting that better aligns with the values that you hold and espouse with respect to the occult and the diabolical.”
The Anchorage Press report opined that the social media post in dispute “gave the school a convenient reason to deny [Morgan’s] application, apart from the contentious social issue of gender identity and sexual orientation.” Smith is now a senior at another local high school where he is thriving. Holy Rosary administrators have refused to comment on the matter.
What makes this story even more tragic is that at Holy Rosary had found a reprieve from bullying he had received elsewhere. According to the news report, he ended up in Catholic school after persistent harassment in other elementary and middle schools, including having an anti-gay slur written on his forehand with which he had to return to class with it still inscribed. It continued:
“Overnight the bullying stopped things got better for Morgan at Holy Rosary — so much better that at the end of his junior year last spring, he decided to come out as transgender — hardly a surprise to anyone who knew him, but potentially a sticking point at a Catholic school where boys wear uniforms with pants and girls skirts.”
The church’s educational work strives not only to teach students academic material, but to form them into people who live authentically as Christ intended. Names, pronouns, and uniforms for students of any gender identity, but in particular for those who are trans or gender non-confirming should not be sticking points in Catholic schools. This story could have been about how one Catholic school helped a transgender student flourish, perhaps addressing a problematic social media post constructively along the way.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 31, 2021