A Catholic school has warned a student they may face disciplinary action after the student waved a Pride flag during an assembly.
High school senior Emma Houle, who uses they/them pronouns, was nominated homecoming princess at St. Francis High School in Sacramento. As a genderfluid queer person on the homecoming court, Houle campaigned to be the first openly LGBTQ homecoming queen. While they did not win, they pulled out the Pride flag during the rally and draped it over their shoulders.
In an interview with The Sacramento Bee, Houle shared their experience:
“My big campaign was that I would be the first openly queer princess at St. Francis. Since I got nominated as princess I told myself that if I won queen I was going to pull out my flag. I had told my other peers that got nominated with me that that was my plan. When my peer next to me won, she turned to me and told me to pull out my flag because she knew that was my plan and it was a very positive reaction from school. There was a lot of screaming. I’m in a group chat with some of the people I know and they said that they were crying because they felt so seen for the first time at Saint Francis.”
Days later, school administrators contacted Houle’s parents to discuss their “actions at the rally.” The administration claimed that Houle violated school policy and went against Catholic teaching, and so the school could take disciplinary action.
Katherine Smith, Houle’s mother, fully supports them and is concerned about what the disciplinary actions might be. She said:
“‘They want to empower young women to change the world, but then they say, “Well they are minors, they don’t have the power to decide right now (if they are gay)”. That’s a poor display of leadership to say minors can’t make decisions on their own about their beliefs and sexuality.'”
Houle took to Instagram, and posted an open letter to the school in which they shared how they and other queer students feel frustrated and hurt about how they are treated. Houle wrote:
“’I carry the weight of your shame and guilt. I don’t deserve to bear the consequences of your unwillingness to accept me. I don’t need or want your validation but somehow I still get stuck with your abashment. I don’t have control of who I am; I can only control how I carry myself and pride in my existence.'”
Previously at St. Francis, there has been controversy around student attempts to begin an LGBTQ group. An appeal for one by Houle and others was rejected by administrators, who said such a resource already existed in a ministry known as Inclusion 360. Houle said this ministry did not meet student needs because it “is not involved in the school press, we aren’t on the school website or magazines, or anything else. . .it makes the students feel hidden.'”
In a statement, the school said:
“We hear that we need to do a better job of making every student feel valued, supported and loved at St. Francis High School. We strive continually to live up to the example of love and acceptance shown by Jesus and by our patron saints, St. Francis and St. Claire. At the same time, we are a Catholic school that must abide by and uphold the teachings of the Catholic Church. This sometimes puts our mission at odds with what many want from us on this important social issue. Simply put, there are limits to what we can support or endorse while remaining in accord with the teachings of our Church. At this time, we believe we cannot establish an LGBTQ+ club on campus for this reason.”
Smith responded saying that “the school’s reasoning doesn’t make sense. There are religiously affiliated clubs for other faiths that don’t fall in line with Catholic teachings.” She told ABC 10, “You can still teach your message and support these girls at the exact same time.”
Houle believes a club does not break Catholic tenets or codes. They said:
“Catholic teaching isn’t necessarily to discriminate against the queer community. All we are asking for is equal treatment and love from St. Francis. We aren’t asking to get married at the church or St. Francis. We are just asking for equal opportunity.”
This is where the harm lies. LGBTQ students at Catholic schools are simply asking for recognition and respect of their dignity. Instead, they are met with threats of expulsion, suspension, or other disciplinary actions. The discrimination committed by Catholic schools not only harms the students, but it also harms the church because we lose rich, powerful, and beautiful voices that only LGBTQ youth can uniquely offer. If this treatment continues, our church will surely suffer.
—Elise Dubravec, New Ways Ministry, October 20, 2021