Alumni: “Worst Treatment” for Being LGBTQ+ Was at St. Thomas More Catholic School

Ellis Clay

LGBTQ+ alumni of a Catholic school in the Diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana have continued their efforts to stop a new diocesan new anti-transgender policy from being implemented at the school.

“We Demand More” is an advocacy group of alumni that has gathered over 100 testimonies from former students about their experiences being LGBTQ+ at St. Thomas More (STM) Catholic High School. As an organization, We Demand More’s goal is to repeal the recently initiated policy. However, their efforts to engage in open dialogue with the school have been rejected. Ellis Clay, a former student and founder of We Demand More, stated, per The Current LA:

“‘It’s really concerning that STM is not providing a public or a private response, especially for those current queer students there. There are steps STM can take to change their culture right now that they’re not willing to do. If we can have an open dialogue with them in good faith, we can make those changes together.”

Clay recounted that during his time at the school he was ostracized due to his sexual orientation. He decided to use storytelling as an empowering tool for change. He created a group chat with members from his graduating class and called them to band together. We Demand More began receiving traction on social media, and alumni dating as far back as 1993 came forward to recount their tales of discrimination.

Cait Marshall (they/them) is one of the many alumni who bravely stepped forward to speak up about their experiences. At just 16 years old, they felt like a target at their school, especially when teachers would have students stand on opposite sides of the classroom based on whether or not they supported topics such as gay marriage. Marshall would be on one side of the room with their classmates and teacher standing on the other. They remembered:

“‘Everyone in that class knew I was gay. Everyone in that class knew that I was being targeted…The worst treatment I received for being gay came from the ages of 14 to 18 years old — at STM.'”

Cait Marshall

“Morality Weeks” were a week-long series at the school that included a section on sexuality. Marshall recounted a time when a teacher made an example out of them by singling Marshall out and telling their classmates:

“’If I had a daughter who told me that she was a lesbian, I’d never forgive her, I would tell her to pray. I would tell her to repent and hope God saves her, but I could not accept her how she is. Gay people are damned to hell. And I don’t want to have a kid that is damned to hell.'”

Outcasting was not only orchestrated by the school’s faculty, but the general culture of the school. When reflecting on the dynamic of social groups at St. Thomas More, Marshall added:

“‘The culture was, if you were not a male athlete, you kind of just breezed under the radar for the most part, unless you were gay. Yeah. That was the one difference that you couldn’t just breeze.'”

Despite the social environment of the school suffocating the freedoms of LGBTQ+ students, Clay and Marshall found solace in their after-school activities. In the eyes of Marshall, softball coaches were some of the only faculty members that sought to protect students marginalized due to their sexual and/or gender identity. The camaraderie among the speech and debate team allowed Clay to feel comfortable as he excelled in the linguistic arts and made his way to represent his school at nationals. However, despite these relatively safe spaces, Clay and Marshall feared the repercussions of being the only potentially “out” students.

As a means of protecting themselves from any foreseeable harassment or judgment, Marshall laid out their daily routine in the locker room:

“‘I would get dressed facing my locker. And then I would sit down. I would kind of like, look around. I’d only like make eye contact. I’m talking and making eye contact because God forbid, somebody said that I was doing something inappropriate in the locker room. It was a fear. It was a fear. I was scared.'”

The STM’s negative impacts had a spiritual component, Clay testified. The Central LA reported:

“His relationship with faith fraying, Ellis [Clay] pushed forward with participating in Kairos, a two-day retreat for upperclassmen meant for students wishing to grow deeper in faith and in their relationship with God. Reconciling his spirituality with the rhetoric of STM’s faculty and staff proved difficult, but Ellis hasn’t given up.

“‘I could never confess being gay because I didn’t think it was wrong,’ Clay says of the Catholic practice of reconciliation. ‘Going to Kairos … it’s the thing you do, and I went. And I figured this was it for me and God. Now, my second year of college, I’m still trying to build a relationship with God, wanting to believe that is a possibility. That school f[**]ks you up, especially if you don’t agree.'”

The LGBTQ+ alumni and allies have received overwhelming support, and they have a strong social media presence.  From Instagram to TikTok, the personal memories of past students illuminate how long LBGTQ+ discrimination has prevailed at their former institution. Despite such accounts from past students, neither St. Thomas More nor the Diocese of Lafayette have made any statements regarding these testimonies. Both Clay and Marshall agreed the silence speaks volumes.

Anushah Sajwani (she/her), New Ways Ministry, November 8, 2022

3 replies
  1. Ruth Ayres
    Ruth Ayres says:

    What Ellis, Cait, and too many others have been subjected to by ignorant people cannot be tolerated. I know there are many wonderful, caring people in the Catholic church. Praying the hierarchy grows in wisdom and changes the official teaching of the church about sexuality.

    Reply
  2. John J Brennan
    John J Brennan says:

    I am in my 70’s and I can identify with the stories shared in this article. I always felt left out, made to feel inadequate, unworthy, somehow not equal to my peers. The Catholic school system of my day considered “difference” as an affront to God. I felt no humanity extended toward me.

    Reply
  3. John Russo
    John Russo says:

    This is so sad re: not getting support from a Catholic institution re: one’s homosexuality. Unfortunately, this seems to be par for the course as far as those who should know better and be more sympathetic to those of us gay students who felt like they didn’t belong. The Church only seems interested and focused on the Family unit and tells others to suppress their sexuality.

    Reply

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