Journalist Details Challenges LGBTQ+ Students Face in Kentucky’s Catholic Schools

In Kentucky’s Catholic schools, LGBTQ+ students do not always have an easy time. One student recently described some of those challenges in detail for a website created by young people and students across the state.

Anna Sugg, a student at Sacred Heart Academy, Jefferson County, wrote a blog post about the struggles LGBTQ+ students have in “schools… that have a history of suppressing their identities.” Sugg, who is the editor-in-chief of her school’s newspaper and a member of the diversity club, wrote her essay for KSVT, a Kentucky website which describes itself as a site for “young people co-creating more just, democratic Kentucky schools and communities as research, policy and advocacy partners.”

In her article, Sugg recounted the stories of two queer students in Louisville Catholic high schools, who shared their experiences using pseudonyms: Charlie and Ben. One student is transgender and the other is gay and nonbinary. Sugg wrote that as these students became more aware of their identities, they encountered difficult environments at school and tension points with the Catholic church. She wrote:

“For both Charlie and Ben, becoming more open about their identities resulted in intense bullying from their peers. Ben recalls being young and his peers calling him gay behind his back because he mostly surrounded himself with female peers and behaved in a ‘feminine way.’ The bullying continued in high school, where both students say they currently encounter the use of derogatory language as well as slurs expressed directly to their face, and where they feel they can never quite escape their aggressors. Charlie told me he ‘never knows who to trust at school,’ and Ben added that they are insecure about their existence there: ‘Sometimes I feel like everyone is staring at me. I am constantly uncomfortable.'”

Sugg explained that Charlie and Ben are hardly alone in their experiences of harassment at school. More than 70% of queer students in the U.S. have been verbally harassed at school because of their sexuality, and over half of transgender students in Kentucky are unable to use the school restroom that aligns with their identity. Many queer and trans students are also prevented from using their chosen names and pronouns.

Sugg pointed out that the challenges queer and trans youth in Catholic schools face have been exacerbated by the wave of legislation targeting LGBTQ+ students across the country. Kentucky’s state government has introduced bills targeting LGBTQ+ topics in school curricula, sex education, and gender-affirming healthcare for trans youth.

“These bills threaten the safety and autonomy of students, most notably seen in [Kentucky] Senate Bill 150, which would, among other aspects, let teachers decide whether to use a student’s pronouns if they ‘do not conform to that student’s biological sex,’” Sugg wrote.

Students told Sugg they felt unsettled by the legislation. “Knowing that someone is out there who is against me feeling safe and comfortable in my school is really damaging for my queer identity,” one high schooler said.

Sugg reminded her readers that high school is meant to be a place for students to discover their identities and explore new ideas. Anything that prevents LGBTQ+ students from thriving runs counter to that goal, whether harmful homilies in a Catholic school’s Mass or legislation that affects what is in the curriculum.

“Because after all,” Sugg wrote, “high school should be about finding yourself, not hiding yourself.”

–Grace Doerfler (she/her), New Ways Ministry, May 8, 2023

1 reply
  1. Claire Jenkins
    Claire Jenkins says:

    What Grace describes is similar to what I spoke about in London UK a week ago. Schools may be dangerous places for trans children with increasing school refusal, bullying, physical abuse, homelessness, poor mental health and an increase risk of suicide.


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