Queering Episcopal High: The Fallout
Two days ago, I reprinted an e-mail that had gone out to students and others about a week of gay rights education and pep rallies at Episcopal High School of Baton Rouge. Apparently this caused a stir. The head of school subsequently sent this out to parents this afternoon:
Dear Parents of Upper School Students,
After several years of noting the National Day of Silence (“NDOS”) on campus without controversy in the Upper School, this year’s observation has been far from controversy free. This letter contains my explanation of the circumstances. This letter also contains my apology for the misunderstanding surrounding NDOS events, creating concerns and questions that could have been avoided, with more thought and clarity. I hope the conclusion to this letter is reassuring to you.
Several years ago, I instituted the observance on Episcopal’s campus of the National Day of Silence (NDOS) to allow Upper School students, faculty and staff to use their silence for the non-class portions of one day to express their concerns over the discrimination and danger in the world experienced by members of the LGBTQ community. The NDOS was defined clearly as a voluntary activity. Generally, the observance was led by interested students and supervised by the Dean of Students.
Until this year, NDOS observance had been limited to a single day. This year, an expansion of the observance was approved to include an opportunity for discussion about the academic aspects of discrimination for those interested in [name redacted]’s analysis. And, a student wanted to speak in Chapel about what it has meant to stand in alliance with the LGBTQ community as an ally (the term for a supportive straight person).
The main communication of the schedule of events this year consisted of a message written by one of the student leaders in this area, which was forwarded by the Dean of Students to all Upper School students and All Faculty, and Staff at Episcopal. The description of the approved event involving the academic analysis of discrimination by [name redacted] was misleading. Most of the comments I have received have focused on that description, noting that it looked to some as a vehicle for encouraging adoption of an LGBTQ lifestyle. We are not and will not do that. I can assure you with my personal word that neither [name redacted] nor I had any intention whatsoever of adding any sort of “sex education” or exploration of human sexuality to the National Day of Silence. Her offering was to give an academic reflection on the topic of discrimination in general.
It has been pointed out, too, that this year is different in the cumulative attention paid on campus to LGBTQ issues in the Upper School. As I have reflected on this observation, I think it is true. We have had, this year, very active leadership from a significant number of students concerned about LGBTQ issues. The vast majority of these students are not from within the LGBTQ community, but are “allies.” Noting the high suicide rate among LGBTQ students today in America, many Upper School faculty members have clearly labeled their classrooms as “safe,” meaning that insulting language, harassment and bullying will not be tolerated. Such labeling is a recommended practice to head off unsafe practices and suicides. I am in favor of designating safe classrooms. Just a few weeks ago, a few Honors Thesis presentations touched on topics related to the robust LGBTQ discrimination now fully reported across the country. I have been asked things like “Why so much?” and “Why ‘in the face’ of students so much?” For me, looking back, those are fair questions. While the debate could continue on whether the efforts were too much in a cumulative sense, I know that each of the actions—nearly all of which were student driven— were taken with the purest intent of making our campus a safer place for all students.
My Apology and Undertakings
I apologize for creating a situation that caused anxiety, concern, and questioning in some Episcopal families. I apologize, more specifically, for our faults in communicating, in general, and our lack of communication to parents about this issue.
Additionally, going forward I will pay close attention to the professionalism and proportionality in our community of our messages. I am convinced that a significant portion of the controversies raised this year were avoided in prior years (and can be avoided in the future) by tying activities more closely to our internal situations, without ignoring what is going on in the world around us.
We came through the Flood of 2016 by telling each other the truth about the flood damage, by communicating openly about each step of the recovery, and with faith in each other. That’s how this year started. I am working now to get back on those tracks that produced so much good for this community by admitting, telling the truth (as I see it), by communicating openly, and with faith in the Episcopal community of 2017.
Some of you have probably recalled while reading this the letter I sent to the community after the elections in November. In that letter I assured you that Episcopal’s Mission & Ministry and the teachings of Jesus and the Episcopal Church will be the foundational places where we look to set our course. We are not—and will not become—a school defined by the “liberal-conservative” debate raging in the country these days, just as we do not change our stripes after one party goes out of power and another comes in. I represent to you that Episcopal is filled with dedicated professionals who, while not agreeing on a lot of things, are all together on being dedicated to putting first and foremost the education and development of students entrusted to us. That dedication is written large on the 16-17 school year in so, so many ways.
The Episcopal School of Baton Rouge is a diverse community, located in a diverse city found in an even more diverse country and, as we learn more every day, an ever increasingly diverse (and more connected) world. Living effective and rewarding lives for almost all of us requires adjusting to this diversity. We must learn to communicate amid the diversity, to build a community devoid of hate, irrationality or dismissive labeling. I will be working hard to ensure the year that started with this community coming together to recover from the flood of 2016 ends unified and well, with momentum.
Head of School
Well. A few questions:
- Prior to certain faculty members at this prep school declaring their classrooms “safe,” did students (gay or otherwise) really have to worry about insulting language, harassment, and bullying being tolerated in classrooms there? If so, why did it take a special designation like this to stop the insults, harassment, and bullying? Is it the policy of Episcopal High teachers who do not formally advertise their classrooms as “safe” to tolerate these things? Really? Or is this a rationalization for something that would have been harder to implement had the administration been straightforward about it?
- “Such labeling is a recommended practice to head off unsafe practices and suicides.” This is
Grade A backside coveringadministrative-therapeutic cant.
- It is striking to learn from this missive that the school had been keeping this pro-gay campaigning more or less out of the sight of parents — parents who spend $16,000 per year to send their kids to a Christian school.
- I’m trying to translate this:
“Additionally, going forward I will pay close attention to the professionalism and proportionality in our community of our messages. I am convinced that a significant portion of the controversies raised this year were avoided in prior years (and can be avoided in the future) by tying activities more closely to our internal situations, without ignoring what is going on in the world around us.”
I think it means, “In the future, we’re going to be a lot craftier more low-key about pushing this stuff.” But I’m not sure.
Interesting to observe how this kind of thing happens: the school administration allows the students to take gay activism and run with it, but keeps the parents largely in the dark about this part of their children’s education and formation. If you’re going to embrace LGBT activism and make it a normal part of the school experience, then there is no reason to hide it from parents or downplay it.
By the way, Episcopal High students who keep trying to comment on this blog: you will stand a better chance of having your comments approved if you don’t resort to profanity and personal insults. One would like to think that you are being taught better than that.
UPDATE: A reader who is an Episcopal High parent and who asked to be anonymous writes:
Parents are very upset. All the parents I know support the rights of LGBT students. Gay students are widely accepted among their peers and active with the other non gay students, as they should be at our school. I’ve never heard a problem.
Bottom line: Straight or gay sexuality should not be a part of our children’s education. What is troubling is the deceitful way the school is pushing an agenda it has crept slowly into this school. Parents who never speak up are furious.
Good. Parents should be upset. I completely agree with this reader about how gay students should not be marginalized, bullied, or anything like it at this or any school. But it sounds like EHS has fallen for the standard LGBT activist line: that if the school does not actively educate kids out of their “bigotries” about human sexuality (that is to say, destroy their Christian orthodoxy on sex), then CHILDREN WILL DIE! It’s transparently manipulative cant, and the Head of School’s letter to parents indicates that EHS has fallen for it.
The thing is, if a school is going to embrace this path, then it should own it. It should tell parents about it — especially if it is a Christian school. Episcopalians are pretty liberal nationally, but it’s not necessarily the case here in south Louisiana. Whether or not EHS should be promoting gay activism is something worth arguing over. But to me, it’s a no-brainer that when you welcome this sort of thing into the school community, you keep parents in the loop, and make them part of the process. I don’t blame those parents one bit for feeling deceived.
UPDATE.2: An EHS parent writes:
You see exactly what’s going on down here. If our kids don’t wave the banner, they are made to feel like they are homophobic and unworthy. Thank you for getting the real message out.
UPDATE.3: Report from chapel service today:
The chapel today had a senior girl speak about these issues. She was given a standing ovation. Administration is all about applying the pressure on the students not to be seen as misogynistic, homophobic, racists. They are using the chapel to present their issues. For children who would not question the teachings in a place of worship. This was the wrong venue. We have an auditorium for social issues.
I do not doubt that there are many of our faculty that are directing the students to write these emails. I can assure you that this is not the majority of our school. Not by far.
UPDATE.4: I’ve just heard a recording of the talk the LGBT “ally” — a heterosexual teenager — gave in the EHS chapel service today. It was part of the liturgy, coming after the Gospel reading, and was followed by the Our Father, and the rest of the service. In other words, it took the place of the sermon.
The talk was very mild and peppy. She talked about her mom’s good gay friend, and how she loves and respects him, and wants to support him and people like him. She went on for a while about how everybody deserves love and respect. It was really no more reflective than that, and it was also the kind of thing that nobody could have objected to. She received a standing ovation.
What was missing, though, was any attempt to talk about this in a Christian context — or any kind of theological context at all. It was all an exhortation to Be Nice. This was presented during the sermon portion of the chapel service. It was pure Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, which is fine if you like that sort of thing, but let’s not confuse it with orthodox Christianity. What some EHS parents seem to be angry about is that their kids have been catechized in this progressive way at their Christian school, with parents kept in the dark.
UPDATE.5: I just posted this in the comments:
I’d like to issue a challenge to Episcopal High students who have commented here. You surely ought to recognize that dismissing people who challenge your worldview as haters in no way responds meaningfully to the challenge. Why don’t you instead explain why you believe the things you do as a Christian — and why you reject the traditional, Biblical teachings on homosexuality (and, I would imagine, sexuality itself)? How did you arrive at these conclusions, and how would you defend them? Saying, “You’re just a hater!” is very weak sauce. Most of the world’s Anglicans — especially African ones — strongly disagree with you on the homosexuality issue. Are they wrong? Was St. Paul? What makes the experience of high-school-aged upper middle class Americans in the 21st century more authoritative than Scripture and/or Tradition? Why are you right and your fellow Anglicans wrong?
I’m not trolling you. I’m interested to hear your answers.