Expelled teen’s parents threaten to kick him out

James Barnett, the 18-year-old senior forced to leave a Texas Christian high school last month, says his parents will eject him from their house if he tells his story on television.

BY Matthew Cardinale

January 10 2005 1:00 AM ET

A gay student who was expelled last month from Trinity Christian Academy High School in Dallas for hosting a Web site targeted to GLBT youth is now facing additional problems at home. In an exclusive interview, James Barnett said he may be kicked out of his house by his parents due to the media fallout from the incident.“My parents couldn’t believe it,” Barnett, 18, recalled in a recent telephone conversation. In an e-mail he added, “My parents have worked with me on keeping open My-Boi.com [his gay-support Web site], but my mom doesn’t like the fact that I’m gay and doesn’t approve of it.”Barnett has also had his hopes to attend college this fall dashed when his parents told him they were withholding financial assistance because of his sexual orientation—unless he stayed in Dallas and went to the University of Texas, presumably so they could keep tabs on him. Barnett wants to attend an out-of-state school such as Purdue University in Indiana, where he has already been accepted, or the University of Washington, where he recently also applied. [The Point Foundation, which supports GLBT college students who have need and leadership potential, announced January 10 that it would offer Barnett a special honorarium to guarantee him a choice of schools.—Ed.]The latest fight with Barnett’s parents occurred, he said, when he told them that ABC’s Good Morning America had contacted him twice in the past week about appearing on the show to share his recent ordeal. “[My parents] don’t want the press involved” in his life, Barnett explained, “and think it’s in my worst interest.” He added that his parents threatened to kick him out if he chose to appear on ABC.Barnett says he has enough part-time business income from his Web hosting service—pointblanc.net—that he will be able to afford basic apartment living expenses on his own. His company, PointBlanc, offers a number of Web services, including hosting the site that fueled controversy for Barnett at his Christian school, My-Boi.com, a site designed to allow GLBT youth to communicate with one another, especially if they live in a conservative environment or attend a conservative school.Good Morning America wouldn’t be the first media interview for Barnett, who remains undecided about ABC’s invitation. “There’s literally thousands of cases where this happens to other kids, but there hasn’t been much publicity for them,” he said. “Being on Good Morning America might change people’s views.”Barnett’s story first appeared on an Internet blog called NotGeniuses.com. Since then, his expulsion has been covered in The Dallas Morning News and in the gay and lesbian media. His case has also been discussed on conservative talk shows—a representative from the Human Rights Campaign, for example, defended Barnett on Fox News’s The O’Reilly Factor, Barnett says.None of this would have happened, Barnett said, if Trinity Christian Academy hadn’t violated his privacy rights by “outing” him to his parents in the course of expelling him from the school.When school administrators discovered that Barnett hosted a Web site for GLBT youth, Barnett said, he was at first advised to tell the school principal that he was “confused,” would take down the Web site, and would attend psychological counseling. Barnett said school officials specifically asked him not to tell his parents what he discussed with them.But when Barnett refused to back down, the academy decided to expel him and called his parents into the principal’s office to discuss his sexual orientation with them, without his consent.“That’s been a question for a lot of people,” Barnett said. “Because I’m 18 and an adult and should have the right to privacy.” Whether privacy rights can be enforced for students in private school settings remains unclear, however. The American Civil Liberties Union reportedly won’t get involved in Barnett’s case because Trinity Christian is a private organization.His parents were not aware of his sexual orientation prior to his being outed by his school, Barnett said. “My Web site, My-Boi.com, was hosted out of my house for six months and my parents never even saw it.”In an agreement worked out between Barnett’s parents and Trinity Christian, James was technically “withdrawn” from the academy by his father, to ensure that his academic record did not contain record of an expulsion.Nevertheless, it was expulsion in every sense of the word, Barnett said. “I’d been there since kindergarten,” he said. “This was my 13th year there. I was one year away from graduating and had been there so long. I had established relationships and had a life there.”The school later issued a statement, reported by The Dallas Morning News: “As a community of Christian families we also believe the Bible provides insight to help us discern God’s desire for our conduct.… Therefore we demand high Biblical standards of behavior from our students both academically and socially. Our families are asked to embrace these standards of conduct by signing a covenant with the school when students are admitted. Within this framework of Biblical standards and academic rigor, an atmosphere of enhanced learning, character development, and love are allowed to flourish.”Barnett said some people at Trinity knew he was gay and had been supportive. He realized he was attracted to other boys when he was in the eighth grade, and he came out to a few close friends and Trinity Christian administrators in the 11th grade. All were supportive, he said.But the overall atmosphere at Trinity Christian was not so welcoming. “Being in the middle of Dallas,” Barnett said, “all the kids at my school would use the word ‘fag’ or ‘queer’ and say, you know, ‘That’s so gay,’ even if it’s jokingly. We had a [former] Bible teacher who said homosexuals are going to hell.”Barnett is currently still living with his parents and trying to decide whether to go on ABC with his story. He plans to graduate high school in May; all his credits transferred from Trinity Christian except for fine arts and Bible classes, he said. "Public school is just as nice," he says. "The teachers pay just as much attention to you."But his trust will forever be shaken, he added. “What the school did—every constant in my life for 13 years was changed,” he said. “My trust in the school, and in people I’d known personally, was violated. And they didn’t even have the courtesy to tell me they were calling my parents?”

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