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LGBTQ Students Need Support, Not a Policy That Expels Them

Karen Pence

The Immanuel Christian School, where the second lady teaches art, is harming young people with its anti-LGBTQ policies, writes GLAAD's Senior Director of the Media Institute, Ross Murray.

This week, we learned that Second Lady Karen Pence is teaching art at Immanuel Christian School in the Washington, D.C., area. It's a school that requires parents of students to sign a morality code that pledges that the student or family will not engage in behavior that the school deems "un-Christian" -- with this "un-Christian" behavior including identifying as LGBTQ or supporting our community.

As a Christian, and as a youth minister who founded the Naming Project, a youth ministry and summer camp for LGBTQ youth, I need to step back and examine what God might be saying about all of this. And there are a couple of verses from scripture that continue ringing in my head as I read this story and the reactions to it.

Of course, as a religious school, it has the legal right to expel any student who doesn't live up to its standards of conduct. However, I can't help but think of the words that Paul wrote to the Corinthian church: "'All things are lawful', but not all things are beneficial. 'All things are lawful', but not all things build up."

Sure, in the United States, we have guaranteed the freedom of religion and association. Mrs. Pence can teach at whatever exclusive, discriminatory school she wants, and the school can -- in a legal sense -- expel students and fire teachers who are LGBTQ.

But who does that benefit?

Certainly not the unemployed teacher. Certainly not the students who miss out on the education they provide. Even in Mrs. Pence's art classes, students are missing out on some of the greats of art history if they exclude LGBTQ people.

Jesus warned people about false prophets in Matthew 7, with wise words to measure policies like this one: "You will know them by their fruits."

Imagine the students attending Immanuel Christian, entering adolescence and discovering that their sexual orientation or gender identity doesn't match what society and their closed community have been telling them their whole life.

Adolescence is a vulnerable time, when youth are discovering who they are and how they relate to God and the rest of the world. It is exactly when they should be able to ask questions, explore their identity, and see what fits in the world and what doesn't fit.

Who is a safe person young students can talk to about faith and identity? Teachers and guidance counselors are to be feared to report and expel them. Parents from within the school community are probably also incredibly scary for LGBTQ youth. Even friends are suspect.

The fruit of Immanuel Christian School's policy of isolation and expulsion for LGBTQ young people is further isolation and harm to them.

That's not good fruit.

Unlike Immanuel Christian School, programs like the Naming Project create safe spaces where young people can talk about their lives and their experiences.

They can ask hard questions about the world and the Bible. They can see adult role models of healthy, faithful, and beautifully flawed living. They can grow up with an integrated sense of self so that they can meaningfully engage the world God has placed us in.

Mrs. Pence does not need to elevate the status of an institution that is causing harm to young people. Instead, she needs to ask herself what God is calling her to do about those who are isolated and living on the margins.

And, even if it is legal, realize that God does not call her to uphold policies that only bear bad fruit.

ROSS MURRAY holds a BA in youth and family ministry from Augsburg College and an MA in outreach and discipleship from Luther Seminary and is a consecrated deacon in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. He has worked with youth and families in rural parishes, camps, multicultural urban congregations, and college campuses, and has presented models of youth and family ministry all over the country.

Murray is responsible for communication, fundraising, and development of the programs of the Naming Project, a Christian ministry serving youth of all sexual and gender identities. Murray is especially interested in helping youth cultivate a holistic identity that includes sexuality and spirituality.

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