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Karen Pence's Anti-LGBTQ+ School Got $725,000 in COVID Relief Funds

Karen Pence

The anti-LGBTQ+ school where Karen Pence teaches received nearly $725,000 in federal funds under the Paycheck Protection Program.

Immanuel Christian School in Springfield, Va., got $724,900 through the program, according to the watchdog group Accountable.US, which reviewed information released by the Small Business Administration. The program, run by the SBA, was designed to help small businesses and nonprofits keep employees on payroll during the COVID-19 crisis. School officials said the PPP funds helped save 115 jobs.

Karen Pence, wife of Vice President Mike Pence, began teaching art part-time at the private school in January 2019; she had previously taught there for 12 years while he was a member of Congress. It requires staff, students, and parents to adhere to what it calls a “biblical worldview.”

This, according to a document on its website, includes a commitment to avoid “participating in, supporting, or condoning sexual immorality, homosexual activity or bi-sexual activity.” It also calls for an embrace of “biblical family values such as a healthy marriage between one man and one woman.” The school reserves the right to expel or refuse admission to students who violate this policy, or those who have a parent or guardian whose conduct runs counter to it.

Shortly after Karen Pence was hired by Immanuel Christian, alumni began speaking out about the pervasive anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment there. It was “a hotbed of right-wing fanaticism, shoved down the throats of impressionable children at every turn,” Ian Cronkhite, a gay man who attended the school from 1989 to 1997, wrote in a HuffPost column in January 2019.

He said he knew of no student expelled or staffer fired for their sexual orientation or gender identity, but that was because no LGBTQ+ student would come out and no LGBTQ+ person would seek employment there because of the overtly hostile atmosphere.

Both Mike Pence and Donald Trump defended the school and Karen Pence’s affiliation with it. The vice president decried “criticism of Christian education” (ignoring that not all Christian bodies are anti-LGBTQ+) and said that “media elites and Hollywood liberals … mock religious belief.” Trump praised Karen Pence for taking a job there.

Immanuel Christian isn’t the first anti-LGBTQ+ entity to receive PPP funds. Information made public during the summer showed that the American Family Association and Concerned Women for America, both virulently homophobic and transphobic groups, received money under the program. So did the Roman Catholic Church, including the Archdiocese of New York, which is headed by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, one of the most outspokenly anti-LGBTQ+ members of the Catholic hierarchy in the U.S. PPP funds are technically loans, but they don’t have to be paid back if an employer shows it kept workers on payroll or rehired them quickly.

There is no law preventing PPP money from going to entities that engage in anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination, but some people are saying that if the funding isn’t illegal, it’s certainly inappropriate.

“It is shameful that an institution that discriminates against LGBT Americans received nearly $1 million in taxpayer funds,” said a statement issued by Kyle Herrig, president of Accountable.US, the Washington Blade reports. “This money was meant to help mom and pop small businesses meet payroll and keep the lights on — instead the wealthy and well-connected cashed in.”

The Supreme Court ruling this summer in Bostock v. Clayton County, which found that sex discrimination, already banned by federal law, includes discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, doesn’t apply to federal programs such as PPP, Ian Thompson, legislative director for American Civil Liberties Union, told the Blade. The ruling addresses job discrimination only, he noted.

“The Equality Act would fix this gap in civil rights law by making it illegal to discriminate with federal funding based on sex [including sexual orientation and gender identity],” Thompson said. “When the Equality Act is the law of the land, recipients of federal funding would not be permitted to have policies that openly discriminate against LGBTQ people.” President-elect Joe Biden has promised to make passage of the Equality Act a priority of his administration.

However, refusing to employ or admit LGBTQ+ people could be a violation of the Bostock ruling, whether or not an entity receives PPP funds, Thompson added. But there would be a question of who has legal standing to sue the school and whether it would be entitled to a religious exemption from civil rights law, he said. A separate Supreme Court ruling this summer upheld religious exemptions in certain cases.

The Blade sought comment from the SBA and Immanuel Christian on the matter; the SBA declined comment, while school officials did not respond.

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