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A Prom Canceled a Preschooler Expelled


"Don't ask, don't tell."

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

Proposition 8.

These are just a few of the examples of policies brought to light by the media in recent months that leave many Americans feeling like second-class citizens without the rights that their peers and colleagues take for granted. While every member of the LGBT community is affected by the outcome of these initiatives, most of us felt assured that today's youth would be safe -- at least for now -- from the repercussions of our nation's homophobic policies. This year, however, as our nation enters a new decade, we've watched young people -- as young as 4 years old -- be affected by the existence of homophobia in America.

This month, a preschooler at the Sacred Heart of Jesus catholic school in Boulder, Colo., was expelled from school and told he was not allowed to return for kindergarten because he is being raised by two mothers who identify as lesbians. Unsurprisingly and unfortunately, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput held up the school's expulsion, saying, "Sexual intimacy outside marriage is wrong... and marriage can only occur between a man and a woman." If the name Charles J. Chaput sounds familiar, it might be because he is the same "heroic Catholic" who told his congregation in 2004 that anyone who voted for John Kerry in the presidential election would be deemed a sinner and would have to confess before taking their next communion.

Today, Chaput says the "sinners" are two lesbian mothers, but the punishment falls on their child. The preschooler, not understanding the reason for this fate, was immediately forced to accept the loss of his friends, teachers, and community. He is now left without a plan for future education.

Archbishop Chaput spoke on behalf of the Sacred Heart of Jesus school, which is currently not allowing the preschooler to return next fall. He stated that "people with a different understanding of marriage and family life have other excellent options for education" and further argues that a child of two lesbian parents would be unnecessarily confused by a Catholic education considering he would be learning pure Catholic lessons at school and go home each day to an atmosphere of "sin" according to the Catholic religion.

Beyond the fact that Chaput's personal opinion of the child's experience is irrelevant to the situation, the question deserves to be asked if the archbishop plans to expel every student who has been brought up by a single mother, divorced parents, or -- to take it a step further -- parents who have sex for purposes other than procreation.

The Catholic church, after all, does not believe in divorce or fornicating before marriage or for any other purpose than to have children. If this young preschooler is forced to uproot his life because he is being raised by two women, I think we should urge the Catholic school to give the same treatment (or punishment) to children whose parents are also not following the hard and fast rules of the Catholic faith.

In Itawamba County in Mississippi, a school has canceled its prom due to the threat of one of its female students bringing her girlfriend. The school distributed a set of "prom rules" on February 5, 2010, which stated that dates attending prom must be members of the opposite sex. Eighteen-year-old Constance McMillen, who had planned to take her girlfriend to prom, protested the rule and took her case to the ACLU of Mississippi. Together, they filed a complaint with a U.S. district court stating that the school's prohibition of her and her girlfriend's attendance as a couple violated their First Amendment rights.

The school told McMillen, who is now famous for her appearances on various morning shows and her Facebook group, Let Constance Take Her Girlfriend to Prom!, that if she wore a tuxedo to her prom and danced at any moment with her girlfriend, the two would be asked to leave. Hearkening back to 1991's Beverly Hills, 90210, Brenda Walsh wore a tie on many occasions and to school more than once. I don't recall this being a controversial issue. I also would bet that not a prom exists in America today where girls cannot be found dancing together, whether it is romantic or completely platonic. The fact of the matter is that if another student -- a straight student -- was wearing a tuxedo (perhaps in couture fashion) and dancing with her friends, neither the school nor the archdiocese would raise an eyebrow. But for Constance McMillen, an openly gay student, such actions were grounds for dismissal from the prom altogether. Members of the student and parent body quickly took sides and controversy ensued. The school, stating "distractions to the educational process caused by recent events" as its reasoning, canceled the prom altogether.

While the LGBT community reacted in anger and confusion, calling the school's decision unconstitutional, the archdiocese and Catholic community held up the school's decisions. Karen Scherer, a parent of two children at the Mississippi school, commented, "I'm proud to say that I'm raising my two youngest children here. I was appalled to see that a situation like this would occur, right in my neighborhood, so I felt like it was necessary for me to be involved." Getting involved, for Scherer, means protesting, along with countless other parents, against McMillen and her right to bring her girlfriend to the prom.

The clearest and perhaps most legitimate argument on the church's side for both situations is that a private school, whether it be Catholic or not, has the right to make decisions about its student body in any way it wishes. If a Catholic school deems a child unfit for its student body because he is raised by two women -- or if another school deems an 18-year-old unfit for prom because of her sexual orientation -- regardless of how discriminatory or revolting we may find it, its decisions and policies are completely legal and within the school board's jurisdiction. Some interesting parallels, however, arise from such an argument.

Imagine the backlash if a private school made the decision not to allow blacks or Jews into a prom -- or if a school expelled a child because he was raised by a black mother who had recently divorced his father. Further, what if a private firm like Goldman Sachs or MTV decided that they would no longer employ women? It is hardly feasible that such transgressions would ever be allowed to occur. Such discrimination only seems more obvious to us because the women's rights and civil rights fights are further along than the fight for equality among all sexual orientations.

Our nation's youth are the future leaders of this country. Our job is to give them the confidence and strength to be fair leaders who will represent our nation and its core values, which include, most strikingly, equality for all. It is crucial to ask, then, if uprooting a child from his community based on his parents' relationship or telling a teenager that her feelings are illegitimate and inferior to those of her classmates -- and consequently segregating and barring her from a school event -- is worth it just so the Catholic church can flex its muscle and prove its power.

In December 2009, Washington D.C. passed a bill to approve same-sex marriages. In turn, Catholic Charities, an organization that serves 68,000 people by providing services that range from shelter to nutrition to immigration and health care assistance, decided to terminate its foster care program out of fear that children could be placed in the homes of gay couples who were legally married. It is a stunning concept that this "moral" definition of marriage is more important than finding a child a stable family. Yet, just in the past couple of months, in Mississippi, Colorado, Washington D.C., and all over the country, the Catholic church is choosing the strict adherence of its antigay policies over the fair and equal treatment of America's children. What kind of example are we setting here?

There is no doubt that the Catholic church is under fire in this country. It will only be a matter of time until same-sex marriage is legal in all states and each company and school will have a sexual orientation nondiscrimination clause. The church is scared and these small battles are its way of gasping for air.

That said, perhaps someone should remind the archdiocese and the Catholic community of Itawamba County of a chapter in their own book of faith: Matthew 19:14. It reads: "Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."

If Constance McMillen and a preschooler in Boulder are good enough for the kingdom of heaven, I assume they are good enough to get a fair and equal chance at an education.

In 2001, nearly a decade ago, I took my girlfriend Sarah to prom. We were awarded prom queens -- together. At the age of 17, our high school, the Brearley School in New York City, gave me the confidence and support to be myself. Today, Brearley remains one of the most respected high schools in the country, and I think everyone who went to that prom turned out just fine.

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