Above: Some who attended Mass at St. Francis of Assisi Church Monday wore Pride colors in support of the student.
Students at St. Francis of Assisi School, a Roman Catholic institution in Baltimore, are protesting after a schoolmate was forced to remove her LGBTQ+ Pride T-shirt in front of everyone at a church service.
The 12-year-old girl, a seventh-grader, wore a shirt with rainbow colors and a the message “Proud 365” Friday, Baltimore Brew reports. She had worn the shirt to school several times without incident. But at the end of Mass next door at St. Francis of Assisi Church that day, her homeroom teacher, at the direction of a priest, instructed her to take the shirt off while other students witnessed.
Afterward, the girl, whose name was not disclosed, was summoned to the principal’s office. Principal Karmen Collins told her the shirt violated the school’s dress code. “She said it was because it was a Catholic school,” the student told Baltimore Brew. “I thought it was a poor excuse.” The girl’s mother is gay, according to the publication.
In response, many of her schoolmates and their parents came to Mass Monday wearing rainbow-colored COVID masks, and some also wore T-shirts with the message “I Am a Child of God” printed in rainbow hues.
“I think it was really awful what happened. The way they asked her to take it off was really embarrassing,” seventh-grader Liam Hines told Baltimore Brew. “It was like asking her to take off a piece of her family. We can’t let this slide. It was really cruel.”
“I’m very proud of these kids,” added his father, Sean Hines, who wore a Pride mask.
The Archdiocese of Baltimore has defended the action against the girl. “The attire contained imagery and language with a message that could be determined to oppose teachings of the Catholic Church,” archdiocese spokesman Christian Kendzierski said in an email to Baltimore Brew. “St. Francis of Assisi is a Catholic parish and school that upholds the tenets and teachings of the Catholic faith.” The faith considers homosexuality a sin and gender fixed at birth.
He also said it was the school administration, not the priest, Father John J. Lombardi, who directed the student to remove the shirt, although several eyewitnesses said the request came from Lombardi.
Some speakers at Monday’s Mass offered messages of LGBTQ+ inclusion. Veteran religious education coordinator Lauren Voos, who introduced the confirmation class, wore a rainbow mask and stated, “All are welcome” and “My heart is full of pride.”
Lector Beatrice Messaris — a lector reads scripture and offers prayers at services — asked members to pray “for marginalized orientations and gender identities,” and the congregation’s response of “Lord, hear our prayer” was louder than usual, according to Baltimore Brew.
Some members told the publication the parish, which has touted its commitment to social justice, has become less welcoming since Lombardi became pastor in July. “As a queer woman, I never felt endangered before here, but I have felt in danger recently,” said Amelia Voos, Lauren Voos’s daughter, who has been a youth coordinator for the church for three years. Both she and her mother have resigned from their positions.
Lombardi declined to discuss the incident with a Baltimore Brew reporter Monday. “I’m going to remain peaceful today,” he said.
The mother of the student who was disciplined said she has complained to the archdiocese. “I hope it results in diversity and inclusion training for the staff and the church,” she said. “And an apology would be nice.”