LGBTQ and allied alumni of Immanuel Christian School, the homophobic private school where Karen Pence is teaching, are speaking out and confirming that the school is just as bad as one would imagine.
“As an alumnus of Immanuel Christian School, I am a living example that intolerance, both in policy and rhetoric, are harmful to the mental wellness and development of LGBTQ students, who are desperately looking for ways to fit in,” gay man Luke Hartman said in a statement released through the Trevor Project. “The silent and spoken messages of rejection that are constantly felt by LGBTQ students directly impact the relationship they have with their faith, education, and relationships with family and friends — ultimately resulting in a feeling of being less than when compared to their straight and cisgender peers.”
“Eventually, in middle school, discussions would touch on sexuality,” gay alum Ian Cronkhite wrote in a HuffPost column. “Obviously, homosexuality was evil. They didn’t talk about this a whole lot; it was best not to dwell on it, but the unfortunate topic had to be broached. What was shocking, even to me then, was the vitriol. These were Christians and generally very kind people. Evangelicals have a way of talking about sexual minorities in public. They use the word ‘love’ a lot and talk softly of hating the sin. When they’re among themselves, they tend to be more candid. Needless to say, it was made very clear to me, and to all of us, that there was nothing worse than being gay. They were disgusting perverts who hated Christians and had a nefarious agenda to dismantle society.”
The private K-8 school, located in Springfield, Va., near Washington, D.C., requires staff in their employment contract to confirm they are born-again Christians who will live by a certain set of evangelical principles. Examples of “moral misconduct” in which staff must not engage include “homosexual or lesbian sexual activity,” “transgender identity,” and “any other violation of the unique roles of male and female.” They are also asked to affirm that marriage is solely a male-female union.
Karen Pence, the wife of Vice President Mike Pence, recently took a part-time job teaching art at the school. She had previously taught there for 12 years while her husband was a member of Congress.
Tony Perkins, president of the anti-LGBTQ Family Research Council, has called criticism of the school an effort by the “totalitarian Left” to “isolate faith.” Mike Pence has objected to denunciations of the school as well, saying, “This criticism of Christian education in America should stop” in an interview with Catholic-oriented cable network EWTN. He added, “To see major news organizations attacking Christian education is deeply offensive to us.”
Cronkhite responded by writing, “Let’s be clear, nobody is arguing that private, religious schools can’t exist or can’t legally discriminate. It’s a clear First Amendment right. And what I was hearing was merely criticism, or in most cases matter-of-fact reporting, of the school’s policies.”
Cronkhite, who attended Immanuel Christian from 1989 to 1997, said he didn’t recall any student being expelled from the school for being LGBTQ, as none would dare to come out. He also knew of no staff member being turned away, as it was clear LGBTQ employees weren’t welcome. But the school’s homophobia and transphobia sent a chilling message to students, he wrote.
Doreen Duggan, a friend of Luke Hartman’s who attended the school, told Refinery29 she would never send her children there. “It worries me for the kids who might be questioning whether they're LGBTQ,” the mother of two said. “Their parents might not know they're putting their kids in a place that will cause damage. That age range, K through 8, is so pivotal for a child in terms of learning who they are. It has another complex layer when you’re raised in an environment of self-hatred, because you’re raised that what you are, who you are, is an abomination.”