Thursday, February 12, 2015

Revisiting teenager Austin Wallis' dispute with his Christian school

“I don't want to be somewhere where I can be kicked out for being gay and being open about it.”

Many of you probably recall the story of Austin Wallis. In this tearful February 1 YouTube video, Austin explains that his school (Lutheran High North in Houston) was requiring him to either closet himself or be expelled. The video has now garnered nearly 300,000 views with 2,600 comments on YouTube. Austin withdrew.

The irritant to school administrators was Austin's YouTube channel. The channel began in August of 2014 with Austin's coming out story. Since then the channel has been more playful than suggestive. School officials told Austin he had to take his YouTube channel down or be expelled because it promoted a lifestyle the school didn't support. According to the school's handbook in a section labeled Morals Clause:
Lutheran High North reserves the right, within its sole discretion, to refuse admission of an applicant and/or to discontinue enrollment of a current student participating in, promoting, supporting or condoning : pornography, sexual immorality, homosexual activity or bisexual activity; or displaying an inability or resistance to support the qualities and characteristics required of a Biblically based and Christ - like lifestyle.
The same handbook characterizes copying homework as a serious offense. So is having a visible tattoo.

This isn't simply a matter of parents and students choosing the wrong school. The kid figures out, or accepts, his sexuality during the summer between sophomore and junior years. Six months later, in the middle of the academic year, he has to come to terms with his homophobic school.

On February 9, I wrote about a study which concludes that LGBT teens who come out in high school fair better as adults. Austin chose YouTube as a way to come out. If the study is correct then the YouTube channel serves the best interests of the student well into the future.

Lutheran High North is a private school. They can require students to adhere to their religious principles. By focusing in on Austin's YouTube channel they were suggesting that his videos are “promoting, supporting or condoning … homosexuality.” Exactly how does one promote, support of condone a sexual orientation? Is this not predicated on the ignorant superstition that sexual orientation is a choice that can be influenced by others.

As a society we did not tolerate Bob Jones University's (perfectly lawful) policy that prohibited interracial dating which existed for 30 years1 and only ended in 2000. Eight years later the university apologized. Why then do we tolerate school policies that discriminate against LGBT students? These are the kids who are most vulnerable and most in need of institutional support. Excuse me if I consider the principal of Lutheran High North guilty of child abuse.

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1 The policy only existed for 30 years because the school was only integrated for 30 years.

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