opinion

Roncalli High School should support LGBT students



On Aug. 12, 2018, Roncalli High School in Indianapolis placed a guidance counselor on administrative leave for marrying her same-sex partner in 2014. The decision was met with lots of negative feedback, although nothing in Indiana law protects individuals on the basis of same-sex discrimination. 

In response to this action, many students began to wear rainbows to support the counselor. That is, until Aug. 29, 2018. The IndyStar reported that students claimed the principal announced they were no longer allowed to wear rainbow or pride items nor hang up any pride-related posters. 

Though the principal said he never banned rainbow items, just “Pride Day” posters, many students heard an anti-pride message loud and clear. Yes, Roncalli is a private Catholic school, and private schools can have stricter rules than public schools, but even private schools need to support their students. LGBT students are no different. They deserve to be welcomed and supported in every school, regardless of whether it is private or public.

School is difficult for everybody, but LGBT students are already a very vulnerable population. They are twice as likely to commit suicide than heterosexual students. According to a survey by the Human Rights Campaign, only a quarter of LGBT students report feeling safe in school and only 5 percent report feeling as if the school faculty and staff support them. 

These are not conditions under which students can thrive. Mental health is extremely important and is often reflected in students’ grades. The higher rate of mental health issues among LGBT students puts them at even more of a disadvantage. 

When LGBT students have all of these odds stacked against them, it can be extremely difficult to concentrate in school. Students should feel accepted and supported in the place where they spend the vast majority of their time, not shunned and shamed. 

The principal said he never said students could not wear rainbow apparel, but what he officially said does not matter as much as how students perceived it.

If the students interpreted the principal’s announcement and took it as a ban of pride apparel, then that’s what matters. A principal who does not welcome and accept all of his students is failing. The students of Roncalli heard in the principal’s announcement that LGBT students and faculty do not deserve to be supported. Every LGBT student or faculty member at Roncalli High School, whether in the closet or out it, heard that they are not welcome in their own school. 

It is irrelevant that Roncalli is a Catholic school. Just because it is allowed to make stricter rules, does not make it right. Every student is worthy of a safe environment, not just those who follow the principal’s beliefs.

Proponents of the pride sign ban might say that if a student does not like it, they can just switch schools. This is, however, a gross oversimplification of the situation in which many LGBT youths find themselves.

High school students do not make their own decisions. Ultimately, they are at the mercy of their parents. While many parents are supportive of their children, 26 percent of LGBT youths say they are not accepted by their family, according to the Human Rights Campaign. The argument that students can simply switch schools begins to crumble when this information is taken into account.

To switch schools, these students would be forced to out themselves to give their parents a reason for the transfer. Many students, due to unsupportive parents, would be putting themselves in a dangerous situation. If their parents are not supportive of them, they now have an unsafe environment both at school and at home. 

Due to rejection by parents, LGBT youths comprise around 40 percent of the homeless youth population. To many students, becoming part of that statistic might be too much of a risk to just switch schools. Feeling unsafe and alone in school is surely preferable to feeling unsafe and alone on the streets, but neither is acceptable.

This is not unique to Roncalli High school. LGBT students need support at all Indiana schools, and just because a school is public does not make it automatically inclusive. According to the GLSEN National School Climate Survey, only 36.8 percent of students report that their school administration is is supportive of them. 

In the end, there is a huge difference between asking students to wear a uniform, as in many private schools, and prohibiting displays of solidarity with minority students. Students who already feel like they do not belong need the reassurance that their existence is not a burden and that they are valued members of the community. In a school that has already shown it does not support LGBT people, this display is even more important.

Going forward, we can not stand idly by as students and faculty are discriminated against in their own schools. 

Historical precedent shows taking action against these incidents of homophobia in schools is effective. In Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that employers cannot discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation after an instructor was denied employment for being gay. In East High Gay Straight Alliance v. Board of Education of Salt Lake City School District, students in Utah fought for their right to form a GSA organization and won.

These are only two small instances in a long, ongoing battle to ensure equal rights for LGBT citizens in the United States, but every step counts.

Shelley Fitzgerald, the counselor who was put on leave on account of her marriage, is speaking out about the issue as well. She is set to appear on The Ellen Show to share her story. Hopefully, her words will bring this issue to light in the national public and help garner support.

Regardless if a school is public or private, it is on the administration to be humane and make sure all students feel welcome, and until the Roncalli High School administration can show that they accept all of their students, the students need to be allowed to show acceptance themselves. 

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