A religious school in Florida says it will refer to students only by their sex assigned at birth, while gay, transgender or gender nonconforming students “will be asked to leave the school immediately”.
NBC News obtained an email from Grace Christian School in Valrico, about 20 miles east of Tampa, sent before the start of the school year by administrator Barry McKeen.
The subject line of the email reads, “Important point of emphasis on school policy. … Please read.”
The June 6 correspondence to parents quoted scripture and said students would be designated by “sex on their birth certificates” during the school year beginning this month. While the email refers to “biological gender,” the National Institute of Health defines “gender” as a social construct, as opposed to “sex,” which is the biological difference between women and men. .
“We believe that God created humanity in his image: male (man) and female (woman), sexually different but with equal dignity,” the email reads.
“Therefore, one’s biological sex must be affirmed and no attempt should be made to physically change, alter or disagree with one’s biological sex – including but not limited to elective sex reassignment, cross-dressing, transgender or non-binary gender fluid acts of conduct (Genesis 1:26-28) School students will be designated by gender on their birth certificates and will be referenced by name in the same manner.
He continues: “We believe that all forms of homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexuality, transgender identity/lifestyle, self-identification, bestiality, incest, fornication, adultery and pornography is a sin in the eyes of God and the Church (Genesis 2:24; Leviticus 18:1-30; Romans 1:26-29; I Corinthians 5:1; I Corinthians 6:9; I Thessalonians 4:2- 7). »
“Students who participate in these lifestyles will be asked to leave school immediately,” the email reads.
While the policy isn’t new, it should be fully understood and accepted, the email says, adding that parents “should agree to all policies and procedures before your student can start school in August.”
Multiple attempts to reach representatives of Grace Christian School for comment, including McKeen, have failed.
The email helped spur the family of a 16-year-old gay school student to transfer her to a more tolerant religious school.
“It’s not like my daughter is wearing rainbow flags or anything like that,” the teen’s mother said. “But I’m not going to make her feel ashamed of herself for any reason.”
The woman and her daughter asked that their identities be withheld for fear of harassment.
The teenager said she felt like a “social outcast” at Grace Christian, but her new school allowed her “to just be myself”.
“At the new school, I feel normal,” she said.
An 18-year-old transgender man who graduated from Grace Christian last year said that although no email like June’s was ever sent while he was at school, it was well known that all students in the LGBTQ community were required to keep it a secret.
“It wasn’t something I could talk about openly. Only a few of my friends could find out,” he said of his gender identity. “Sometimes we couldn’t even figure out if we could trust the members of our friend group because we didn’t know if anyone in college would say anything.”
He noted that some students were uncomfortable with LGBTQ students “due to faculty influence.” The man asked that his identity be withheld to protect his family from harassment.
An 18-year-old woman who graduated from school last year and is gay said there were times when anti-LGBTQ messages were voiced during chapel hours on school days.
She said that one day McKeen “started screaming that if you’re gay you’re going to hell”.
She said McKeen told the students, “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” and said he knew there were LGBT people at Grace Christian and when he found out who they were, the students would be “expelled”. Two other former students corroborated this account of McKeen’s comments at Chapel Hour.
The woman, who asked to remain anonymous due to the potential harassment against her, said the school’s views didn’t hurt her. But that wasn’t the case for all students from the LGBTQ community who attended the school, she said.
“A friend of mine who’s locked up, she’s very hurt and very scared about it,” she said. “She’s got really bad anxiety about it.”
The graduate said that when the subject came up, her friend would “go into the bathroom and cry.”
Josh Bell, executive director of One Orlando Alliance, a Central Florida LGBTQ nonprofit, was raised in the conservative United Methodist Church and taught that homosexuality is wrong, he said.
Bell, who is gay, said a school policy such as Grace Christian School’s would cause emotional trauma and potentially lead to physical harm for some LGBTQ students.
“We know from data, from surveys, from long experience of LGBTQ youth, that policies like this are inherently harmful,” Bell said.
“Students who receive these messages are much more likely to suffer from depression, to have suicidal thoughts, to withdraw socially, to become really vulnerable to all kinds of harmful coping mechanisms.”
Being told by religious authorities that their identity is false, Bell said, is destructive on many levels.
“These are not just authority figures, they are people who have religious authority in their lives. When someone has religious authority, there is an added layer of…severity to any teaching or any form of ‘Exclusion. Leader, exclude yourself because of your identity. He says, ‘The God you believe in excludes you because of your identity.'”
The Grace Christian School policy is the second time this month that a religious school has been accused of closing its doors to the LGBTQ community.
A Christian school in Louisiana allegedly forced a same-sex married couple to find a new school for their child because of their “lifestyle choices”.