The fight for LGBTQ rights

Landon Santel, ’18, is trying to fight for LGBTQ rights at Xavier High School after having spent his freshmen and sophomore years there.

Sarah Altemeier and Quinn Wilcox

“Xavier High School is an equal opportunity educational institution. No person shall, on the grounds of race, color, age, gender, national origin, or physical disability, be subject to discrimination, be excluded from participation in, or denied that benefit of, or any program or activity sponsored by Xavier High School.”

That is Xavier’s statement about discrimination in their handbook, but it makes no mention of sexuality.

Landon Santel, ’18, spent his freshman and sophomore year at Xavier, before transferring to Wash this year, “I was tired of the environment at Xavier and the LGBTQ hostility there. There’s a lot of different actions or policies that may be written or unwritten that were enforced that really stigmatized LGBTQ students further than the societal struggles that every LGBTQ youth goes through.”

Santel wrote a statement of his experience at Xavier:

As a new student at Washington, I’m genuinely inspired by the amount of students and staff from such diverse walks of life, and the mutual goal to maintain a welcoming educational atmosphere. Before Wash, I spent two years at Xavier High School facing social hostility for accepting what I cannot change.

Like many other LGBTQ youth, I knew my sexual orientation for a long time, but struggled with accepting it, justifiably so. At its core, our society subjects minority groups, especially LGBTQ, to violence and defamation. In fact, being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender statistically puts you at the highest risk of hate crime among minorities, not even including the Orlando nightclub shooting. Fundamental legal rights for the LGBTQ community started only 15 years ago and sexual orientation is still not a federally protected civil rights class.

At Xavier, LGBTQ inequality and inequity were both prevalent, yet repeatedly neglected by the administration. The discrimination was not commonly individual-based, but was institutionalized through less-overt actions and policies. During my required freshman theology class, the teacher lectured several times on how the national legalization of same sex marriage was a tragedy to society, and how gay sex is just as bad as beastiality. Additionally, a priest who presented in another theology class in a different grade level taught the same belief. Later that year,  I was shocked as a stage manager in the spring play when numerous lines were deliberately blacked out of the script to eliminate the existence of homosexuality. The director even had to come up with a new character to fill the void. When I expressed my concerns to the director, it was clear that she was not at liberty to revert the edits.

Photo courtesy of Santel
Lines are blacked out of a Xavier play script in order to erase a character’s homosexuality.

Soon after the play, a Xavier student was presented the Matthew Sheppard [LGBTQ] Scholarship at the annual senior awards assembly, but there was significant backlash from students, parents, faculty, and visitors. Student’s made comments like “I wish I could get a scholarship for being straight” or “is this even allowed”. Six months later, the Archdiocese of Dubuque Catholic School Board implemented a policy targeting the scholarship, not allowing any outside presenters at awards assemblies, also stating that it was to “Insure any award/scholarship description is in accord with Catholic teachings”. The Eychaner Foundation will no longer be allowed to present this scholarship if awarded to a student at Xavier or any other Dubuque diocese school, which attacks their key mission of speaking at awards assemblies “to provide hope to kids in the audience who don’t even know how to talk about it yet, but know LGBT kids are valued, are important, and are recognized publicly”. Sophomore year, being the first year I could attend school dances, I heard from upperclassmen that going as a same-sex couple to school dances was not allowed. I later confirmed this unwritten policy with the administration, who said they didn’t want to ‘promote’ same-sex relationships. This rule is still in effect today.

I am finally publicizing the LGBTQ inequity at Xavier after exhausting all other private methods of addressing this issue with the administration. In the latest meeting with Principal Tom Keating, my concerns were ‘appreciated’ but nothing is changing. All of these factors combined with the general societal struggle of being LGBTQ are having real mental health consequences. According to a Xavier publication, enrollment is at an all time low, which makes me wonder why they aren’t encouraging a welcoming and accepting environment.

To be clear, I do not think that Catholicism is anti-gay, or hateful in general, but many Catholic high schools are having this issue, and it needs to be addressed! I think Catholics struggling with accepting LGBTQ people should not lose sight of Jesus’s welcoming actions, in addition to Pope Francis’s peaceful and co-existing sentiments.

He is not alone. Santel has reached out to LGBTQ students at Xavier for comment on their experiences and thoughts. The following comments were obtained by The Surveyor from screenshot text conversations the students had with Santel. They requested to remain anonymous for fear of disciplinary consequences:

“I would say that I feel the need to live a lie of sorts, like, I have to appeal to the majority, faking that I’m going to live a heterosexual life with a wife and procreate. The school fails to project that as LGBTQ children, we belong to God. We are made in his likeness and image with a unique purposes in life. We aren’t defective. God made me, me. If he wanted me otherwise, he would have made me otherwise,” said one student.

“I don’t feel safe at school because the school doesn’t make the atmosphere accepting. There is nothing wrong with me. I feel isolated because I fear that I would be discriminated against and bullied for being me. I can only find peace in those a part of the LGBTQ community, which is like 5 people I know out of the whole school. The school would benefit from a GSA group, a place where we can be ourselves, a place where we’ve accepted as God’s children,” they continued.

“We had a priest come in one time that said adoption and in vitro fertilization (IVF) are basically sins because they are having a child outside ‘god’s plan’ and that couples that have children that way are sinning,” said another student.

Santel has met with the archdiocese (the representatives of the Catholic Church), priests, and the administration at Xavier. “I truly believe that the Xavier administration isn’t trying to target the LGBTQ youth. I know them. Mr. Keating, I live in his neighborhood. I see him out for walks, I really don’t think he’s that type of person. But, he receives so much backlash from parents in the Xavier community. With that said, I think that Xavier needs to prioritize their students mental health and well-being over public image,” said Santel.

When reached for comment, the Xavier Principal Mr. Tom Keating said “[I] welcome the opportunity to discuss this with Landon.” Keating declined to comment further.

Keating has blocked Santel on Twitter.

Screenshot courtesy of Santel
After Santel tweeted his open letter and tagged Xavier administration, Tom Keating, Xavier’s principal, blocked him on twitter.

Some students believe that everyone is accepted at Xavier, “There’s always been controversy about whether being gay is a choice and if it’s wrong in the Bible and all that crap, and it makes a lot of people upset and I understand why… It’s not my place to judge you for being gay, I wouldn’t even know what it’s like to be gay. But I know the majority of my  classmates and teachers are good people. We are taught to respect all life, and we won’t treat someone different because they’re gay, even if it doesn’t exactly come to terms with our Scripture. We accept all people, and we aren’t to judge, God is the judge” said Jax Junge, ’18, at Xavier.

Meanwhile, others believe there is evident discrimination. “I feel the main reason students are hesitant to come out is because of the backlash they would receive if they did. This is especially a problem in religion classes. In these classes teachers pretend to be accepting of everyones  sexual orientation. They say it is acceptable as long as the person does not engage in a homosexual relationship, which is in direct contradiction to their statement of acceptance,” said another Xavier student who requested anonymity.

Given that Xavier is a private high school, there’s nothing that can be legally done regarding the policies Santel addressed in the statement above. Iowa Safe Schools, a group whose mission is to create a safe environment for LGBTQ students across the state, said that private schools are not held to the same standard as public schools.  “The school has to provide a safe space for all students including those who identify as LGBTQ, but the school can also get away with some discrimination which you can argue creates an unsafe learning environment,” said Nate Monson, the executive director of Iowa Safe Schools.

Santel plans to continue his fight to change policies at Xavier.