Second Lady Karen Pence, wife of Vice President Mike Pence, has announced that she will return to teach at a Virginia elementary school that bans LGBTQ employees, students, and parents.
Immanuel Christian School in northern Virginia specifically bars employees who engage in “homosexual or lesbian activity” and “transgender activity.”
The school also requires prospective employees to pledge to “live a personal life of moral purity,” Huffington Post reports.
“I understand that the term ‘marriage’ has only one meaning; the uniting of one man and one woman,” a passage in the school’s 2018 employment application states. “Moral misconduct which violates the bona fide occupational qualifications for employees includes, but is not limited to, such behaviors as the following: heterosexual activity outside of marriage (e.g., premarital sex, cohabitation, extramarital sex), homosexual or lesbian sexual activity, polygamy, transgender identity, any other violation of the unique roles of male and female, sexual harassment, use or viewing of pornographic material or websites, and sexual abuse or improprieties toward minors as defined by Scripture and federal or state law.”
A separate parent agreement on the school’s website notes that the elementary can refuse admission to a student or expel a current student if “the atmosphere or conduct within a particular home, the activities of a parent or guardian, or the activities of the student are counter to, or are in opposition to, the biblical lifestyle the school teaches.”
Such “conduct” includes “sexual immorality” and “homosexual…or bi-sexual activity.”
Pence will reportedly teach art at the school two times a week until May this year. The Second Lady has previously taught for 25 years, including at Immanuel Christian, before Mike Pence was elected Governor of Indiana.
In a statement, she said she was “excited to be back in the classroom and doing what I love to do,” and that she has “missed teaching art,” USA Today reports.
However, when asked about the school’s attitude towards LGBTQ people, Pence’s spokesperson said, “It’s absurd that her decision to teach art to children at a Christian school, and the school’s religious beliefs, are under attack.”
Sarah Kate Ellis, President and CEO at GLAAD, said in a statement that it was “disturbing” that Pence would “put her stamp of approval on an institution that actively targets LGBTQ students at one of the places where they should feel the safest.”
Ellis continued: “When young people are coming to terms with their sexual orientation and gender identity, they deserve to have the support of the adults in their lives. Often the arts are a safe haven for these students, and let’s be honest — we wouldn’t have some of the world’s most profound and impactful art if it weren’t for LGBTQ people. As an art teacher, I suspect she is aware of that. She should leave this teaching post and join the faculty of an institution that values and supports the acceptance of all students.”
Ellis also called on Immanuel Christian School to abandon its policy that discriminates against LGBTQ students.
“Immanuel Christian School should immediately reexamine its policy of open discrimination against LGBTQ students,” Ellis said, “and understand just how dangerous it is to further marginalize young people who are struggling to come to terms with their identity or have made the courageous choice to come out as LGBTQ in a difficult environment.”
Eliza Byard, executive director of LGBTQ youth advocacy group GLSEN, told NBC News that the school’s policies are “deeply disturbing.”
“The prohibitions at this school take the position that not only are you not allowed to be yourself, but you’re not allowed to express support for LGBTQ people,” she said, adding that she hoped Pence will “have some measure of compassion for students in that school that will be suffering as a result of these policies and did not choose to enter that school by their own choice.”
JoDee Winterhof, senior vice president for policy and political affairs at the Human Rights Campaign, in a statement to Huffington Post asked why Pence couldn’t teach “at a school that welcomes everyone, instead of choosing one that won’t serve LGBTQ kids, kids of LGBTQ parents?”
She continued: “The Pences never seem to miss an opportunity to show their public service only extends to some.”
Vice President Mike Pence has a long record of anti-LGBTQ positions, including supporting conversion therapy. In a statement on his congressional campaign website in 2000, he argued for resources to be directed away from “organisations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviours that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus” and instead go towards “those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”
As governor of Indiana, Pence supported the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” which allowed businesses and individuals to discriminate against LGBTQ people.
In addition, Pence opposes same-sex marriage, once telling Congress it would bring “societal collapse.” He opposed the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. And he opposed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would have banned discrimination against people based on sexuality.
In 2017, a New Yorker column alleged that Trump joked about Pence wanting to “hang” every gay person.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated to add comment from GLAAD.