The Trevor Project has sent 100 copies of a pro-gay children’s book to an anti-LGBTQ Virginia school where Second Lady Karen Pence recently resumed teaching.
The LGBTQ charity delivered copies of A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo to Immanuel Christian School in northern Virginia, after a Huffington Post investigation learned the extent of the school’s anti-LGBTQ animus.
The school, where Pence will teach art, requires employees, parents, and students to pledge to abide by its values, which oppose homosexuality, transgenderism, and sexual activity outside of man-woman marriages.
Prospective employees are expected to agree in their employment application that they can be fired if they are LGBTQ or engage in same-sex behavior, and parents must sign an agreement that the school can expel their child if the child or the child’s parents are LGBTQ.
The Trevor Project, which provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth, had a deliberate reason to choose A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo to donate to the school.
A book about the real-life rabbit owned by the Pence family, it was written by the team behind John Oliver’s late-night show Last Week Tonight in response to Marlon Bundo’s Day in the Life of the Vice President, a children’s book written by Second Daughter Charlotte Pence and illustrated by Karen Pence.
Unlike in the Pence-authored book, the character of Marlon Bundo in Oliver and company’s book is gay and falls in love with another male rabbit.
The Trevor Project hopes that the book will encourage students and staff at Immanuel Christian School to be more accepting of LGBTQ people in general, noting that LGBTQ youth are more likely to attempt suicide and more likely to be bullied at school than their cisgender peers.
“Our mission is to end suicide among LGBTQ young people, and we have hundreds of thousands of people in our community whose goal is to provide messages of love and acceptance and support to LGBTQ youth, Amit Paley, the CEO and executive director of The Trevor Project, told Metro Weekly in an interview. “Once there was discussion about what was going on at Immanuel Christian School, we thought it was a really important moment to focus to ensuring all LGBTQ young people, regardless of which school they go to, what religion they believe in, what family they are born into or part of — no matter who they are and what they are — know they are loved the way they are.
“So we wanted to send these books to let people know that love and acceptance are what makes the world a better place,” he added. “And to encourage Immanuel Christian School, and all schools, to create a safer and more inclusive environment for all of their students.”
Paley insists the donation is more than a gimmick for publicity.
“Our goal is to say as loudly as we can, in as strong and affirmative a voice as we can, that all young people are deserving of love and respect and feeling safe where they are,” Paley said. “If in doing this, we can create a conversation and spread awareness of this message, that’s a critical part of creating safe spaces for LGBTQ youth.
“Hopefully we can start a conversation in some places on how some policies, regardless of what their intention is, can really cause clear harm to LGBTQ young people. If we spread that conversation to places where it might not normally happen, that can actually be life-saving and make an enormous difference.”
Asked whether he’s worry about a backlash or having The Trevor Project accused of being “anti-Christian” by right-wingers for criticizing a private school over its embrace of religious doctrine opposing homosexuality, Paley responded that he doesn’t believe there’s a conflict between being Christian and supporting LGBTQ youth.
“We firmly believe that being an LGBTQ person and being a person of faith are not at all mutually exclusive,” he said. “We also feel it’s important to make clear to people that religion and being LGBTQ are completely compatible. It’s important that we help to bridge those gaps,” he said, pointing to the strides that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has made towards supporting LGBTQ equality as an example.
“What’s important, and what’s pretty amazing, is because of what we focus on at the Trevor Project — which is saving lives — we often see enormous support for the work we do from different faith communities, even places that you wouldn’t normally think would be supportive of LGBTQ issues, he added. “Everyone can get behind the idea that every life is precious and valuable, and regardless of what your political view is, LGBTQ youth exist and deserve to be treated with love and respect.”
Luke Hartman, an out gay alumnus of Immanuel Christian, supports The Trevor Project’s actions.
“As an alumnus of Immanuel Christian School, I am a living example that intolerance, both in policy and rhetoric, are harmful to the mental wellness and development of LGBTQ students, who are desperately looking for ways to fit in,” Hartman said in a statement.
“The silent and spoken messages of rejection that are constantly felt by LGBTQ students directly impact the relationship they have with their faith, education, and relationships with family and friends — ultimately resulting in a feeling of being less than when compared to their straight and cisgender peers,” he added.
Thus far, Paley has not heard back from Immanuel Christian School about the donation.
“We don’t expect the books to be returned, but if they were, we have schools and education agencies and nonprofits that we work with around the country,” he said.
“This book has been very popular and has meant a lot to people from different places. So we’ll find places to donate them that will help organizations improve their LGBTQ environments…. This is a message of acceptance and a call for inclusivity.”