Students at a Catholic school in Baltimore have rallied in support of a 12-year-old girl who was forced to remove her pro-LGBTQ shirt after a priest objected to it.
Witnesses claim that during a “Dress Down Day” at St. Francis of Assisi School, Father John J. Lombardi directed staff to have the student remove a rainbow-striped jersey with “Proud 365” on it.
She was made to do so in front of her peers at the church next door to the school, following a Friday mass, The Baltimore Brew reports.
The student, whose mother is gay, said she “was left confused” after the instructions.
She told The Brew that she had worn the shirt on previous relaxed-dress-code days without issue.
Despite it being a “Dress Down Day,” principal Karmen Collins told the student that she had violated the school’s dress code.
“She said it was because it was a Catholic school,” the student said. “I thought it was a poor excuse.”
The student’s classmate, Dylan Hoffman, a 7th grader, said that “for the rest of the day, everyone was very angry about it.”
Liam Hines, another 7th grader, said what happened was “really awful,” adding that “the way they asked her to take it off was really embarrassing.”
He continued: “It was like asking her to take off a piece of her family. We can’t let this slide. It was really cruel.”
In protest, dozens of students, parents, and other adults, attended mass on Sunday wearing rainbow-striped masks, as well as other rainbow items. Many also wore shirts with the rainbow-hued message, “I am a child of God.”
Two officials wore pride masks, with religious education coordinator Lauren Voos saying, “All are Welcome” and “My heart is full of pride” while introducing the congregation’s Confirmation class.
And during the call-and-response portion of the service, lector Beatrice Messaris said, “For marginalized orientations and gender identities,” to which the congregation replied, “Lord, hear our prayer.”
Lombardi refused to discuss the incident, instead referring The Brew to the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
Christian Kendzierski, executive director of communications for the Archdiocese, defended Lombardi’s actions in a statement, saying the student’s attire “contained imagery and language with a message that could be determined to oppose teachings of the Catholic Church.”
Although eyewitnesses report that Lombardi directed the principal to have the student remove her shirt, Kendzierski said “it was the school administration that initiated the request.”
Noting that “the church teaches that every person be treated with respect, compassion, and sensitivity,” Kendzierski said the Archdiocese is “working on plans to bring together the community to discuss” what happened “in an open, honest and listening way.”
The mother of the student at the center of the controversy said she is still waiting for the Archdiocese’s superintendent of Catholic Schools to respond to her complaint.
“I hope it results in diversity and inclusion training for the staff and the church,” she said. “And an apology would be nice.”
Many adults participating in the protest said the atmosphere of the church changed when Lombardi took over as pastor in July.
Amelia Voos, a youth coordinator for the church, told the Brew, “As a queer woman, I never felt endangered before here, but I have felt in danger recently. I grew up in this parish. To think that this is happening here is painful.”
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