A Christian school in Florida told parents it would ask gay, transgender, and gender nonconforming students to leave immediately, according to a June email obtained by NBC News.
The email also said the school, based in Valrico, will refer to students only according to the “biological gender” on their birth certificates.
Administrator Barry McKeen at Grace Christian School sent the message on June 6 and referred to the Bible as an underlying rationale for the rule.
“We believe that God created mankind in His image: male (man) and female (woman), sexually different but with equal dignity,” he wrote in the email.
The email bore the subject line “Important School Policy Point of Emphasis. … Please Read.” McKeen told parents they had to agree to the policy surrounding LBGTQ students before the school year started.
Following McKeen’s email, one mother spoke with WFLA News Channel 8 about her decision to remove her daughter, who is lesbian, from Grace Christian School.
“I actually respect their opinion,” she said. “But my daughter’s wellbeing, right, and mental health is more important.”
Graduates of Grace Christian also told NBC News that they felt the need to conceal being LGBTQ and heard homophobic messages during chapel hours.
After NBC published the story, McKeen responded with a video on Facebook, contesting the allegation that he said gay people go to hell but confirmed that students cannot be gay or transgender “knowingly” to the school.
“Our school and many schools like ours have a policy that does not allow students to be homosexual or transgender or a number of other things,” McKeen said. “We’re not going to change, because God’s not going to change.”
Several other Christian schools have also received media coverage because of anti-LGBTQ policies in recent months.
In Louisiana, a Catholic diocese updated student handbooks with a policy that students, parents, faculty, and staff must adhere to their “God-given sexual identity and biological sex at birth.”
In Kentucky, the Christian Academy of Louisville asked students to write letters with anti-LGBTQ messages for homework, WHAS11 reported in May.
Unsafe school environments and harassment of LGBTQ students are linked to lower self-esteem, higher rates of absenteeism, and lower academic achievement, according to GLSEN’s Safe Space Kit.
Homophobia from religious authorities, in particular, adds another layer of damage, said Josh Bell, the executive director of LBGTQ nonprofit One Orlando Alliance.
“It’s not just saying, ‘I, as a leader, exclude you based on your identity,’” Bell said. “It’s saying, ‘The God that you believe in is excluding you based on your identity.’”
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