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15 December 2011

Repudiation: Middle School in Lehi, Utah Outs Student to Parents

Alpine School District is defending their decision to tell a fourteen year old student's parents that the student is gay.  The Salt Lake Tribune has the side of the district spokeswoman Rhonda Bromley.
Parents were notified that their 14-year-old son is gay, she said, because the school was being "proactive" in preventing bullying. The student was not disciplined at school, she said, but his parents, who have asked that their names not be released to media, have decided to keep him home until attention surrounding the issue dies down. The student plans to return to school after winter break.
"We do include parents any time there's a potential safety issue with a student," Bromley said.
As an initial instinct, I do understand why the school district thought to involve the parents.  Bullying is a real problem and parents should be the first in line to defend their children.  The problem is that this isn't always how things work out.

In Manhattan NY, the other side of the country from Lehi UT, there is an organization called the Ali Forney Center (AFC).  The AFC helps homeless LGBTQ youth, providing limited housing and resources.
As the visibility of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people grows in our society, more and more LGBT teens are finding the courage to come out of the closet.
Tragically, as many as 25% of these teens are rejected by their families, and many end up homeless on the streets. Homeless LGBT teens are more likely than straight homeless teens to be subjected to violence on the streets, and in the homeless shelter system. They suffer from inordinate rates of mental illness, trauma, HIV infection and substance abuse.
I don't believe that any school is in a position to know whether telling the parents that their child is a homosexual will help the child or further endanger that child.  They also can't know whether giving the child time to come out on the child's schedule would be better or worse.

Allow me, please, to tell a different story.  About a decade ago I contacted a student's mother to tell her that her son was a cutter.  This was a parent who I had known for some time and I thought that I was doing the right thing.  The mother reminded me that she was a registered nurse and would know and that I was wrong.  Earlier that day I had sent the student to the bathroom to get paper towels to clean up the blood that he had dribbled on his desk while cutting himself in class.  What I didn't know was that the parents were just separated and heading for divorce.  The student spent time on the street before moving into his father's basement.  While I was not responsible for the tensions in the family, my jumping into this without being a professional counselor and without knowing the full story of what was happening at home did not help matters.

According to Salt Lake City's ABC station, the student did not want his parents to know.
“He didn’t want his parents to know,” said Rhonda Bromley of the district.
But she says it was fear by school administrators that he would be bullied that led to that decision.
A day after he was outed at the school the 14-year old text a message to his friend and it ended up on Facebook.
It read: "Well the first day, Miss Hill called me down to her office and told me that I couldn't be openly gay at my school.”
But Bromley says the teacher worried the boy would be bullied.
“There were no threats,” says Bromley.
But the text the teen claimed this: “The next day, she calls me down to the office and … tells that she is going to basically force my (sic) out of the closet, by telling my parents that I am gay, despite my protests."
“He was scared,” says Bromley. “He was reluctant but he did finally agree and he asked not to be in the room when it that conversation happened.
Scared?  Perhaps terrified would be a better word.  It took me many years to talk with my parents about my sexuality.  This boy was forced into it against his will without a say in the timing.  And the school had no way of knowing that the parents would not be among the bullies.

KCPW has what may be the conclusion of the story.
Bromley says the student at Willowcreek middle school made his sexual orientation known through a publicly displayed class assignment. She says some students reacted negatively. Administrators confronted the students, pulled the boy aside and despite his reluctance, informed his parents. She says they were supportive, but decided to keep him home for a few days.
I pray that the parents' assurances to the school are genuine.  Slowly our society is changing to where a child can be out at home without fear in more and more families.  It is a slow process of change.  There are still too many children who end up at the Ali Forney Center or, worse, not.

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