11 News Investigates: Catholic Diocese's school sexuality policy draws controversy

11 News Investigates: Catholic Controversy

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KHTV) -- Parents, students, and alumni are upset about additions made to the student handbooks of Catholic schools in Arkansas.

They say the addendum issued by the Catholic Dioceses of Little Rock is discriminatory against LGBT students.

“Students may not advocate, celebrate, or express same-sex attraction in such a way as to cause confusion or distraction in the context of Catholic school classes, activities, or events,” read the addendum. 

Many in the LGBT community said that this line is just one of many in the addenda that sets a dangerous precedent for gay students.

"That was where they felt safe.  And now, there are so many kids that just don't feel like they can be there," said Tyler Gibbons, a graduate of Catholic High.

He said at one point, during his time at the school, he was suicidal.  Until, he found a group of people like himself.

"They can't find who they are, and they can't try new things to see what they like, and who they want, and what they want to be in fear of being reprimanded by the diocese," Gibbons added.

Another line says in part, if a student's expression of gender or sexuality causes confusion or a scandal for the school, their parents will be informed, and they could be kicked out.

"If you don't want to bring scandal against your school, then don't do things that discriminate against children," said Tippi McCullough, with Arkansas Stonewall Democrats and also a former Mount Saint Mary's teacher.

The addenda affects more than just the students at Catholic High School.  It was sent to Catholic schools operated by the diocese state-wide.  On their website, the Diocese touts 27 Catholic schools in Arkansas and more than 6,700 students.

Katy Simmons is the parent of a straight student at Catholic High School.  She said the policy does not fall in line with the values of the school or the reason she sent her son to Catholic.

"That policy does not convey the message I want my son to learn," Simmons explained.

Catholic High was not able to comment on the addenda and directed us to Bishop Anthony Taylor, who many believed is responsible for the document.  The diocese refused answer THV11's questions about why the addenda was added this year.  They declined an on camera interview, opting only to send a statement saying the policy is based on the teaching of the Catholic Church.

"The mission of our Catholic schools includes reflecting the fundamental truths as revealed by God in both natural law and divine revelation, and it is the adherence to the teachings of the Catholic Church that makes our schools 'Catholic' and distinct from other schools," read the statement. 

A current student at Catholic High said his sexuality has never been an issue for his classmates, teachers, or administrators.

"It's really non-Christ-like and discriminatory, and I really don't think it should be a thing.  They should really be much more merciful about this."

Sarah Vestal, Catholic High's first openly transgender graduate, said she has an idea why the diocese intervened.

"I came out and came back for my 40th high school reunion last year.  So, they had to face me for the first time."

Vestal said she and Bishop Taylor had ideas about which bathroom she should be allowed to use.  She said Taylor also will not allow her to have a copy of her diploma with her new name.

And at last year's prom, Catholic High allowed its first gay couple.

"That was such an amazing feeling not only that I'd be able to make history, but also I could say that I got to do it," said Tyler Gibbons.

Vestal and others said they have spoken to Taylor directly, and he has refused to remove the addendum.

If he continues to refuse, they say they will protest.


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