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Arkansas Catholic Schools Threaten LGBT Students with Expulsion

The Diocese of Little Rock has issued new rules requiring LGBT students in Arkansas Catholic schools to hide their sexual identity or face expulsion. (Winter/iStockphoto)
The Diocese of Little Rock has issued new rules requiring LGBT students in Arkansas Catholic schools to hide their sexual identity or face expulsion. (Winter/iStockphoto)
September 14, 2016

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - New rules issued by the Diocese of Little Rock appear to require lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students in Catholic schools in Arkansas to hide their sexual identity or face expulsion.

The diocese issued an addendum last week to the handbook for 6,700 students in the state's Catholic schools, warning that anyone who "openly expresses their sexual identity" will face disciplinary action.

Rita Sklar, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas, said the edict is mean-spirited, whether or not it is legal.

"If they do anything to stigmatize this very vulnerable group of kids, I think it's very irresponsible and potentially dangerous," she said, "because we've seen what happens to LGBT kids when they feel unwanted and unloved. Sometimes they take their own life."

The rule, which also prohibits bullying based on sexual orientation, does not allow students to advocate, celebrate or express same-sex attraction. It also requires students to act and dress according to their biological sex. Diocese officials said the rules were issued to reflect "natural law" and the teachings of the Catholic Church.

Susan Hartman, executive director of the Northwest Arkansas Center for Equality, an LGBT resource center, said it appears school officials are trying to frighten and intimidate gay or transgender students into either conforming or being ostracized if they reveal their status.

"That, to me, just sounds like all students are going to suffer from this extreme environment of fear-mongering and this 'witch hunt' environment they seem to be creating through this policy," she said.

While it's unclear whether the rules violate students' civil rights, Sklar said, she doubts they will keep school officials from having to deal with LGBT issues.

"The bottom line, as far as we're concerned, is that, whether or not they have the right to do it, it seems, well, bizarre to say the least - and unhelpful to anyone," she said. "You know, try to put that genie back in the bottle. Kids are going to talk."

The handbook addendum is online at lrchs.org.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AR