Nerinx Hall High School, located in Webster Groves, Mo., on the edge of St. Louis, has erupted in controversy. It began when a group of students approached the president of the school, John Gabriel, and asked to form a club for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students and their allies. The request was denied.
Now, all of this might have remained a controversy within the school itself, but then the St. Louis Post Dispatch got hold of the story.
When Gabriel defended his decision, he claimed — falsely — that the archdiocese does not allow any LGBT clubs unless such a club included conversion therapy. But when the St. Louis Post Dispatch asked the archdiocese about that, they said they had no such requirement.
The decision itself and the resulting publicity have touched off a strong protest movement from alumnae of the school, more than 1,000 of whom have signed a petition asking that this ruling be overturned. And protests also came from members of the Loretto Community (like myself) because our community founded that school. (For the record, Fr. Charles Nerinckx — after whom the school is named — is considered a founder of our community.)
But why deny such a group the right to exist? Such a club could serve as a forum for dialogue on LGBT issues, and it was clearly meant to do that. It might help students talk out their anxieties, their fears, and in many cases — embrace and accept their sexual identity. The decision to deny this club is clearly discriminatory and it creates unneeded fears among LGBT students at Nerinx, and it's frankly embarrassing to many of us who are members of the Loretto Community. But worst of all, it denies students a forum for dialogue that is important in today's world.
I am well aware that the Catholic hierarchy is less than understanding when it comes to LGBT issues. But, to be blunt, Loretto has usually been about 10 steps ahead of the hierarchy on many issues. We passed an assembly resolution in favor of LGBT equality more than 10 years ago!
It's time that the decision to deny this club be reversed — and soon.