When 16-year-old Emma Houle was nominated homecoming princess at their school’s rally in early October, their classmates cheered in the stands. Some said they cried. Houle, who identifies as a gender fluid queer person and uses they/them pronouns, pulled out a large pride flag from their ivory pant suit and cloaked it over their shoulders.
They were likely the first openly queer person to be nominated homecoming princess at St. Francis High School, an all-girls Catholic school in Sacramento. But days later, Houle said they were warned by school administrators that any other public display of being gay would result in disciplinary action.
Katharine Smith, Houle’s mom, who was at that meeting, said she let Houle and administrators do most of the talking, but jumped in when the conversation became tense, and especially when she felt her child’s sexuality was questioned. School administrators confirmed Houle waved the flag at the rally, but would not discuss warnings given to Houle because they “cannot comment specifically on student conduct,” said Tina Tedesco, the school’s communication director.
“They want to empower young women to change the world, but then they say, ‘Well they are minors, they don’t have the power to decide right now (if they are gay),’” said Smith. “That’s a poor display of leadership to say minors can’t make decisions on their own about their beliefs and sexuality.”
School administrators said the school has long accepted gay and lesbian students. “I can tell you we have openly gay and lesbian students on campus, and we have a code of conduct that all parents agree to,” Tedesco said.
This wasn’t the first time Houle said they had experienced pushback from St. Francis school administrators on issues pertaining to students who identify as LGBTQ. When Houle and several friends tried to create a Gay and Straight Alliance club, St. Francis administrators did not approve the idea, pointing to an already existing group that serves LGBTQ students on campus: Inclusion 360.
The problem, Houle said, is that Inclusion 360 is a ministry, not a school club. Inclusion 360 allows gay, lesbian, queer students and their allies to gather on campus. But students say it isn’t advertised as a school club. “(Inclusion 360) are not involved in the school press, we aren’t on the school website or magazines, or anything else,” Houle said.
Smith said it makes the students, including Houle, feel hidden. “Why do they have to be ministered to?” she asked. “It makes them feel subjugated and marginalized….”
Other Catholic high schools in the region have clubs that support LGBTQ students. Christian Brothers High School has a Pride club. Jesuit High School has an All Love Alliance, stating that “The Catechism of the Catholic Church reaffirms the Church’s call to treat members of the LGBTQIA+ community with respect, compassion, and sensitivity, which the ALA aims to advocate for at Jesuit….”
The above comes from an Oct. 13 story in the Sacramento Bee.