High school senior Sean Simonson wrote an article about the difficulty of life as a gay teen for the student newspaper at Benilde-St. Margaret’s School in Minnesota.
After Simonson’s essay ran in the Knight Errant, 93 comments poured into its website. Many of them praised Simonson for what they said was his courage. A distinct minority didn’t. Some quoted theology. Some attacked Simonson. Some were anonymous.
… the principal wanted the newspaper to stop taking comments on the piece. Simonson disagreed.
“The piece was sort of to create this dialogue,” said Simonson. “And if we just stopped accepting comments, we destroyed the meaning of the story and so it wasn’t really worth doing.”
Knight Errant staff, together with their faculty advisor, agreed instead to remove the two op-eds and the comments from the website, and post this explanation from the principal.
“While lively debate and discussion clearly has its place in a Catholic school, this particular discussion is not appropriate because the level of intensity has created an unsafe environment for students. As importantly, the articles and ensuing online postings have created confusion about Church teaching,” the statement read in part.
Here’s the full statement.
I don’t see why it’s so hard for the school to monitor the website for any hateful or threatening comments and delete them, while allowing for civil debate on the issue. But to get rid of the piece and comments because some of them challenged the church’s teachings? What weak faith they must have there.
“I think it’s always regrettable when a school administrator decides that the appropriate way to handle controversy is to suppress it,” said Jane Kirtley, a professor of law and media ethics at the University of Minnesota.
And what was it about the piece that caused such an uproar? Read it for yourself:
… Try going through a day in the life of a gay teen.
You fear looking the wrong way in the locker room and offending someone. Politicians are allowed to debate your right to marry the person you love or your right to be protected from hate crimes under the law. Your faith preaches your exclusion — or damnation. And no one does anything to stop it.
Recently, the Archbishop used money donated by an anonymous source to denounce same-sex marriage. That’s right: a major religious leader used non-Church money from a questionable source to publicly condemn your right to express your love in a public and binding manner.
And all of you who don’t have to undergo this horror daily, it’s up to you to help. Don’t stand by and let hatred go on. Don’t sit back and watch your friends be discriminated against. Reach out and help those who might need it.
Together, maybe we can make the world an easier place to live for gay and straight teens alike. Because no one else is going to do it for us.
And the school’s response to those beautiful, important words was to censor the piece so others couldn’t discuss it on the website. If it wasn’t for the reposting of the article on other websites, I’m not sure how anyone outside the school could’ve read it.
Maybe it’s all for the best, though, because now Sean’s words are going to be read by far more people than they would have otherwise.
Sean says they did get to talk about the issue at school in a different setting:
Their religion classes discussed the issues raised in the editorials and clarified the Catholic Church’s position on gays and lesbians.
Benilde’s president Bob Tift said in a statement that the Catholic Church teaches that “men and women with homosexual tendencies must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.”
The Catholic Church’s position is no better than that of evangelical Christians: Gay people shouldn’t be physically harassed and deserve respect… but they’ll fight back as much as possible to ensure that gay people don’t get the same rights as straight people.
I hope this sort of thing sparks more debate from the students. It would be fantastic if the graduating class included many students fed up with the Church’s intolerance, causing them to leave it for good as adults.