Karen Pence teaching at an anti-LGBTQ+ school doesn’t surprise me

Illustration by Sammy Newman.

Brianna Scott, Opinions Editor

When news broke that Karen Pence, Vice President Mike Pence’s wife, was returning to Immanuel Christian School to teach art, many were baffled. The school has a reputation for being anti-LGBTQ+. But most people expected it because of Mike Pence’s history of being less than supportive to the LGBTQ+ community, to put it lightly.

Immanuel Christian School admissions policy reads, “We do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national or ethnic background. We do, however, attempt to be discerning in the area of Christian belief and practice.”

Some may have thought, including myself, that the legalization of gay marriage in 2015 would end discrimination against those in the LGBTQ+ community. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

These types of policies aren’t new at Christian schools. In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that “Churches and other religious groups must be free to choose and dismiss their leaders without government interference.”

States including as Virginia, North Carolina, Texas and Wyoming have no prohibitions for discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in state law.

Under Trump and Pence, the threat of discrimination against the gay community heightens every day. Here are just a few things the Trump administration has done in the last two years threatening LGTBQ+ rights:

  • Reversed the directive, “Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces,” which under President Barack Obama required companies with large federal contracts to prove their compliance with LGBT protections and other labor laws
  • Reversed an Obama policy that allowed transgender students attending public schools to use bathrooms based on their gender identity
  • Released a proposed 2019 budget that would eliminate funding for the AIDS Education and Training Centers and Special Projects of National Significance that both run under Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program
  • Banned transgender people from serving in the military, which the Supreme Court recently upheld

Given this context, it’s bemusing that Pence felt it was “offensive” that news outlets are “attacking” Christian education. In a clip posted on Twitter, Pence said, “We have a rich tradition in America of Christian education and, frankly, religious education broadly defined. We celebrate it. The freedom of religion is enshrined in the Constitution of the United States.”

If Pence is such a champion of First Amendment rights, he should know people are allowed to have opinions about his family’s beliefs.

I find it offensive that the Pence family believes they are being attacked when more than 6,000 hate crimes were reported by the FBI in 2016. More than 1,000 were based on sexual orientation and 124 were based on gender identity.

In 2018, The Williams Institute reported there are over 3 million LGBTQ+ youth in the U.S. Of those, 150,000 identify as transgender. Over half of LGBTQ+ youth live in states that do not have any mandates that protect them from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

“27 percent of LGBT students have been physically harassed at school because of their sexual orientation; 13 percent have been physically harassed because of their gender identity,” according to a 2015 report by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.

The Pence family does not represent every Christian. Yet, the Pence family and Immanuel Christian School is sending a clear message that they are okay with being intolerant of people with differing identities.

The school’s parental agreement states, “I acknowledge the importance of a family culture based on biblical principles and embrace biblical family values such as a healthy marriage between one man and one woman.”

In an article published in The New York Times, a 2013 employment agreement stated, “Homosexual acts and lifestyles are clearly perversion and reprehensible in the sight of God. Persons so involved cannot be employees of Immanuel Christian School.”

This is no longer in the employment agreement, according to the Times. The agreement also has been removed from the school’s website after news broke of Karen Pence teaching at the school.

It’s disheartening that there are people so vehemently against the LGBTQ+ community. Homophobia and transphobia transcend religion and affect laws that impact people negatively, causing hate crimes.

Most kids are born into religions. There are likely kids at Immanuel Christian who are queer and afraid to come out for fear of expulsion, judgement and violence.

Homophobia and transphobia transcend religion and affect laws that impact people negatively. We should be teaching children to be tolerant of people different from them, not that segregation and discrimination are acceptable ways to deal with people different than you.

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