Book bag? Check. Loose-leaf notebook paper? Check. Pencils, crayons and glue sticks? Check. Kicked out of school because you or your parents are LGBT? Double-check, especially if you're one of the nearly 100,000 students attending one of the more than 700 private schools in North Carolina.
It seems absurd that schools might actually deny admission or enrollment to students based solely on their or their family members' sexual orientation and gender identity. But it's true; and it happens. It stands in stark contrast to state law, which prohibits anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in all public schools. That 2008 legislation was landmark, making North Carolina the first southern state to prohibit such harassment and the first southern state to codify protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity into state statute.
But none of that matters to the kids heading off to North Carolina's private schools. Most of these schools are religiously based and many are now receiving taxpayer funds in the form of private school vouchers, enabled by a new funding program passed by Republican legislators and signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory in 2013.
In the recently approved budget, the legislature increased the amount of taxpayer funds flowing into private schools to nearly $25 million this year, with a $10 million increase every year for the next decade.Large chunks of that cash are landing squarely in church-affiliated schools that see no shame in discriminating against young people.
NC Policy Watch, the commentary arm of the NC Justice Center, recently pointed out the disturbingly exclusive policies of Bible Baptist Christian School in Matthews, which received $100,000 for 26 students last school year.
Bible Baptist's policy is clear: "The school reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to refuse admission to an applicant or to discontinue enrollment of a current student. This includes, but is not limited to, living in, condoning, or supporting any form of sexual immorality; practicing or promoting a homosexual lifestyle or alternative gender identity," according to its handbook.
But they're not alone. Schools across the state have similar policies.
SouthLake Christian Academy in Huntersville is another one of those local schools. SouthLake's been in the news recently for the crimes of its former headmaster, who pleaded guilty last week to embezzling more than $9 million from the church coffers. Its policy on LGBT students is nearly identical to Bible Baptist's: "SLCA retains the right to refuse enrollment to or to expel any student who engages in biblical sexual immorality, including, but not limited to, any student who professes to be homosexual/bisexual or is a practicing homosexual/bisexual, as well as any student who condones, supports, or otherwise promotes such practices."
The common language in the two schools' policies — condoning, supporting, promoting — isn't by accident. There's a national model and standard set for this kind of anti-LGBT discrimination, encouraged by the two largest national Christian school groups, the American Association of Christian Schools and the Association of Christian Schools International.
That language is also vague, purposefully. You could, for instance, say you support equal rights for your family member or attend their same-gender wedding. Maybe you just happen to disagree with your school's position when anti-LGBT topics come up in classroom settings. Do any of that, and you could be threatened with expulsion. Heck, your school might even attempt to force you to come out in some anti-gay witch hunt craze. Two years ago in Creative Loafing, I reported on the story of one young man whose private Christian school forced students to sign statements that they weren't LGBT. If they were, they were expected to come out so they could be either counseled or expelled.
These are radical policies that are insanely harmful to young people. Much of this, thanks to the state's private school voucher scheme, is paid for in part by you, me and every other tax-paying resident.
My queer dollars, my friends' queer dollars and the dollars of our families and friends are paying salaries of people who find no compunction in kicking kids to the curb. That's wrong and shameful, and needs to end.