Jaclyn Grimm is a rising freshman at Wesleyan University.
I attended a Baptist private school from kindergarten to ninth grade in the suburbs of Central Florida. Every other day, we’d file into gender-segregated Bible classes and write prayer requests on the whiteboard until the bell rang.
Eighth grade was the first year our teachers deemed us mature enough to discuss homosexuality. We pored over Sodom and Gomorrah and memorized verses from Leviticus. In the hallways, boys grew fond of the words “homo” and “fag.” We learned about homosexuality the way we would a vocabulary word — definition: abomination.
This is the type of school that would thrive if President Trump’s budget were to be implemented. The administration’s proposed budget includes $250 million for studying and expanding school voucher programs, centered around private schools such as the one that I attended and eventually left. As a result, Trump’s budget is tacitly supporting discrimination.
The general disdain for the LGBT community at my school didn’t surprise me, even as a 13-year-old — I had grown up understanding that marriage was between a man and a woman. But I was still surprised to discover that I could be expelled for being bisexual. In my mind, expulsion meant being dangerous or bad. But my student handbook was clear: Practice, self-identifying statements or public promotion of being lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender would result in being kicked out. In the list of sinful offenses, bisexuality came immediately before bestiality and incest.
I had never earned so much as a detention, and yet I suddenly realized that I faced dismissal on the grounds of what my school considered “sexual immorality” — even though I had never been kissed before.
I changed schools after my freshman year because I wanted to leave on my terms, before anyone could force me. But many LGBT students don’t have that choice. Even though I didn’t have to deal with the effects of expulsion, the consequences of growing up in such a homophobic environment still affect me.
Most criticism of expanding school-choice programs has to do with the drain on public schools with no proven academic improvement. That’s a valid argument, but far from the only one.
Schools receiving federal funds must follow Title IX, which includes admissions protection for LGBT students. But private schools like the one I attended can receive funds through state voucher programs without following federal guidelines. They’re free to discriminate based on religion, sexual orientation and disability.
At my old school and many others around the country, identifying as gay or transgender earns the same punishment as bomb threats, selling drugs or bringing weapons to school: expulsion.
Seeing this comparison meant that most of my classmates instinctively viewed LGBT people negatively — and likely still do. Expelling kids for being queer goes beyond the expulsion itself; it validates the homophobia held by many cisgender and heterosexual students. For LGBT students, it makes school a dangerous place. They’re unable to seek help and advice from teachers, counselors or friends for fear of getting kicked out.
For me, it meant years of dealing with my own internalized homophobia and not feeling comfortable coming out even after I left the school.
There’s no way to make religious schools accept LGBT students, but there’s no reason the federal government should financially support such schools. Choice programs might amount to a relatively small amount of public money, but they still result in schools discriminating against kids on taxpayer dollars.
It’s been years since I left that school, and I am happy where I am now. But I can’t deny that I still struggle with the reality that I had to leave my school for being myself. I’m not the only student who has been forced to move to a different school based solely on sexual orientation. Given the administration’s interest in expanding school-choice programs, I certainly won’t be the last. If religious schools choose to expel students because they’re gay or transgender, they shouldn’t receive any sort of government funds.