Anti-Trans Federal Lawsuit Filed Against Boyertown Area School District

A federal lawsuit was filed today to block trans-inclusive practices at the Boyertown Area School District in Southeastern Pennsylvania.

Two faith-based organizations, the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Independence Law Center, have sued the school district on behalf of Joel Doe, an unnamed junior at Boyertown Area High School. The organizations are suing Dr. Richard Faidley, the Superintendent of the district, Dr. Brett Cooper, the Principal of the high school, and Dr. E. Wayne Foley, the Assistant Principal of the high school in their official capacities. The complaint states that the plaintiffs are seeking a jury trial to consider requests including compensatory damages and a permanent injunction on trans-inclusive practices in sex-segregated facilities.

The complaint alleges that Doe was in the process of changing his clothes for P.E. class when he realized that a transgender student was changing nearby and experienced “immediate confusion, embarrassment, humiliation, and loss of dignity upon finding himself in this circumstance,” as the complaint alleges.

The other student, identified as ‘female’ in the complaint, was given permission by the school district to use the locker room that they felt best correlated with their gender identity. Doe allegedly went to Dr. Foley, and relayed to him what had happened, at which time he was told to view the events as normal proceedings, a response that the complaint describes as, “marginaliz[ing] and sham[ing]” Doe.

According to the complaint, sex is described as being “fixed at conception, binary, objectively verifiable, and rooted in our human reproductive nature,” despite considerable scientific evidence pointing to the contrary.

The organizations are claiming alleged sexual harassment under Title IX, violation of the right to bodily privacy under the U.S. Constitution, and violation of Pennsylvania’s Public School Code of 1949, which requires separate facilities based on sex. The arguments made to advance these alleged violations are essentially the reverse of the arguments that have been successful in federal courts in support of trans inclusion, such as the Gavin Grimm case from Virginia, which is continuing to work its way through the federal circuit court.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, one of the groups involved in the lawsuit, is listed on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of anti-LGBTQ hate groups for having “regularly demonized LGBT people, falsely linking them to pedophilia, calling them ‘evil’ and a threat to children and society, and blaming them for the ‘persecution of devout Christians.’” The other group, the Independence Law Center, claims that it “defends human life at all stages and the right to freely exercise religion.”

As a result of the Trump administration’s decision to rescind the “Dear Colleague” letter that provided guidance for schools to protect transgender students, there is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding precedents for recently filed Title IX lawsuits. In February, a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction to three transgender students from the Pine-Richland School District, which will allow them to use the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity as their case progresses through the court system. The nature of this case in Boyertown, however, could jeopardize future victories if the ruling goes in favor of Doe, potentially creating a battleground in the courtroom.

Late Tuesday, the Boyertown Area School District released the following statement to WFMZ 69:

“On Tuesday, March 21, 2017 the Boyertown Area School District received a demand letter from multiple attorneys related to student bathroom use.

A complaint has not been officially served to the Boyertown Area School District. The attorneys have given the district until April 4, 2017 to formulate a response.

Boyertown Area School District is reviewing this matter with our legal counsel and has no further comment at this time.”

The next school board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, March 28th at 6:30pm.

Pennsylvania Youth Congress Executive Director Jason Landau Goodman said “The school has made reasonable accommodations for anyone who wants more privacy. Yet, this is not really about locker rooms. This is really about how inclusion is realized throughout society and in our schools: are trans people welcome to exist in our communities? Are trans students provided the opportunity to learn, and thrive, in our public schools? The answer must be yes – both under the US Constitution and for people of conscience.”

The Pennsylvania Youth Congress is working directly with students in the district as well as legal agencies at the state and national levels to support the continued inclusion of transgender students in the Boyertown Area School District. The Keystone Student Voice will share more information as it becomes available.

Initial Reports on Boyertown Lawsuit

Boyertown student sues school district over transgender policy (WFMZ 69)

Conservative groups sue school district over transgender student (Philadelphia Inquirer)

Pa. school district sued for allowing transgender student to use locker room (Newsworks)

A High School Boy Just Sued Because He Has To Share Bathrooms With A Transgender Student (Buzzfeed)

Student Sues School District After Claiming He Had To Change In Front Of Transgender Student In Locker Room (CBS Philly)

Boyertown HS student, parents sue school district over locker room privacy (Fox 43)

67 Racist High School Mascots in Pennsylvania

At least 12% of Pennsylvania (brick-and-mortar) public high school graduates come from a school with a racist mascot.

For over five years, the Pennsylvania Youth Congress has been keeping meticulous records of school board policies as they relate to LGBTQ inclusion throughout the commonwealth. This is a very intense process, which involves the tracking  of numerous policies across 500 districts. Many districts do not share their policies online, so this research has us sending regular Right to Know requests, which requires financial resources and can take months to resolve. We are proud to have collected this information and finally have the ability to collate our findings in producing a landmark report on the status of LGBTQ-inclusion in Pennsylvania school district-level policy this winter.

As an intersectional social justice organization, we would be remiss if we did not take this opportunity to identify other ways through policy that Pennsylvania public schools make education systems unsafe for students. After seeing dozens of outright racists mascots in our policy research, we knew this epidemic should be clearly brought to light on a statewide level.

Racist mascots create a hostile school environment for both Native students and students of conscience by promoting wholly offensive imagery as a core community value.

For further reading  on this issue, please go to Native writers and perspectives. A national, Native-led organization was formed in 2014 to challenge the use of racist mascots in the United States in Not Your Mascots. Their website had a ton of information and shares ways to get involved. The National Congress of American Indians has a useful website summarizing this history as well, and is a partner of the Not Your Mascots organization.

In Pennsylvania, there have been campaigns mounted by students at some of these schools to change their mascots.

Recently, the student newspaper at Neshaminy High School in Montgomery County took a bold stand against their mascot being the “R*dskins.” A major battle erupted in 2013 when The Playwickian was refusing to print “R*dskin” in their paper. A complaint was filed with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, which in 2015, ruled the school had 90 day to change their mascot. The legal and community process is ongoing surrounding alleged violations of First Amendment.

Our research is based on the 584 brick-and-mortar public high schools who graduated students in 2016. We identified 67 schools as having racist mascots. Using the most recent enrollment statistics available from the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE), 59,251 students are enrolled at these schools identified with racist mascots schools. That is about the population of the Lancaster, our commonwealth’s 10th largest municipality. These schools are located all throughout the state. In context with all PDE-designated public school district entities that graduated students in 2016, this means that at least 12% of Pennsylvania (brick-and-mortar) public high school graduates come from an institution with a racist mascot.

Racist Public School Mascot Map

[As of December 2016]

We did not count ethnic-inspired mascots such as the Vikings, Trojans, Scotties, or Dutchmen as racist. While they may present ethnic stereotypes, they do not promote and are not rooted in white supremacy. We also found two schools with Quakers for a mascot. This is felt as inappropriate by many Quakers, but again, not based in white supremacy. 

Several district names are inspired by Native tribal nations located in their regions: The Mohawk School District, in Lawrence County (about halfway between Erie and Pittsburgh). Their mascot is the Raiders.  The Iroquois School District in Erie County has Braves as their mascot.

Of all 584 high school mascots identified, Indians was only second in popularity to Panthers, which were in 26 schools.

Here is a breakdown of the offensive names and their usage:

Mascot NameNumber of High SchoolsStudent Population
Big Red 1494
Chiefs 1713
R*dskins 22,973
Red Raiders 53,887
Warriors 2015,744

We can all learn from the strength and commitment of the students at Neshaminy, and others who are actively resisting racist mascot names. These changes will not happen just by identifying mascots as racist. There are many personal conversations ahead in these communities about how much harm they cause people – with students, civic leaders, and ultimately, school board members. 

The time to take action is always now.



PA School Districts Respond to Landmark Federal Guidance Issued for Trans Students


The US Department of Education and US Department of Justice released landmark guidance last Friday clarifying that transgender students are protected under the federal non-discrimination law, Title IX. The guidance sent to every school district in the country does not have the force of law, but schools that receive federal funding are on notice that if they do not comply, they risk losing that support. Gender identity has been declared as a protected class from discrimination under Title IX given the interpretation of gender identity as part of sex stereotyping declared by US Department of Education in 2014. This interpretation was recently upheld by the Fourth Circuit, and was further clarified on Friday.

The guidelines explain that in order to be in compliance with Title IX to receive federal funding, schools must: provide a safe and non-discriminatory environment, respect a student’s affirmed name and pronouns, ensure access to sex-segregated spaces that align with a student’s gender identity, and guarantee privacy in education documents. 

Public schools in Pennsylvania receive over $1 billion in federal funding. 

Of the nearly 40 district Superintendents and spokespeople we found that commented in news media the past few days, not one said they would defy the guidance from the US Department of Education.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education has stated it will continue to refer districts to the federal guidelines. Neither Governor Wolf nor Pennsylvania Department of Education Secretary Pedro Rivera have issued a direct statement regarding of the new guidelines. 

Take a look below at the nearly two dozen news stories we found from throughout the commonwealth. These news stories are collectively groundbreaking – we cannot remember a time when so many school officials spoke so directly on trans issues at once. Below are also a few editorials both supporting and attacking the guidance which have been published in Pennsylvania.

Friday, May 13th

U.S. gives directive to schools on transgender bathroom access
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/AP

White House Issues Guidance on Transgender Bathrooms
PA Homepage – Wilkes-Barre

U.S. gives directive to schools on transgender bathroom access; Valley educators seek more info
Sunbury Daily Item

‘We are going to comply’: Local schools react to Obama’s transgender directive
Johnstown Tribune-Democrat

Lancaster County schools want to be safe places for transgender students
Lancaster Online

Obama adminsitration announces transgender guidelines for students, already in place at Brashear High School
WTAE Pittsburgh

Transgender issues surface in Pittsburgh-area districts
Pittsburgh Tribune

Parents in Stroudsburg Weigh In on Transgender Announcement
WNEP from Stroudsburg

School Bathroom Issue Draws Mixed Reaction
WNEP from Wilkes-Barre

With Bethlehem Area already on board, Lehigh Valley school districts to gear up for Obama’s transgender directive
Allentown Morning Call

Local school districts respond to federal guidance for transgender students
Centre Daily Times from State College

Obama: Let transgender students choose
Fox Erie

Transgender Bathroom Pushback
NBC Philadelphia

US gives directive to schools on transgender bathroom access
NBC Pittsburgh

Saturday, May 14th

Obama administration gives schools guidance on transgender students’ rights
Philadelphia Inquirer

Berks County school officials weigh in on trangender bathroom directive
Reading Eagle

With federal directive, area schools to discuss transgender bathroom issue
Scranton Times-Tribune

Transgender bathroom directive ‘not a complete surprise’ for area superintendents
Wilkes-Barre Citzens’ Voice

Sunday, May 15th

How the transgender bathroom issue plays out in Pa., Erie
Erie Times-News

Op-Eds this Weekend from Pennsylvania

Obama made the wrong call with transgender bathroom rule: Ken Kilpatrick
Penn Live

LIVING YOUR TRUTH: ‘We see you’ – Attorney General Lynch historically stands for transgender rights
NEPA Scene

The Democrats’ LGBTQ war on women
Lebanon Daily News

Thomas: North Carolina fights back
Carlisle Sentinel

Photo: Pittsburgh high school students preparing to testify before the Pittsburgh School Board in favor of the proposed trans student policy on May 2, 2016 (Pennsylvania Youth Congress)

Great Valley + Springfield Township Adopt First Known Trans Student Policies in PA, Backward Movement Proposed in Pine-Richland

GV and Springfield2










We have finally arrived at a historic moment for transgender student rights in Pennsylvania.

The Great Valley and Springfield Township School Districts have become the first known districts in Pennsylvania to adopt formal policies supporting trans students!

On Monday night, the Great Valley School Board voted to adopt Policy 103.3. Last night, on Tuesday, the Springfield Township School Board voted to approve Policy 253. Both are comprehensive regulations in support of transgender students. The Great Valley School Board introduced Policy 103.3 on March 14, 2016 and adopted their regulation on April 18, 2016. The Springfield Township School Board unanimously approved both the first reading of the policy on March 15, 2016 and the final second reading on April 19, 2016.

The comprehensive transgender student policies enacted in Great Valley and Springfield – both suburbs of Philadelphia – address critical areas of educational opportunities. The policies and those being considered across the commonwealth include privacy rights for transgender students, handling academic records, incorporation in sex-segregated programs, restroom and locker room access, integration in athletic activities, dress codes, and general harassment and discrimination.
The Lower Merion School District, in Montgomery County, had a first reading of their transgender student policy on Monday. The Pittsburgh School District has recently announced its plans to introduce their policy next month. Several more districts will be introducing their own policies in the near future. Across 500 districts, many schools throughout Pennsylvania have in practice supported transgender students for years, but are now beginning to take the critical steps to enact official policies.

The Pennsylvania Youth Congress has been proudly working with a number of districts in support of these efforts for several years. These policies are critical in the work to ensure a safe and successful educational experience for transgender students. In turn, they help entire school communities be lifted up in celebrating all students, regardless of their gender identity or expression.

PineRichlandImageHowever, steps backward are being considered by a few school districts. On Monday evening, another three-hour school board meeting took place in the Pine-Richland School District in Allegheny County.  While transgender students have been supported by the administration in practice, a network of parents has come together to try and strip away the basic accommodations that have been made for them. An informational meeting on transgender youth will take place in Pine-Richland on Thursday. In addition to the Pennsylvania Youth Congress, THRIVE of Southwest PA and Lambda Legal have been standing with students and community members in Pine-Richland who support the rights and dignity of trans students.

With yesterday’s landmark court win in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, transgender students in Pennsylvania now have critical support in the federal courts. In Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board, a trans high school student in Virginia was supported by his administration in basic accommodations, but then the school board enacted a negative policy to strip them away. When challenged in federal court, the student won. The case was remanded to the district court with the determination that gender identity and expression is a protected class.

In 2014, the United States Department of Education issued guidance that gender identity and expression are protected classes under Title IX, through sex stereotyping. Now through Grimm, that guidance has the backing of law through the federal judiciary. This essentially means that students have assurance in successfully bringing a claim or suit against a school for gender identity or expression discrimination.  The ruling yesterday would be persuasive case law for the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, where we are in Pennsylvania.

Former University of Pittsburgh – Johnstown student Seamus Johnston filed a federal lawsuit in 2013 against the school for gender identity discrimination, before the United States Department of Education’s guidance was issued. While the suit was first dismissed in the Western District of Pennsylvania by Judge Kim Gibson, on appeal, the university settled the claim in March 2016 in recognition of their major movement forward supporting trans students.

The Pennsylvania Youth Congress has reached out to the Pennsylvania School Boards Association and the Pennsylvania Department of Education to better coordinate the advancement of these policies, and meaningfully support transgender students across the commonwealth. The Pennsylvania Youth Congress calls upon the agencies to collectively address supporting transgender students and awaits their response.

We are incredibly proud of the Great Valley and Springfield Township communities for their historic moves in supporting transgender students, and commend the leadership of Great Valley Board President David Barratt and Superintendent Regina Speaker Palubinsky, and Springfield Township Board President Gretchen Slapinsky and Superintendent Dr. Nancy Hacker, in ensuring the policies was adopted. We thank the Attic Youth Center for recently providing LGBTQ-inclusion training to the Springfield Township district.

If school board members or community members in Pennsylvania are interested in any assistance in advocating for a local school district policy supporting transgender students, they are encouraged to directly reach out to the Pennsylvania Youth Congress at or call 717-743-1035.

NOTE: On April 22, 2016, this online post was updated to reflect that the Great Valley School District adopted their policy on April 18, 2016, before Springfield Township’s on April 19, 2016. Together they are the first known policies in Pennsylvania. In our wording we celebrated Springfield Township as the first widely and publicly known district to take this action, but acknowledge that Great Valley adopted theirs before on Monday once it became widely and publicly known. 


Bethlehem Area School District Adds Gender Identity and Gender Expression to District Policies

The Bethlehem Area School District Board of School Directors unanimously voted to add “gender identity and gender expression” as protected characteristics under the district’s nondiscrimination policies and unlawful harassment policies at a school board meeting on Monday, April 20. The district previously only provided protections for LGBT individuals based upon sexual orientation.

Bethlehem Area School District is now the seventh school district in Pennsylvania to adopt nondiscrimination protections for transgender students, joining Pittsburgh Public Schools, Allentown School District, State College Area School District, Abington School District, New Hope-Solebury School District and Lower Merion School District.

School Board Director Basilio A. Bonilla Jr. led efforts to protect transgender individuals within the district. Bonilla said that he was aware of several transgender students within the district, and upon reviewing the district’s policies, saw that these students had no protection from discrimination under current policy. After consulting with LGBT community leaders, Bonilla contacted the district’s superintendent to discuss amending the policy. Following two initial readings at previous Board of School Directors meetings, the policy was voted upon and passed by a 9-0 vote. “Last night Democrats, Republicans, and an Independent came together to protect the rights of all students, and that is something I am really proud of as a Board Member,” Bonilla told the Keystone Student Voice on Tuesday.

Bonilla said that he intends to continue to advocate for the district’s LGBT students. “We’re not done yet,” he stated. “We need be there to support our kids.” He hopes to establish training for the district’s sports coaching staff on working with LGBT students and to implement a transgender inclusive nondiscrimination policy in the Bethlehem Area Vocational Technical School, which serves Bethlehem Area, Saucon Valley, and Northampton Area School Districts.

Bonilla came out as bisexual in March of 2014. He is the first openly LGBT elected official in Bethlehem. In his first year as a School Board Director, he worked with the district’s health insurance provider to offer benefits to same-sex spouses of faculty and staff before marriage equality was legalized in Pennsylvania.

Photo: Express-Times

McGuffey School District Must Implement LGBTQ-Affirming Policies

The Day of Silence was the scariest day of the year for me when I was in high school. Those memories came back to me yesterday, when I learned that at McGuffey High School, a rural Pennsylvania high school in Washington County, students allegedly planned what amounts to an entire anti-LGBTQ Spirit Week to coincide with their Day of Silence on Wednesday. Students posted pictures of themselves on social media wearing flannel shirts on the Day of Silence and writing “Anti-Gay” on their hands. The posts indicated that the students would be wearing red on the following school day to signify their opposition to LGBTQ students, and that they had many more “anti-gay” days planned. Students at McGuffey who participated in the Day of Silence reported that they were verbally harassed, physically assaulted, and had offensive notes taped to their lockers. These students told local Channel 11 News that they are afraid to return to school.   

Organized by GLSEN, the Day of Silence is an annual event in support of LGBTQ students. Participants take a vow of silence for the school day to draw attention to issues of bullying and harassment, which effectively silence LGBTQ youth from living openly. Nationally, the Day of Silence was held on Friday, April 17, but McGuffey High School students choose to observe the event on Wednesday, April 15.

A school board meeting was held on the Thursday following McGuffey High School’s Day of Silence, and students and community members came out to share their stories and their concerns. Kathy Cameron, Chair of the Board of Directors of the Washington County Gay Straight Alliance, Inc. was present at the meeting, and reported that several students voiced their experiences on the Day of Silence to the school board members. Cameron described the school board members as being “receptive and reactive,” and stated that they “appeared to understand the gravity of the situation.”

McGuffey School District Superintendent Dr. Erica Kolat released a statement to media, saying, “Yesterday afternoon, April 16, 2015, allegations of harassment were brought to the attention of our administration. McGuffey School District, along with school police officers, continue to investigate all allegations. We will follow our Student Code of Conduct, and file legal citations, as warranted. We resolve to ensure that all children can grow and learn in a safe, supportive environment free from discrimination.”

Taking a stand against the harassment and violence which has already occurred is a good first step, but ensuring that all students grow and learn in an environment free from discrimination requires greater institutional change.

For the past three school years, McGuffey School District has reported to the Pennsylvania Department of Education that zero incidents of bullying have occurred in the district, despite the fact that the CDC has found that about 20% of students in Pennsylvania report being the targets of bullying. Additionally, the district’s nondiscrimination policy and anti-bullying policy contain no mention of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.

I call upon McGuffey School District to send a clear message against discrimination by updating their nondiscrimination and anti-bullying policies to list sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression as protected categories, accurately reporting to the Pennsylvania Department of Education incidents of bullying, and appropriately preventing and intervening in all situations of student intimidation and harassment.  

As I read the reports about McGuffey High School, I was immediately taken back to a spring day when I was in middle school, sitting in the back of the bus and trying to blend in with the infinitely cooler high school students as they conversed about the high school’s upcoming “Gay Day.” The general consensus of the group was that on the Day of Silence next week, which they called “Gay Day,” you were supposed to wear “black if you’re anti-gay, white if you’re gay, and red if you’re not gay, but you support gay people.” There was some contention over the proper color to identify oneself as bisexual. I wasn’t even in high school at the time, and no sort of event had been spoken of at the middle school, but I was terrified of drawing unwanted attention to myself or causing offense through my almost entirely black wardrobe. I marked the date on my calendar and remembered to wear a neutral blue shirt.

Matters had improved by the time I reached high school, but every year, I imagined walking into school on the Day of Silence to face an entire group of people visibly protesting my very existence. Being an openly LGBTQ or allied student could be intimidating on the other 179 days of the school year, but an entire day dedicated towards raising visibility for our issues made me feel like I had a target on my back. My high school’s Gay-Straight Alliance prepared for the Day of Silence for weeks in advance, planning our shirts, ordering bracelets, and talking about what to do if we encountered harassment or violence. During my senior year of high school, our GSA opted to create matching Day of Silence shirts in black, to represent the legacy of black shirts being used to threaten and silence our fellow LGBTQ students.

I was incredibly fortunate to never have experienced anything like the trauma that LGBTQ and allied students from McGuffey High School have been forced to cope with. These students are facing the nightmare that kept me awake every night before the Day of Silence. Institutional change is necessary to end this blatant discrimination and hatred.

There is no easy fix to the deeply embedded problems of homophobia, transphobia, and violence in our schools, but McGuffey School District administrators, faculty, and staff have the ability to take a meaningful stand against discrimination in their district. I urge the McGuffey School District to implement policies which support LGBTQ students and to responsibly report and intervene in incidents of bullying, harassment, and violence. Solely reacting to this situation is not enough. The McGuffey School District must be proactive in changing policies and holding themselves accountable in order to prevent this bigotry from occurring again.

Catholic Students Across PA Unite to Support Michael Griffin

Disappointment continues to roll in from across the nation regarding the actions of Holy Ghost Preparatory School’s administration in terminating the employment of foreign language teacher Michael Griffin. Mr. Griffin was fired last Friday from the Catholic high school in suburban Philadelphia for obtaining a marriage license to wed his partner.

Father McCloskey, the school President, released a statement saying that the school had “no choice,” but to terminate Griffin, because his decision to marry, “contradicts the terms of his teaching contract at our school, which requires all faculty and staff to follow the teachings of the Church as a condition of their employment.”

In response, LGBT community leaders from Catholic universities across Pennsylvania have written an open letter Father McCloskey and Principal Danilak of Holy Ghost, asking them to reinstate Mr. Griffin. The Catholic students criticized the Holy Ghost administration for treating Griffin in a a way that “does not clearly reflect Christ and His teachings,” and implored the school to “embrace all who devote themselves to the fullness of moving the gospel messages of love and charity to children and the whole world.”

Griffin’s termination has caused outrage among Pennsylvanians, and brought attention to the absence of a nondiscrimination law protecting LGBTQ employees. However, as Holy Ghost is a private religious institution, it is unclear whether a nondiscrimination law would have protected Griffin. The Supreme Court ruled in January of 2012 that nondiscrimination laws do not protect employees of faith-based institutions which perform religious duties.

Former Holy Ghost student, Dan McQuade, criticized the school in an Op-Ed for Philadelphia Magazine:

The school was happy to have him when it could pretend he wasn’t gay, though Griffin says he and his future-husband sat with the school’s president, Jeff Danilak, at a school event. But as soon as it felt it received an official notification, McCloskey said he needed to act.

Bensalem resident and Treasurer of the PC Alliance, Pennsylvania College of Technology’s LGBTQ group, John Fox, said he was “surprised” by the school’s decision. “Bensalem is not known for these kinds of actions. It’s an open minded town.”

“The call to change our legal system includes the moral imperative to change our culture as well. To affirm the human dignity of LGBTQ individuals, the Catholic community must grow in acceptance and in love.” said Jared Schaaf, Convener of the Pennsylvania Student Equality Coalition, a student at Gannon University, a Catholic university in Erie.

A message was posted to the school website Monday by Father McCloskey, which said, “We acknowledge that this decision has been difficult for everyone… We regret the pain that this has caused to any and all involved.” Father McCloskey stated that the administration will keep the school community informed at they “move forward.”

If you are Catholic student in Pennsylvania, whether LGBTQ or an ally, please sign the letter below urging the Holy Ghost Administration to reinstate Mr. Griffin, and move towards a more inclusive and affirming school community. The KSV will not post names that do not have both the full school name and class year.

Of the 26 Roman Catholic colleges and universities in Pennsylvania, 18 currently have an active LGBT student organization. LGBT and ally students at Catholic schools are increasingly finding and building safe spaces on their campus with growing support from faculty and staff. Many of the LGBT student organizations at these schools were formed in the past few years.

**Please note, the lead signatories of the open letter in no way represent the LGBTQ student organizations they helm at their universities,
but have signed on as individuals**

Catholic Students of Pennsylvania: Sign the Open Letter to Holy Ghost!
  • Your Name*First and Last Name
  • Email Address*Your Email Address
  • Catholic Colleges and Universites*Select Your School
  • College/University Graduation Year*Expected or Past Graduation Year
  • Catholic High Schools*Please Type the Full Name of Your School
  • High School Graduation Year*Expected or Past Graduation Year
  • 6

Catholic School Students Across Pennsylvania

Brian Franchuk – University of Scranton ’15
Rebecca Taylor – King’s College ’14
Gabe Romero – King’s College ’15
Julia A. Ramsey – Conwell Egan Catholic School ’99
Amanda Fritschi – Duquesne University ’14, Trinity High School ’11
Daniel Simpson – King’s College ’13
Jared Schaaf – Gannon University ’15
Jesse Harvey – King’s College ’14
Michael Thomas – Archbishop Carroll High School ’05
Vanessa Cherry – Gannon University ’15

Joseph Gnahoui-David – Gannon University ’16
Zak Westfall – Gannon University ’16
Nicholas Ramsey – Conwell Egan Catholic School ’04
Jessica Kluck – Venango Catholic High School ’05
Meghann Taft-Lockard – La Salle University ’17
Caitlin Hammar – La Salle University ’14
Casey Schu – La Salle University ’17, Mount Saint Joseph Academy ’13
Andrew J. King – La Salle University ’17
Amanda Vogel – Chestnut Hill College ’15, John W. Hallahan Catholic Girls’ High School ’11
Patrick Herbert – Holy Ghost Preparatory School ’12
Veronica Hamilton – La Salle University ’17
Nicole Benzing – St. Joseph’s University ’14, Mount de Sales Academy ’10
Halee Burke – St. Joseph’s University ’16, Peninsula Catholic High School ’12
Erin McGrody – St. Joseph’s University ’17, Nazareth Academy High School ’13
Luigi Nunez – St. Joseph’s University ’17
Scarlett C. – St. Joseph’s University ’16, Academy of the Holy Cross ’12
Will Johnson – St. Joseph’s University ’16, Gonzaga College High School ’12
Andrew Nguyen – St. Joseph’s University ’17, Saint Louis University High School ’13
Jeannette-Marie Kelley – Holy Family University ’84, Nazareth Academy ’80
Beatrice Ayoub – St. Joseph’s University ’17
Raymond Lubrano Di Caruozzo – St. Joseph’s University ’17, Salesianum ’11
Liz Wardach – St. Joseph’s University ’16
Leyla Capitelli – Villa Joseph Marie High School ’90
Madison Donchez – St. Joseph’s University ’17
Jenna Harrison – St. Joseph’s University ’13
Christina Flynn – St. Hubert’s High School ’00
Eli Mancini – St. Joseph’s University ’16
Kesle Ffrench – St. Joseph’s University ’16
Gerry Gormley Rudewicz – Bishop Conwell High School ’78
Kayla M. Walker – St. Joseph’s University ’16
Terrell Mills – St. Joseph’s University ’16
Theresa Ta – St. Joseph’s University ’17
Catherine Murphy – St. Joseph’s University ’17
Amanda Matrisciano – St. Joseph’s University ’17
Elizabeth Krotulis – St. Joseph’s University ’17, Saint Rose High School ’13
Elizabeth Picca – St. Joseph’s University ’17
Reilly Igo – St. Joseph’s University ’15
Rae Coleman – St. Joseph’s University ’16
Nam Nguyen – Mercyhurst University ’16
Erin R. Mussett – Gannon University ’15
Jessica Johnson – King’s College ’14
Elizabeth Nawrocki – Villa Maria Academy ’12
Jodi Tunstall – Conwell-Egan Catholic High School ’91
Therese Stadelmeier – Conwell-Egan Catholic High School ’78
Emily Abramowicz – Archbishop Wood High School ’12
Joanna Lipniarska – La Salle University ’16
Kelly O’Brien – Nazareth Academy High School ’09
Christian O’Brien – St. Joseph’s University ’13
Catherine Elorette – St. Joseph’s University ’14, Academy of Saint Elizabeth ’10
Summer Rollins – St. Joseph’s University ’14
Jade Marie Nesbitt – St. Joseph’s University ’15


Post Photo Credit: Michael Griffin

Suburban Catholic High School Terminates Gay Teacher For Marrying Partner

The same day he applied for a marriage license with his same-sex partner, foreign language teacher Michael Griffin was fired by the administration at Holy Ghost Preparatory School, in Bensalem. A graduate of Holy Ghost himself, he had taught at the Bucks County school for twelve years. Griffin said he emailed the principal, Jeffrey Danilak, to inform him that he might be late to an in-service day on Friday, as he was applying for a marriage license in New Jersey. Following the in-service, Griffin was asked to meet with the school principal and President, Father James McCloskey.

At the meeting, Father McCloskey said to Griffin, “It’s not really a secret here that you’re gay… I assume this is a same sex marriage.” Griffin was then told that if he was to go through with the marriage, he would be terminated.

His partner, Vincent Giannetto, told 6-ABC Action News, “We applied (for a marriage license) this morning and on the same day he’s fired from his job. So it kind of flipped things upside down for us.” Griffin said that he did not believe he would be fired for getting married.

Bensalem resident and Treasurer of the PC Alliance, Pennsylvania College of Technology’s LGBTQ group, John Fox, said he was “surprised” by the school’s decision. “Bensalem is not known for these kinds of actions. It’s an open minded town.”

Anti-LGBT discrimination at Catholic schools in Pennsylvania is unfortunately not new.


Rev. James St. George

In 2011, Chestnut Hill College, located in Northwest Philadelphia, terminated adjunct professor Rev. James St. George upon learning that he was gay. The Catholic institution received a firestorm of criticism from communities and media across the country. The Rev. St. George eventually secured a teaching position at the University of Pennsylvania.

Holy Ghost is a private religious institution, and is exempted from nondiscrimination laws. Even if the Bensalem Township Council, Pennsylvania General Assembly, or the United States Congress adopted legislation to include sexual orientation as a protected class, under the current nondiscrimination laws the school would be untouchable by governmental authorities.

The work to end discrimination against LGBT people in religious institutions must be approached systemically within the faith community itself.

Last month, nearby Central Bucks School District garnered controversy for failing to cover same-sex partners and spouses in their employee health insurance policy. After a series of school board meetings, Central Bucks announced last week that they would move to extend spousal benefits for legally married couples.

Central Bucks School District Denies Spousal Benefits to Same-Sex Couple

Residents of the Central Bucks School District rallied in favor of same-sex spousal benefits for staff at a school board meeting on Tuesday evening. All 13 speakers who signed up to speak during the public comment period did so in favor of extending the benefits, and almost every seat in the room was filled with supporters.

At the October 22nd board meeting, a school district employee discussed the denied request for her spouse, whom she legally married in Delaware, to be covered by the district’s health insurance plan. She was told that the wording of the district’s insurance policy prevented them from offering her spouse benefits. However, draft minutes from a Human Resources Committee meeting on October 9th showed that the committee recommended not allowing same-sex spousal benefits until marriage equality is legalized in Pennsylvania.

The Board President, Stephen Corr, opened the meeting on Tuesday with a prepared statement on the situation. He said that the Board anticipated the employee would file a grievance, and has reportedly entered into arbitration with the staff member. The Human Resources Committee will meet tonight in Doylestown to discuss their position in the arbitration process. Corr emphasized that no decisions were formally before the board at this time, and said they would not be discussing the issue any further at the meeting.

The floor was then opened for public comments from the students, parents, and community members who signed up to speak. Doylestown resident and education law attorney, David Kahn stated, “When talking about civil rights, there is absolutely no room to be silent.” He cited two of the core values of the Pennsylvania School Board Association, integrity and respect, which require school boards to aspire to ethical treatment for all.

A high school senior in the district, Nicole, shared a story from the recently held Ally Week. “We wore badges that said ‘I believe all students should be able to learn in a safe space, including LGBT students who may face bullying and harassment.’ It’s a shame we didn’t include teachers and staff on them too.”

Kristen Henderson, a mother of two children in the district said that she was “pretty shocked” that such a meeting even needed to take place. “I thought I lived in a progressive community… the motto of our school district is ‘leading the way,’ but I see us lagging behind.”

All of the speakers shared disappointment in their decision as archaic. David Hall, a Doylestown resident, asserted that the “Central Bucks School District cannot be both innovative and a dinosaur at the same time.” Additionally, Doylestown Borough Councilmember Don Berk asked the board to “Do the right thing. Don’t be a dinosaur.”

Of the students that spoke, several expressed their desire to one day become teachers. Von Scully, President of the LGBT student group at Delaware Valley College, said he wants his students to “help build a community based on respect, but I can’t do that truthfully at all with these kinds of policies in place.”

The school district has two health insurance options, an HMO plan through Aetna, and a PPO plan through Amerihealth. The HMO plan provides coverage for “legal spouses,” while the Amerihealth plan specifies that it only covers spouses of the opposite sex. Many neighboring school districts including the New Hope-Solebury School District and the Centennial School District have health care policies which cover same-sex partners. The first known challenge to a Pennsylvania school district barring same-sex partner benefits began 17 years ago in the Lower Merion School District, where the arbitration extended full benefits to the teacher’s same-sex partner in late 1997.

Marlene Pray, a former Doylestown Borough Councilmember and current member of the Bucks County Human Relations Council, questioned the school board’s approach. “I know you need time to sort things through, but how much time? When can we expect a vote? How much taxpayer money will you spend on lawyers to fight this?…You keep saying this issue was not before the committee or board, but I hope you will consider it before you now.”

The final speaker was Matt Kelly, a senior at Central Bucks High School – East. He spoke to the inevitability of this policy inclusion and the recent passage of Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) in the US Senate. He told the board members that “You can live knowing full well that you will be overruled by superior powers in the years to come, or make the right decision, today.”

The KSV will continue to closely monitor this unfolding situation in Bucks County.

Richland High School Forms GSA Following Trans Student Discrimination

Last night, the Richland School Board unanimously approved the formation of a Gay Straight Alliance at their board meeting.

While he was denied the right to run for Homecoming King,  Kasey Caron, a transgender student at Richland Senior High School, is glad something positive has come out of his ordeal.  Kasey sparked an international discussion on the treatment of transgender students when he and his supporters petitioned for his right to be identified as male on the Homecoming Court. When speaking at a Richland School District Board meeting in September, Kasey additionally requested that the school board amend their nondiscrimination policy to protect gender identity, allow him to wear the male’s cap and gown during graduation, and approve the formation of a Gay Straight Alliance.

The main challenge in establishing a GSA, Kasey said, was finding a teacher willing to advise the club. After weeks of searching, business education teacher Sandy Myers volunteered. Myers previously taught Kasey’s eighth grade math class before moving into business education. Once a faculty member agreed to advise the GSA, the School Board prioritized voting on the club’s formation.

Kasey hopes to hold the first meeting next Friday. He is working with Pennsylvania Student Equality Coalition Board Member Mike Campbell to prepare materials for advertising the club and to guide their meetings. Campbell was optimistic about the formation of the club, saying, “Hopefully this is just the start of the positive change happening in Johnstown.”

Richland is the first high school in the Johnstown region to have a GSA. Kasey said he hopes that surrounding high schools will follow suit, particularly neighboring Westmont Hilltop High School, where there is high student interest.

“Even after all of the negatives I went through, a positive came out of it,” said Kasey. “With the formation of a GSA, we will have students working together to prevent my situation from happening again.”

In addition to the approval of the GSA, Kasey told the Keystone Student Voice that he will be able to wear a blue cap and gown along with the other males at his graduation.