A gay teenager at a Catholic high school was left “anxious” and “afraid” after she was forced by the school to attend counselling under the threat of being outed by her teachers.
Magali Rodriguez attended Bishop Amat Memorial High School, the biggest Catholic high school in Los Angeles, and she and her girlfriend were the only openly LGBT+ couple among 1,300 students.
She told Buzzfeed that although she knew that Catholic teachings often forbid same-sex relationships, she had checked in the student handbook that it was not against the rules at the Catholic high school and her friends seemed accepting.
She said: “I was surrounding myself with people that were really involved in their religion, but still accepting. So I never thought there was anything bad about it.”
But in the second semester of her first year at Bishop Amat, she said teachers called the two of them into separate disciplinary meetings to say that there had been complaints about their relationship.
Rodriguez said her dean of discipline told her that the relationship was wrong, and that she would no longer be able to sit next to her girlfriend at lunch or see her during breaks. He added that the disciplinary meetings would continue and insisted that she attend counselling with the school psychologist.
The teenager had not yet come out to her family, and the dean said that if she broke any of his rules he would out her to her parents. Rodriguez said she and her girlfriend walked out of their respective meetings “sobbing”.
The dean followed through with the rules, and the horrific treatment continued for the next two years with teachers watching their every move, she said.
She added: “We were really afraid on campus We didn’t hold hands, we hardly hugged or anything. They just had the teachers staked out.”
Rodriguez described one lunch break when she sat down next to her girlfriend, and a teacher immediately came over, standing just a few inches away from them.
Another time while waiting for a lift after a summer school class, a teacher approached the couple to tell them they were going to hell and that she was working to have them expelled.
Eventually in her senior year, when she and her girlfriend had broken up, Rodriguez reached breaking point. Her grades had dropped and she was spending every day anxious, sad and no longer excited to learn.
She said: “I thought to myself, I don’t know how much longer I can go.”
The student decided to come out to her parents in a letter which read: “I’m not OK. And I’m not OK being in this type of environment that’s supposed to be lifting me and encouraging me.” Her parents were not surprised that she was gay, but they were shocked at how she had been treated by the school.
Her father told Buzzfeed: “It sounded like a suicide letter. It was a huge cry for help.” Her mother added: “They took it upon themselves to parent our daughter, to counsel her, to lecture her.”
Rodriguez decided to finish her education at another high school, and said: “I wouldn’t be proud if I got a diploma from Bishop. What they showed me about what they stand for and their true values isn’t what they really live up to.” She said she was speaking out about the treatment she endured because she didn’t want it to “happen to anyone else”.
Bishop Amat Memorial High School refused to answer specific questions about Rodriguez’s experience, citing student privacy, but said that her account was not “entirely accurate”.
It said that all students were held to the same standards, and added: “Any student who is involved in a relationship may socialise appropriately on campus. However, as stated in the Parent/Student handbook, engaging in excessive displays of affection on campus is not permitted.”
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