LGBTQ Equality

School vouchers further anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination

  Rob Boston

The Washington Post recently ran a major story on the billions of taxpayer dollars that have been spent to subsidize private religious schools through voucher plans.

It’s a tragedy for many reasons. Taxpayer funding of religious institutions is a clear violation of separation of church and state; thanks to the spread of these plans, Americans in many parts of the country are being forced to pay to further religious views that are not their own. This is nothing more than a modern-day form of church tax.

But there’s another reason why vouchers are so pernicious that is especially relevant during Pride Month: They blatantly and harmfully underwrite discrimination against members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Private schools can and do discriminate

About 80% of private schools in America are religious (and in some states, practically 100% of private schools in voucher programs are religious). The Post reported that 77% of students in private schools are attending religious institutions. Many of these institutions, especially those sponsored by fundamentalist Christian denominations, refuse admission to students who are LGBTQ+, and won’t hire teachers or staff who are members of this community. (Sometimes, just having gay parents is enough to get a kid kicked out.)

The Huffington Post reported in 2017 that “at least 14 percent of religious schools take an active stance against LGBTQ staff and students. Some of these schools have policies on their websites generally broadcasting their opposition to same-sex marriage or even stating their belief that homosexuality is a sin on par with bestiality. Others have harsher policies – specifically stating that students can face punishments, like expulsion, for displaying signs of a ‘homosexual lifestyle’ or ‘alternate gender identity.’”

Two things about this story are worth noting: One, the study is seven years old. Since then, several other states have approved voucher plans. Two, an earlier HuffPo article uncovered examples of voucher schools promoting extreme ideas, including dangerous and discredited “conversion therapy” for LGBTQ+ youth.

Discriminatory schools showered with tax aid

These findings have been confirmed by other news outlets. A 2020 investigation by the Orlando Sentinel found that 156 private Christian academies with anti-LGBTQ+ views and policies received more than $129 million in voucher aid in 2019.

Over the years, AU’s Church & State magazine has reported on cases of teachers and other lay employees at private religious schools being fired because they’re gay or lesbian or they married a same-sex partner. They often have no recourse in court. (Here’s a recent example.) Americans United has also fought in court on behalf of LGBTQ+ private school employees who were discriminated against.

Critics have called the proliferation of voucher plans an existential threat to public education. That’s true. But let’s not forget that they’re also a threat to something else: the fair, anti-discriminatory society we’ve labored for decades to build.

Congress needs to hear from you!

Urge your legislators to co-sponsor the Do No Harm Act today.

The Do No Harm Act will help ensure that our laws are a shield to protect religious freedom and not used as a sword to harm others by undermining civil rights laws and denying access to health care.

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