LGBTQ Pride In Catholic Schools: Changing the Stigma of Sexuality and Religion

Miarah Palmer is on a mission to change attitudes about the LGBTQ+ community not only at her school, but in Philadelphia and the world.

A 17 year-old junior at Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School, Palmer has a vision of how an all-inclusive school should celebrate race, religion, and sexual orientation.

She believes it is her calling to create a safe space so the voices of the LGBTQ community and their allies can be heard. In January, she founded the school’s first club devoted to inclusion, a group she calls Pride.

“Take the time to hear them and what they need,” said Palmer, who wants to be a fashion designer. “Don’t talk at people. Talk with people,” she said.

The club meets regularly, offering all students the chance to participate.

Palmer remembers learning the meaning of the word “gay” as a 5th grader and how alone and confused she felt about her sexuality. Two years later, Palmer realized that she was bisexual and wanted to prevent others from experiencing the confusion and loneliness that she struggled with as she came to understand her sexual identity.

Palmer knew that by attending Cristo Rey, a Catholic school, she would have to confront the religion and its doctrine. She was fearful of the resistance she would face in her school environment.

Miarah Palmer, a 17-year-old junior at Cristo Rey High, has created a safe space at her school where students can come and talk about their sexual orientation. SIANI WILLIAMS, First Take Staff

Homosexual acts are, “intrinsically disordered” and “contrary to natural law,” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the official explanation of the religion’s teachings. 

Students in religious schools report that they encounter more anti-LGBTQ-related discrimination at school than students in other schools, according to the National School Climate Survey of 2017, which examines the experiences of LGBTQ+ youth in schools.

In late December, Palmer came out to talk with teacher Leah Mafrica, who advocates for the inclusion of LGBTQ teens and welcomes them into the school community. Palmer suggested starting a club for LGBTQ+ students  and Mafrica encouraged her to do it. By early January, Palmer was hanging flyers around school and preparing for the first official meeting of Pride.

Ten students attended the club’s first gathering. Since then, Palmer discovered that Cristo Rey has many out and proud students. That discovery  reinforced Palmer’s commitment to creating a welcoming environment for those who were out and those who were still in the process of coming out.  

“I was super excited especially since I’ve been wanting a club that highlights the LGBTQ community,” said Makani Thornhill, a junior at the school.

Most teachers have supported the club and its mission.

Palmer plans to promote “Pride,” throughout the community of Cristo Rey so that all students know  about the club for LGBTQ+ students and their allies.

Palmer hopes her decision to start the club will inspire other Catholic schools to establish their own groups. She believes that the key to making change is leadership that is willing to take a risk. She took one and Cristo Rey is a more welcoming place because of it.

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