Students at San Francisco’s Sacred Heart Cathedral High School were mad as hell, and they let everyone know.
Why were they mad? One of their classmates, Senior Jessica Urbina, wore a tuxedo for her senior class portrait, and as a result administration officials decided to remove her photo from the yearbook.
After word of Urbina’s portrait snubbing was revealed, her classmates staged a protest by wearing ties and bow ties to school, while supporters flooded Twitter with messages of support with the hashtag #JessicasTux.
Apparently, school officials said Urbina violated the Archdiocese of San Francisco’s policy because she didn’t wear the dress that’s required for female students in yearbook photos. I’m not sure why this only became an issue now, since these photos are generally taken much earlier in the year, and clearly the photographer could see what this young woman was wearing.
Catholic Students Are Activists
Catholic students are of course known for their activism and standing up for what they believe is right. Remember the Catholic students at Eastside Catholic High School in Seattle, Wash., who walked out of school to protest discrimination against the termination of their vice principal, Mark Zmuda?
But while many Catholic students disagree with the Catholic Church turning its back on the 21st century, some school administrators seem to be going in the opposite direction.
As I wrote here last week, the new language in the contract for teachers at 54 Catholic schools in the East Bay of San Francisco says teachers in their professional and personal lives are expected to “model and promote behavior in conformity with the teaching of the Roman Catholic faith in matters of faith and morals.” The contract states that teachers can be fired for “failure to teach in accordance with the doctrine and moral teachings of the Catholic Church.”
In Urbina’s case, word spread across social media and support for her flowed in from around the world.
A beaming Urbina, who along with girlfriend Katie Emanuel wore a tie to school Friday, told reporters:
“I’m appreciative of everything, like really I’m so frickin’ glad that my fellow classmates are rallying behind me. I’ve never felt more love than I do right now.”
Her photo will not be included in the yearbook when it is passed out before the school year ends, but in a prepared statement, the school said it would work to change the policy in the future.
Power to Sacred Heart Students
Demonstrating just how much influence these students have, school principal Gary Cannon announced that he was proud of the reaction of students supporting Urbina. Unlike his colleagues in the Diocese of East Oakland, he chose to use this event as an opportunity to move forward, and spent time visiting classrooms to discuss the situation.
“I’m proud my students today,” he told reporters. “It’s an educational opportunity for school and the students.”
He added that Sacred Heart welcomes gay and transgender students but is run in accordance with Roman Catholic Church teachings.
Yes, it seems that Sacred Heart is backtracking.
Sacred Heart Cathedral School Issues Public Apology
In a public apology on its website, Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory said the school had not communicated their yearbook portrait policy adequately to Jessica Urbina and her parents, which stipulates that boys wear tuxedos and girls wear an off-the-shoulder drape.
But the school also went further in their statement, as CBS reports:
We understand those who are critical of our school and leadership based on the information provided publically [sic]. We are deeply appreciative of both our critics and those who contacted us expressing support and prayers. We also acknowledge the large number of alumni who wrote to share their experiences at SHC, most confirming the positive and supportive atmosphere they found at SHC, especially during the years when they came to an understanding and appreciation of their own sexual orientation and gender identity.
While we believe SHC to be a safe and supportive environment for all, this situation has reminded us that we still have much growth to achieve. While many gay and lesbian alumni and students have commented on the inclusive, supportive aspect of our school community, others have remarked on some prejudice that still exists. As a school, we must better learn how to support our students who are navigating issues of gender identity.
This is actually quite a step forward for a Catholic school, and also provides a perfect “teaching moment,” such as teachers love.
Congratulations to the students of Sacred Heart school for forcing this dialog.
Photo Credit: Michael Urbina via Twitter