Judge Amy Coney Barrett – who was nominated by Donald Trump to the Supreme Court – was a trustee at a school that bans LGBTQ students, parents, and staff, according to a new AP report.
Gay people who know her said that they are “terrified” and “petrified” by the possibility that she will get confirmed to the Supreme Court.
Barrett was on the board of trustees for Trinity Schools Inc. from 2015 to 2017, which operates three schools in Indiana, Minnesota, and Virginia as a part of the extreme, oath-based religious community “People of Praise.” Not only do the schools’ official documents explicitly attack LGBTQ people, but former students and employees also say that the schools teach that “homosexuality is an abomination against God.”
Tom Henry was a senior at the Trinity School in Minnesota in 2017 and he was a “student ambassador” for prospective students. He was asked by a lesbian parent if the school would accept her child.
Henry said that he went to then principal Jon Balsbaugh and asked.
“He looked me right in the eye and said, the next time that happens, you tell them they would not be welcome here,” Henry told the AP. “And he said to me that trans families, gay families, gay students, trans students would not feel welcome at Trinity Schools. And then he said, ‘Do we understand each other?’ And I said, yes. And I left. And then I quit the student ambassadors that day.”
Balsbaugh said he doesn’t remember the conversation the same way but did not explain further.
Barrett was a professor at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana when she became a trustee for the schools – one of the schools is located in South Bend.
The parent handbook for the South Bend school says that marriage is “a legal and committed relationship between a man and a woman” and that same-sex love as well as straight sex outside of marriage “is not in keeping with God’s plan for human sexuality.”
But the handbook doesn’t stop with a statement about marriage; it appears to encourage conversion therapy.
“At this age, some students may also experience same-sex attraction,” the handbook says. The expression “same-sex attraction” is common in conversion therapy literature and is meant to downplay the importance of gay and bi identities, describing them as mere impulses that can be controlled with self-discipline and possibly religious practices.
“We believe that it is unwise, however, for teens to prematurely interpret any particular emotional experience as identity-defining,” the passage continues. “We believe that such self-identification at a young age can lead to students being labeled based solely upon sexuality, generate distraction, create confusion, and prevent students from experiencing true freedom within the culture of the school.”
The handbook only describes gay and bi people’s “self-identification at a young age” as being “unwise” and says nothing about how straight students should avoid identifying as heterosexual at a young age, although the school does “discourage the formation of exclusive relationships” for straight students.
The handbook also appears to ban LGBTQ students from coming out: “As a matter of right speech, we ask students not to openly discuss matters of personal sexuality.”
The ban isn’t just for LGBTQ students. One administrator at the Minnesota school said that then-principal Balsbaugh was asked why the school would accept non-Christian students but not the children of parents in same-sex relationships.
The administrator said that Balsbaugh responded that non-Christian students are “seeking truth” – that is, they can be converted – while the kids of same-sex couples can’t be accepted “because their life is so contrary to our beliefs, and essentially that it was a choice,” they recounted.
The school said that it has no formal policy on the children of same-sex couples but declined to explain further.
Faculty were also required to be straight. An employment agreement from 2014 that the AP reviewed said, “Blatant sexual immorality (for example, fornication, adultery, homosexual acts, etc.) has no place in the culture of Trinity Schools.”
The AP said that the people they interviewed in the schools didn’t know of any out faculty members and that it was widely understood that they would not be welcome.
Students said that the environment at the schools was harsh. Michael Leehan graduated from the Minnesota school in 2015 and said that he was once reprimanded by a dean just for hugging a friend who happened to be a boy.
“I don’t know how else to describe it,” the alum said. “He just got a kind of a mean look in his eye and venom in his voice.”
“Don’t do that stuff here,” he said he was told.
Four students said that when their class read Dante’s Inferno, a book that contains descriptions of the Christian hell, teachers at all three of the Trinity schools made it clear that gay men were “rightly suffering in hell.”
A Trinity graduate who refused to be named in the AP report said that he was forced to undergo conversion therapy when administrators at the school found out he was gay when he was 16. His parents were also members of the People of Praise. The organization denies any involvement with conversion therapy.
People of Praise is not a church but “a network of lay Christian intentional communities.” Most members are Catholic like Barrett.
While she hasn’t ruled on major LGBTQ rights cases, Barrett has a history of anti-LGBTQ comments. In 2015, she signed a letter opposing marriage equality, which said that it goes against the Catholic teaching on “the meaning of human sexuality, the significance of sexual difference and the complementarity of men and women.”
In a 2016 panel discussion, Barrett said that the idea that federal civil rights laws that ban discrimination “because of sex” also ban discrimination against transgender people – who face discrimination because their sex assigned at birth does not align with their gender identity – is a “strain the text” of federal law. The reasoning is the basis of the landmark LGBTQ Supreme Court victory in Bostock.
Over the last ten years, she gave speeches for the anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom and was paid by the organization five times. The CEO of the hate group attended her nomination ceremony and told his followers to “pray” for her “rapid confirmation.”
And at her Senate confirmation hearings last week, she repeatedly referred to sexual orientation as “sexual preference,” which suggests she believes sexual orientation can be changed. She also refused to say whether or not she believes LGBTQ people are entitled to the same due process and equal protection rights as straight, cisgender people when it comes to marriage.
Balsbaugh, who is the current president of Trinity Schools Inc., said that the schools do not violate any laws when it comes to discrimination. That may well be the case because private, religious schools have wide latitude to discriminate, according to Supreme Court precedent.
Out White House spokesperson Judd Deere said that the AP’s report on Trinity schools amounted to “pathetic personal attacks on her children’s Christian school.”
“The Supreme Court has repeatedly reaffirmed that religious schools are protected by the First Amendment,” he said. Deere did not explain why it would be desirable for someone affiliated with a school that bans LGBTQ students, parents, and faculty to hold one of the most powerful positions in the U.S.