News (USA)

School says they never would have accepted girl if they knew she had gay dads

Don Williams, Jose Ortega, Heart Cry Christian Academy, Pastor Billy VanCamp, discrimination, religious private school
Photo: Shutterstock

A private Christian school in Arizona allegedly told a male same-sex couple that they were not welcome and wouldn’t have let their daughter enroll if they had known she had a gay father.

The couple may face an uphill legal battle if they try to challenge the school’s discrimination in court. Even though the school accepts taxpayer-funded state education vouchers, private religious institutions that receive no federal funding don’t have to follow federal LGBTQ+ anti-discrimination laws.

At the start of 2023, the ex-wife of Don Williams enrolled their 10-year-old daughter into Heart Cry Christian Academy in Queen Creek, Arizona, a religious school whose website promises “to equip children with knowledge, wisdom, and biblical principles.”

When Williams and his husband Jose Ortega visited in the school in late January to introduce themselves and learn more about it, pastor Billy VanCamp took the men into a conference room “away from all the children” and began asking questions about their relationship.

“I said, ‘I’m still her stepdad, and as long as she is in my life and as long as she is attending the school, I’m going to be a part of it,'” Ortega told The Arizona Republic. “And [VanCamp] said, ‘Well, you are not welcome here.’ So, I was like, ‘Are you threatening me?’ And he said, ‘Try me.’… I felt very unsafe.”

Another school staff member allegedly told them that Williams’ daughter wouldn’t have been accepted as a student if administrators had known she had a gay father.

Williams told the publication, “Supposedly, as her father, I can pick her up and drop her off. I, supposedly, can come to any school event, but they have made it known that I am not welcomed at all… We don’t know anybody here. They have made us feel completely uncomfortable and unsafe even going there.”

“One of my fears is the fact that she’s in that school and they’re brainwashing her, and they’re telling her that it’s not OK for me to be me,” he added.

The school didn’t respond to the publication’s request for comment.

The Arizona Department of Education said it can’t do anything about the school’s discrimination and that the men can only seek a possible legal remedy in the courts. But the men would likely face an uphill battle because state and federal laws allow religious private schools to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people.

Arizona has the largest school voucher program in the country, offering parents thousands in so-called Empowerment Scholarship Account funds to pay for private school tuition, tutoring, therapy, or other educational materials. However, state law says that private schools that take the financial vouchers don’t have to alter their “creed, practices, admissions policy, or curriculum” to accommodate parents of enrolled students.

A 1972 federal law called Title IX prohibits schools that receive federal funding from discriminating on the basis of sex, something the Biden administration interprets as protecting LGBTQ+ people from discrimination. However, the Heart Cry Christian Academy doesn’t accept federal funds.

School voucher programs are often touted by Republicans and other anti-LGBTQ+ advocates as a form of so-called “school choice.” In reality, voucher advocates wish to weaken public education in favor of for-profit private schools which can legally exclude any students, parents, or topics they dislike. Such schools aren’t even required to follow the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and make accommodations for differently abled students.

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