The NYCLU’s Goodman understands that there is a difficult balance that must be maintained by religious institutions. As she says, “In an ideal world, every student should be treated with equal dignity and respect, and schools should be encouraging students to be proud of who they are, not pushing or discriminating against them for it. When it comes to private religious schools, however, important equality principles must often be balanced against a private religious institution’s right under the free exercise clause of the Constitution to promote its religious tenets.”
David Kilmnick, Ph.D., MSW, founder of Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth (LIGALY), is less reserved in his criticism of St. Anthony’s. “It’s absolutely ludicrous and really insane of the school to be doing that,” says Kilmnick. “It’s blatant discrimination. That’s not what any place of faith should be doing. It’s destructive and it’s discriminatory.”
Of course, what the school allows and what the students can get away with are two different things. Angelina admits that she could have probably found a way to get Brianne into the dance simply by buying a ticket in advance for, say, “Brian” instead. She says that Brother Joshua even offered her such a workaround—telling Angelina that she could get Brianne inside the prom simply by having a single boy take Brianne as his date, and once inside, Brianne and Angelina could sit together, dance together, hang out together… Angelina considered this option, and even tried to pull it off, but, she says, this solution was “degrading” and ultimately untenable.
“Do you know how hard it is to find a boy who’s going to the prom by himself?” asks Angelina. “And who wants to take a complete stranger? It’s so hard to even explain to someone.”
Kilmnick applauds Angelina’s crusade; he says it’s not only admirable, but crucial. “We have to put an end to all discrimination and all bullying,” he says. “And bullying in this instance is done by the adults and the school administrators—and they need to be held just as accountable and liable as we would hold the young students who would do this.”
The simple answer for Angelina—the one she will likely have to accept—is that life is full of these injustices, and when one enters an institution like St. Anthony’s, one must be prepared to accept the rules set forth by said institution. The other option is for people like Angelina to stay out of such private clubs—to stay among the public, where laws protect people against institutional discrimination. But Angelina admits that she has trouble accepting injustice or backing down from a fight. And, more importantly, she loves St. Anthony’s: the academic rigors, the community, the structure. The school has been good to her and good for her. Both Angelina and her parents admit as much. She’s happy there. Most of the time.
The one thing all parties agree on is that, for high school students, prom is indeed an event of some magnitude, some actual emotional substance: a thing to anticipate and remember; a turning point. Everyone seems to recognize this.
“It’s part of high school life,” says Brother Joshua, “these social activities where kids become friends with each other and just enjoy high school.”
Brother Gary concurs: “Are proms big deals for high school kids?” he asks. “Yes, I think it’s kind of an important point in a person’s life.”
To Kilmnick, that importance can’t be underscored enough. “A prom is a rite of passage for high school students, and there’s no reason why gay students can’t relish in that rite of passage the same way their heterosexual peers do,” he says. “It’s relegating the gay student to second-class citizenship.”
No one, though, is more aware of the importance of the prom than Angelina.
“A family friend asked me, ‘So, who are you going to prom with?’ And I was like, ‘No one…I’m not going to prom with anybody. I’m going by myself,’” says Angelina. “And that’s a hard thing because it’s senior prom. I’ve never, until this year, heard of someone going to senior prom by themselves. You just don’t. So, to me, it’s like a big deal.”
—With reporting by Melissa Chan
Tags: Angelina Lange, Brother Gary Cregan, Brother Joshua DiMauro, California Supreme Court, Catholic Church, Constance McMillen, Cover Story, David Kilmnick, featured, featured-scroll, Itawamba Agricultural High School, Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth, Long Island Schools, Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, NYCLU, prom, seinor prom, Sister M. Ambrose Wozniak, St. Anthony’s, St. Anthony’s High School, Unruh Civil Rights Act, Villa Maria Academy