Last week, Lance Sanderson, an 18-year-old senior at the all-boys Christian Brothers High School (CBHS), won discounted tickets for the Memphis, Tenn. school's homecoming dance. But he probably won't be able to use them—the school doesn't want Sanderson to bring a male date to the dance.
Sanderson said he was surprised by the school's decision; he's been out since the spring semester of his freshman year. Sanderson told me over the phone that he told an administrator he'd like to bring a male date to homecoming back in July, and that the conversation didn't go well. "He told me at that moment the policy was no, but there was a developing conversation."
Since then, the school has posted a policy to its website, under the daily bulletin section, barring students at the all-male Catholic school from bringing male dates to the event:
CBHS is a private Catholic high school that adheres to the Catholic and Lasallian traditions. We continue to follow a long-standing policy that places restrictions on proms and events including allowing boys from other schools or non-class members to attend. Students who choose to attend CBHS are required to comply with our standards and policies.
The policy has apparently been toyed with recently. On Wednesday morning, WMC reported that the daily bulletin notice read:
CBHS students may attend the dance by themselves, with other CBHS students, or with a girl from another school. For logistical reasons, boys from other schools may not attend.
Sanderson said he learned about the policy—which he sees as "outwardly homophobic"— through a friend at school, another out student.
Of about 900 students, four boys at the schol are out, said Sanderson. Most, he said, are also against the school policy. "A lot of my classmates have been very supportive," he said. "All of the alumni have been reaching out to me," as well as parents of his fellow students, with positive messages. "That's been very uplifting."
But he also claims to have received threats. One message read, "you better hope I don’t see you outside of school."
Sanderson has also seen waves of support from beyond his school district. He posted a petition to Change.org last on Wednesday night that had already received more than 6,800 signatures by Thursday. In the petition, Sanderson wrote:
Help me send a message to Christian Brothers High School that there's no place for discrimination in school. Let them know that LGBT students like me should be allowed to bring a same-sex date. It's been a tough four years for me at Christian Brothers High School and I've experienced a lot of homophobia… But now it's not classmates causing the issue — it's administrators. School officials who should be looking out for students like me, not targeting us with discrimination.
Sanderson doesn't expect to be able to go to homecoming, which takes place this Saturday. "I haven’t been really given any indication that the policy is going to change in the near future," he told me. But he hopes that the online pressure will help the school change its mind. And he stresses that his supporters shouldn't target individuals in asking for change, but rather reach out to the school as whole, explaining that he was upset to hear of people calling administrators personally.
If the school refuses to change its policy, Sanderson said he'll most likely spend Saturday night at home, working. He added that thinks his date is also upset by the decision: "He’s probably as unhappy as I am. Life, I guess."
Requests for comment from Christian Brothers High School went unreturned.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.