Online Extra: St. Vincent’s dean defends decision to reject lesbian couple’s daughter

Posted on 27 Aug 2010 at 8:58am
Ryan Reed

In this week’s print edition you’ll find a full story on the lesbian couple from Bedford whose 4-year-old daughter was recently denied admission to a local preschool, St. Vincent’s Cathedral School, because she has two mommies. We also wanted to share the full text of responses to our questions that we received via e-mail from Ryan Reed, the dean of St. Vincent’s. Here they are:

DV: Why was Olivia Harrison denied admission to St. Vincent?
Dean Ryan Reed: When we met with Jill and learned of her family situation, we told her that the values taught at the school were in conflict with those at home. We thought this might put Olivia in a very conflicted situation to which Jill agreed. We don’t dispute God’s love for this family just that one of the basic Christian values that we subscribe to is sexual activity inside a faithful, lifelong relationship between a husband and wife. As best we could ascertain, this was not something that Jill was in agreement about.

DV: Why did the school fail to notice in more than two months that Jill Harrison had crossed out father and put mother on the application, and written in the name of her wife, Tracy Harrison?
Reed: When the admissions officer saw the changes on the application, she made 4 or 5 phone calls and sent at least one email asking for clarification, none of which were returned. We don’t have documentation of the phone calls but we do for the email.

DV: Why is the school continuing to use the name Episcopal even though it is no longer affiliated with the Episcopal Church USA?
Reed: This is obviously the confusing issue but far less emotional then having to say this family would not be a good fit. St. Vincent’s is part of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort, which is a corporation in the state of Texas run by a board of trustees. This diocese and this corporation voted to withdraw our voluntary association with the Episcopal Church USA and associate with a different province of the Anglican Communion (of which TEC is but one) but that did not change the fact that this is an Episcopal Diocese, governed by a Bishop using the Book of Common Prayer. This messy issue is what is at dispute in the Texas Court System right now. TEC does not own the term Episcopal. There is in this country the Charismatic Episcopal Church for example or in other places the Scottish Episcopal Church. In conversation, I refer to myself as an Anglican but until the lawsuit is settled we are still the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, “province of the Southern Cone” (which is part of South America).

DV: Is it true that St. Vincent would allow Olivia Harrison to attend the school if she were a single, unmarried lesbian?
Reed: Yes. Our handbook asks our parents and requires our staff to abide by basic Christian values. That means abstinence or sexual activity confined to marriage. We have been consistent with this policy in that an unmarried teacher became pregnant and was dismissed. Likewise, we turned away two men with a daughter two years ago, and like the Harrison’s, referred them to a school where they would be more comfortable and their relationship accepted. (They are doing quite well there by the way). We have banned a husband from the school who left his wife for another women. The child stayed with the mother in this case and was not asked to leave.

We are simply asking people to strive toward the traditional Christian teaching in matters of how we live our lives. We don’t follow people around if they are single and dating to make sure the date stops at the front door. We don’t monitor what husband and wives are doing. But if something becomes public, we try to handle it in a pastoral and private way. By nature, Jill and Tracey’s relationship is very public.

We recognize that every parent who comes here is by nature prone to sin. We simply ask that they attempt to live by basic Christian values. In this case, the Harrison’s relationship was by nature in opposition to this belief and it is by nature a requirement that they cannot meet.

DV: How do you justify punishing a 4-year-old girl for who her parents are?
Reed: Back to the first answer. Because this young girl would likely hear Christian teaching on marriage at St. Vincent’s as well as the struggle that we all have with sin, she might be put in a place where she questioned not only the values of her mother but her moral authority as well. Olivia would certainly find herself in conflict with most of classmates when it comes to this very tough subject. We would not want this to happen to Jill, Tracey, or Olivia. It seems far from punishment to me, in fact, it seems more loving to refer them to a school that can accommodate their family situation rather than put her in a situation where the moral legitimacy (and still in Texas the legal legitimacy) of her mom’s relationship is called into question.

One final thought: I am not the pastor of the school parents which ties my hands a little.  In the congregation, where I am pastor, we have a loving community of sinners who are all working through their walk with God. We have, and have had, gays and lesbians, both couples and singles. Without singling them out, they have been asked to wrestle alongside the rest of us with the fact that they are sinners in need of God’s forgiveness. Trying to conform our lives and our relationships with God’s will for us is done in a private and pastoral way.

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