Homeschool Organization Refuses to Accommodate Deaf Parents

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Burt Heymans.

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

What should have been one of the happiest moments of their lives turned into a nightmare for a young homeschooled girl and her Deaf parents.

The girl, a homeschooled student from New Jersey, was graduating in a ceremony held on June 6 at Fellowship Bible Church in the city of Sewell. The ceremony was organized by Gloucester County Christian Home Schoolers Association (GCCHSA), a non-profit Christian home school support group serving families in Southern New Jersey.

According to the girl’s mother, Melissa Morgan, the Morgan family arranged for an interpreter to be at the ceremony so that Melissa and her husband Robert, who are both Deaf, could enjoy their daughter’s big day. The Morgan family was willing to make all the arrangements. They found an interpreter and had the interpreter meet with Andy Moore, the person in charge of the graduation planning. Andy referred them to his wife, Liz, and she and everyone else involved figured out where Melissa and Robert could sit for best visibility and where the interpreter should stand. The plan was for the interpreter to stand next to the presenter so that the interpreter would be visible to all who needed to see. According to the Morgan family, Liz agreed with and accepted these plans.

Later, according to Melissa, one parent from GCCHSA complained that it would be “distracting for an interpreter to stand next to the speaker and asked if an interpreter can sit on the floor away from the stage and at the bottom of the steps.” Melissa says that she “explained to her that I wouldn’t be able to see my daughter, the speaker, and the entire stage,” and adds that, “She doesn’t really understand my Deafness well.” Melissa states that the complaining parent kept interrupting her attempts to work things out with Andy Moore, the GCCHSA chair Ardra Jarvis, and the interpreter.

Eventually, Melissa and Robert were allegedly forced into a compromise: the interpreter would have to sit, not stand, on the stage, and would have to sit behind the speaker. In an email to Melissa from Andy Moore (obtained by Homeschoolers Anonymous), Moore tells her that, “It will be fine for your interpreter to sit in a chair at floor level in front of you for the remainder of the program.” Without any other options, Robert and Melissa had to accept. However, as Melissa pointed out to me, she would “not be able to view the speaker’s body language, tone, etc. And after we hand out the diplomas to the 8th graders, an interpreter will move her chair off the stage to the end of the steps on the floor in front of me and my family for the rest of the ceremony.” This meant that Robert and Melissa were unable to view the entire stage because they had to be “focused on the interpreter alone sitting on a chair on the floor for most of the time.” This meant they missed “most of the celebration.”

The day prior to the graduation, Melissa issued a public plea on her husband’s Facebook page for friends and family to petition GCCHSA to change their minds. “The more people sent [sic] to that email address and hopefully these people will open their minds and heart,” Melissa wrote. “I’m hoping that God will shed HIS light on those people to change their mind and hearts and be open.” Melissa and Robert were ultimately unsuccessful in these attempts. They were also unable to file a claim for disability discrimination under the American Disabilities Act because GCCHSA is a religious non-profit organization in New Jersey and thus exempt. Furthermore, while the graduation planner Andy Moore sent an email apology to the Morgans’ daughter for the stress the organization caused her, neither the daughter nor Robert nor Melissa received any apology from Ardra Jarvis, the chair of GCCHSA who bore ultimate responsibility. And as Melissa points out, even “after their apologizes, they didn’t change anything… It was 100% unacceptable, but we all stayed for the entire ceremony for the sake of our daughter.”

Even though what should have been a stress-free, wonderful graduation ceremony for her daughter ended up being a nightmare, Melissa is renewed in her eagerness to prevent this from happening to someone else’s child in the future. “I believe that all non-profit organizations should follow the ADA laws,” Melissa states. “What about people with disabilities, such as a person in a wheelchair who don’t have any accessibility?”

“I want to prevent this happening to anyone in the future.”

Michael Farris Admits RFRA’s Discriminatory Intent

Michael Farris on the Hannity Show, YouTube screenshot.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kathryn Brightbill’s blog The Life and Opinions of Kathryn Elizabeth, Person. It was originally published in April 2015.

Like a lot of other people, I’ve been following the controversy surrounding Indiana’s SB 101, their state level RFRA bill that’s designed to allow businesses to discriminate against LGBT people on religious grounds.

Indiana’s RFRA has been compared frequently to the federal RFRA, both by supporters of Indiana’s law who claim that it’s no different thanwhat President Clinton signed into law in 1993, and opponents who point out that it’s much broader than the federal RFRA. What most people don’t realize about RFRA, however, is that while it was a popular piece of legislation that passed with bipartisan support, the religious right had their fingerprints on it from the beginning and always intended it to be used for much broader purposes than most of the bill’s supporters realized.

The coalition that drafted the original RFRA was either chaired or co-chaired (alternate accounts on HSLDA’s website say both) by HSLDA founder and then-president Michael Farris. Farris was one of the drafters of the bill, and takes credit for organizing the broad coalition that supported its passage.

HSLDA’s magazine The Home School Court Report describes it thus:

“After the signing, President Clinton spoke with [HSLDA’s representative at the signing Doug] Phillips and extended his gratitude for the role Farris played in the RFRA drafting and coalition-building process. “Tell Mike, I really appreciate the work he did drafting [the RFRA],” President Clinton told Phillips.”
(emphasis added)

At the time Clinton signed RFRA into law, the Court Report quoted HSLDA staff attorney Jordan Lorence as saying that,

“[A]s American culture and public policy grow more and more hostile to Biblical concepts and practices, the RFRA will help shield Christian families, and all other peoples of faith, from having to choose between surrendering their religious beliefs or suffering loss for standing true to their beliefs.”

My astute readers should be able to recognize that language as a culture war dog-whistle from a mile away. Indeed, Jordan Lorence now works for the Alliance Defending Freedom, where he’s spearheaded the string of cases from photographers, bakers, and florists all arguing that they have a religious freedom right to discriminate against LGBT people.

We don’t need to rely on dog-whistles, however. HSLDA has repeatedly stated that one of the purposes of the federal RFRA was to allow religious-based discrimination against LGBT people.

Describing what RFRA means to the average homeschooler:

“But consider what it means for religious people in other contexts: The government wants to say you can’t have a church policy that says you can only have male pastors. Or maybe your church doesn’t want to hire homosexuals. Or your support group doesn’t want to hire homosexuals. Then it would have an impact because the rights of organizations including churches are going to be judged on religious liberty principles alone.”
–Michael Farris, Marking the Milestones: The Good, the Bad, the Inspiring

Explaining why a proposed Religious Liberty Protection Act (RLPA) was an insufficient substitute for RFRA because it would not protect:

“Christian landlords who are told by local law that they may not “discriminate” against unmarried couples or homosexual couples in renting out an apartment in their home,” or,
“Small Christian-owned businesses that are forbidden by local law from firing employees for openly immoral behavior.”
–Home School Court Report: Religious Liberty Protection Act: Does the End Justify the Means, May/June 1998

That brings us to yesterday, when, writing specifically about the Indiana law and his intent in drafting the federal RFRA, Michael Farris posted the following to his Facebook page. (screenshotted because his posts have a way of disappearing after I blog about them).


Oh noes, how dare the homosexuals ask to be left alone! Look at them there eating crackers like they own the place, don’t they know they’re supposed to be cowering in a closet in fear of the cops busting in and hauling them off to jail?

When Michael Farris talks disparagingly about LGBT people asking to be left alone, he’s talking about LGBT people wanting the police to stop raiding gay bars and arresting everyone inside. About not wanting to be forced to endure chemical castration like Alan Turing or prison like Oscar Wilde. About wanting to walk around in public without fear of being beaten, tied to a fence and left for dead only to have your funeral picketed by people with “God Hates Fags” signs. About not wanting to be subjected to “corrective rape.”

That, Michael Farris, is what asking to be left alone means.

In that one line he trivializes centuries of indignities, abuses, and torture that no human being should have to endure. As if asking for even the most bare minimum of basic human rights is too much to ask of society.

And no, Michael Farris, it’s not about “demanding the right to punish anyone who refuses to join their celebration.” It’s asking for equal protection under law. One of the bedrock principles of American law, and protection enjoyed by all other American citizens under our civil rights laws.

But Michael Farris already knows that, that’s why nearly two decades ago, before any state had marriage equality, HSLDA specifically stated that RFRA was needed in order to overcome nondiscrimination laws.

The smoking gun, though, is in the second half of his post.


See that last paragraph? Read it again.

“The state and federal RFRA would not allow a state or local antidiscrimination law (e.g. a gay rights law) to be applied to a religious person or entity without prevailing over a very high legal standard.”

Saying that RFRA would “not allow a state or local antidiscrimination law … to be applied to a religious person or entity without prevailing over a very high legal standard,” is another way of saying that religious people and entities are allowed to discriminate. More specifically, to discriminate against LGBT people.

Cloak it in religious language all you want, but the religious freedom that RFRA is intended to protect is the freedom to discriminate. And not just the freedom to discriminate in baking wedding cakes, making floral arrangements, or taking photos either. As was made clear in the quotes above, that freedom to discriminate was always intended to extend to denying LGBT people a place to live and allowing businesses to fire them.

I don’t know how you can get any clearer. This is one of the drafters of the original federal RFRA flat out saying that RFRA had discriminatory intent.

Discrimination in the name of religion is still still discrimination and it’s still wrong.


My followup post, complete with video of Farris’ appearance on Hannity, can be found here.

Nerdy Homeschooler: Kathryn Brightbill


Nerdy Homeschooler: Kathryn Brightbill

Kathryn Brightbill blogs at The Life and Opinions of Kathryn Elizabeth, Person.

I’m a nerd, a geek, though I suppose not enough of one to get caught up in the arguments over which of those terms is positive and which one is the insult. I was a female computer geek back before there were enough of us for people to even start whining about “fake girl geeks” showing up at cons. When being a woman interested in tech meant you and a roomful of guys who didn’t quite know what to do with you.

I’ve read the studies, I know the statistics, and the reality is that even now in 2013, the majority of girls don’t make it out of junior high still feeling good about their abilities in math and the hard sciences. By the time they get to college, not many girls are still in the pipeline of women in technology. While the problem is multifaceted, we know that the combination of peer pressure and negative gender stereotypes makes it an uphill battle. No matter a person’s actual skill level, when the prevailing message is that people like them aren’t good at a particular subject area and there aren’t many role models, they start to internalize that message.

I missed that message.

Or rather, I should say that by the time I became aware of the idea that girls aren’t supposed to be good at math, I was sufficiently confident in my abilities that I concluded that something must be wrong with a society that says that girls can’t do math.

Being homeschooled by a former math teacher meant that it was expected that I learn enough math that the door was open to any path I might decide to pursue in college, and my sister and I were held to the same expectations as my brothers were.

I never got the message that my gender was in some way supposed to be correlated with lower math ability, or that it meant I should limit my dreams and goals for the future.

At its best, homeschooling can create a learning environment that helps to minimize the influence of societal pressures to conform to rigid gender roles and to live up (or down) to the expectations of society. That’s what homeschooling did for me. The prevailing message of my childhood was that I could be or do whatever I wanted and that no one could stop me. I didn’t internalize most of the negative gender stereotypes about women because the negative messages were drowned out by the positive. I’m convinced that one of the reasons why I was able to hold my own in the extremely male-dominated computer science major I ended up choosing in college was because I hadn’t internalized the message that I wasn’t supposed to be able to do it because I’m a girl.

It would be dishonest of me, though, to write about my positive personal experiences without also acknowledging the tension between the message I got in my own family and the messages I got from the broader homeschool world. When I was a teenager, I became acutely aware that the expectations that others had for my older brother were vastly different than what was expected for me. I was the one who wanted to go to law school, but I felt like everyone was busy encouraging my brother—who had no interest in law—to become a lawyer while not taking my interests seriously. When I changed my major to computer science in college, I got the distinct impression that it wasn’t taken seriously unless I gave the justification that programming was a career that could allow me to work from home while being a good wife and mother.

At its best, homeschooling can open up a broad range of options and free a child from the pressures of stereotypes, at its worst, it can reinforce those negative stereotypes and close off options.

For me, my homeschool experience meant that I was able to go off to college confident in my abilities and with my options open. It meant that while I was convinced that I was going to go major in history and then head directly to law school, when I discovered my freshman year that computer science interested me, I had the foundation to succeed. In the end, I discovered that studying computer science was far more interesting to me than actually doing it, and ended up with the original law school plan, but having that tech background gives me opportunities that a liberal arts major wouldn’t.

I’m not yet sure where my story ends, but it’s been an interesting ride and one that homeschooling helped make possible.

Tough Love: Susie

Tough Love: Susie

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Susie” is a pseudonym.

Hi, my name is Susie. I am a gay woman in my 20’s who was raised in a very conservative Christian homeschooling family in the South. I have been “out” for six years.

A few weeks before my 22nd birthday I had a revelation; I figured out what was “wrong” with me. I realized — I’m gay. And what’s more, even though I was a very conservative Christian, I had complete peace about my sexuality. I knew some within my circle probably wouldn’t accept my sexuality, but I thought my family would accept it. My mom started asking me if I was gay or if I thought I was gay when I was about 14 years old and a few of my siblings had asked me as well as I got older. I had shown little to no interest in the opposite sex, and we all know how abnormal that is in the homeschool community.

My family is very close-knit, so shortly after I realized I am gay, I told them. Their reactions were nothing like I had imagined. Honestly, I must have been totally naïve because I really thought they would support me and still accept me. Instead, my family totally freaked out on me. My mother cried and cried. My dad tried to comfort me by telling me that I am young and just haven’t met the right guy yet. My older brother actually had the nerve to ask me if I was just trying to eccentrically prove that you could have conservative values yet be gay.

My family was — and, I am sure, still are — well known in the conservative Christian homeschooling community. So my mom kept asking me “What will people think?” For her, what people thought about me being gay — and how that reflected on my family — was a huge concern.

Most conservative Christians are against psychology and therapy. Somehow or another its anti-God or whatnot. I am sure that is a topic in and of itself…anyway! My mom called around, found a ‘Christian Therapist’ and sent me to this therapist.

During this time, things were extremely hard for me at home. My family treated me totally differently. Every conversation was about my struggle. I was under complete surveillance; my every move and action was monitored. My mom kept track of the mileage in my car based on the approved places I was allowed to go, which was pretty much limited to my therapist. I was not allowed to go to the therapist without a chaperone, which typically was one of my siblings. My cell phone had been confiscated and I was not allowed to get on the Internet without — yep, a chaperone. At the time, I was a partner in the family business so my parents really controlled every aspect of my life.

After a few weeks of gay therapy, I was still gay so my parents did the unthinkable. They both, in my opinion, totally slipped over the edge of reason. I had gone to my therapy appointment and when I came home, as I was pulling in the driveway I realized my driver’s license was not in the console of the car where I usually kept it. So I went inside and asked my mom if she knew where my driver’s license was. Long story short, in an effort to “protect me from myself,” my dad had taken my driver’s license, passport, social security card, birth certificate, credit card and debit card and put them all in a safety deposit box at the bank. I had no legal identity!

I am trying to share enough details to paint the picture, without boring you. So I am going to cut to the chase.

My mom ended up driving me two hours away, in my car, with some of my things and dropped me off with $7 to my name. Tough love is what they called it. I was lucky enough that a friend had a house with two of his friends and they let me stay in an open room. I had no bed, just a pillow and a sleeping bag with some clothes. I didn’t even have a blanket.

Tough love.

I have not been home in six years. Three of my four siblings refuse to talk to me. Two of my siblings have gotten married; I was not at either of their weddings, nor was I invited. I have two nephews and a niece, I have not met any of them and I don’t think I ever will.

Sounds pretty sad right? Well it is. I am not going to lie, I miss them. I miss them so much it breaks my heart.

But you know what? That’s their choice, not mine. I may be missing out on their lives but they are missing out on mine, as well.

Within a year of coming out, I had been made homeless, put through hell, I am sure I had a breakdown. But I discovered who I am, what I am made of, what I can go through and I leveraged my stubbornness into becoming a hardcore fighter. And best of all, I met the love of my life. We just celebrated our five-year anniversary.

Coming out, for me, was a spiritual experience as much as it was a literal/physical one. Depending on feedback to this post, I can and will share more. Just let me know. I can go on and on about homosexuality and the Bible/Christianity.

Homeschoolers Are Out: An Introduction

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator


“You’re homeschooled? That’s gay.”

I was probably 5 or 6 when a neighborhood kid who attended public school first articulated the idea that me being homeschooled was “gay.” Of course, nothing about my parents’ decision to teach me at home had anything to do with homosexuality. Plus I’m straight. But that’s not what the kid meant, was it?

What that kid meant was that homeschooling was stupid, and stupid things are gay things, thus equating gayness with stupidity. That kid was also 5 or 6. I have not had contact with him since we played games in the middle of our quiet, suburban street in San Jose, California so many years ago. For all I know, he might now be an outspoken straight advocate for marriage equality, or even gay himself. His use of “gay” at the age of 5 or 6 was probably cultural, something he picked up on in school or maybe from a homophobic parent. Pop culture — then and and today — has often associated “gay” with negativity.

As an awkward homeschool kid who had occasional interactions with kids from public schools (we were allowed to play with them after school in our neighborhood), I always encountered one of two reactions from my friends: either (1) homeschooling was awesome to them because they thought it meant we just got to stay home and play video games all day, or (2) homeschooling was gay. I don’t really remember why they would think homeschooling was anything less than awesome (usually I would pretend that, yeah, we did get to play video games all day, just so they would think I was cool). But it’s possible they saw I was a total dork and deduced that, if total dorks are usually called “gay” and I was a total dork who was homeschooled, then homeschooling must be gay, too. That’s kid logic for you. (Ironically, many adults today still use kid logic.)

The numerous times I heard “homeschooling is gay” stick so lucidly to my mind because it was the first time I ever heard about “gayness.” It wasn’t until years later, when I learned from the conservative Christian homeschooling curriculum and worldview programs that homosexuality was evil and political nefarious, that I consciously thought about LGBT things. But from that one moment through probably half way through my undergrad program, both mainstream and homeschool cultures reinforced this idea that “gay” was synonymous with bad.

This idea, this deeply rooted hatred and desire to discriminate, is by no means unique to the conservative Christian homeschool movement. Yes, you have followers of Rushdoony who actively call for LGBT individuals to be stoned. Yes, you have people like Michael Farris who actively campaign against Prop 8 and the simple right of people of any gender to have a foundational relationship based on legal equality. But at the same time, it seems like almost every other day that I read some heartbreaking story of a gay kid in public school who was bullied to the point of suicide. Every time I turn on the radio I hear a hip hop star throwing gay slurs left and right.

The fact is, LGBT individuals face almost insurmountable discrimination and dehumanization on a daily basis. They experience this in their home life, in home schools, in private schools, in public schools, at work, and when they try to do something as simple as hold hands in public at a restaurant.

In creating this week’s focus on LGBT homeschool awareness, it needs to be clear that the pain and hurt that LGBT individuals experience happens universally. It is not unique to homeschooling. Indeed, with the significant amounts of bullying that these friends and peers of ours can experience in public schools, homeschooling can actually be a safe haven. Sex advice columnist Dan Savage minced no words that homeschooling as an educational option could save lives. When a gay 15-year-old boy from La Grande, Oregon hung himself earlier this year on account of being bullied, Savage noted that the boy, Jadin, had begged his parents to home school him to get him away from the cruelty. Savage said,

My heart breaks for Jadin’s parents and I don’t doubt that they’re filled with regret and I don’t want to make their pain worse. But I’m going to repost my advice for parents of bullied gay teenagers because there are other Jadins out there who haven’t harmed themselves but who may be at risk of doing so:

If you know your gay kid is being bullied at his school err on the side of overreacting. Err on the side of doing something drastic. Err on the side of turning your own life upside down. Because you don’t want to find out the abuse was more than your kid could bear when it’s too fucking late to do anything about it.

Straight parents: If you know your gay kid is being brutalized in his school and you’ve complained and it’s gotten worse, get him the fuck out of there. Homeschool him. Homeschool him and sue the school. Move away. Move someplace more tolerant. Move someplace better. If you can’t move away—or if you can’t move right away—send your son or daughter to live with relatives in another city, a better city…. And straight parents? Once you realize your kid is gay—which parents of gay kids usually realize long before their gay kids realize it themselves—take a long, hard look at the community in which you live. Take a long, hard look at the church where you worship. Take a long, hard look at the schools your kid will be forced to attend.

Then decide if staying put is worth your child’s life.

My heart goes out for Jadin, and for every kid that felt or feels so scared of being him or herself that suicide seems the only option. My heart goes out for all the kids that are hiding who they are, because of this fear. Savage makes a really good point, people: when our communities cease to be unsafe, we need to get out. When public schools cease to be safe for bullied LGBT kids, homeschooling can be an ally to the LGBT movement.

That  being said, many of us in conservative Christian homeschooling subcultures know that not all homeschooling communities are safe for LGBT individuals. Growing up gay or trans or even asexual in a world where the loudest voices demonize gay marriage and advocate stoning can be gut-wrenching and brutal. We who have been through this world know the horror stories: the kids that were kicked out of their homes, that were rejected by nearly everyone who knew them, that were forbidden from ever contacting family and friends again.

This week, Homeschoolers Anonymous honors the voices of our LGBT friends and peers. We are giving a platform to the stories of those homeschoolers who weathered the storm: the ones that are still terrified of coming out, the ones that have come out and experienced rejection, the ones that have come out and found acceptance, and the ones that are still processing everything and putting their selves’ pieces back together.

This week is for everyone that has felt different. The L’s, B’s, G’s, T’s, A’s, Q’s — ah hell, this week is for the whole alphabet of humanity!

Homeschoolers are gay. And so many other things, too. And all of us at HA — regardless of our identities and orientations — stand together in solidarity in the affirmation of each other’s humanity, beauty, and worth.


Update, 05/21/13:

The heart and soul of this week’s LGBT homeschool awareness series is to stand in solidarity with our friends and peers of all sexual identities and orientations. I came up with the title, “Homeschoolers Are Gay,” based on consultation with some personal friends who are LGBT homeschoolers. The goal was to use a title that was inclusive, catchy, and poked fun at pop culture’s perjorative use of “gay” and tendency to otherize. That being said, a concern was raised yesterday that this title can feel alienating to some members of the LGBT community. And if even one person feels alienated, that is one person too many. The whole purpose of this week is to include everyone.

So, after further consultation with several of this week’s writers, I am choosing to rephrase this week’s series as “Homeschoolers Are Out.” I would also like to stress that, whenever I say “LGBT,” I am not limiting the week to those specific letters. All identities and orientations are welcome. I will be changing the main graphic for the series to reflect this rephrasing.

My sincerest apologies to anyone that felt excluded.

On another note: thanks, everyone, for the amazing support yesterday as this series begins. The stories we will be hearing this week are near and dear to my heart, as they are the stories of people I care about and love.