Ethics Heroes: Seniors at Lexington (Ky) Catholic High School

The fun prom…in the parking lot.

When Lexington (Kentucky) Catholic High senior Hope Decker, 18 tried to take sophomore Tiffany Wright, 16, to the school’s senior prom as her date, school officials told the couple that they would not be admitted, because their unholy same-sex coupling violated the Catholic Church’s teachings. Defiant, the couple tried to enter the school’s gymnasium that night, where the prom was held, but as promised, their tickets were refused. So their fellow students held an impromtu protest prom outside the official one, in the parking lot. They played music from their cars, and set up a table for refreshments.

“We had a wonderful night, and we were surrounded by true friends,” Wright said. “I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.”

Here is what else she will remember for the rest of her life:

  • That cruel school administrators felt that it was Christian and right to make pariahs out of two young girls, who only wanted to go to the senior prom together.
  • That they saw the ugly side of religion-fueled bigotry  that is driving people from the Catholic Church and religions generally.
  • That the students who were considered good enough Catholics to be admitted to the prom showed a better understanding of the teachings of Jesus than their elders, and acted in the spirit of love, generosity, and the Golden Rule.

I would give the Catholic Church credit for integrity, at least, if it just  held fast to its ancient and archaic principles: no divorce,no sex before marriage, no birth control, no abortion, no homosexuality, demonic possession, flat Earth, etc., and just let people belong to the Church or not according to whether they were willing to tolerate the nonsense. Instead, the Catholic Church has been willing to abandon tenets of its belief system when it was strategically wise to do so, when the consequences of standing resolute were too unpleasant, or when the popular and political forces aligned against it were too powerful. But when it comes to the threat posed by two teenage girls who want to dance together at their prom, then the iron fist is unyielding.

I know I was hard on Dan Savage for attacking the Bible and Christianity in his speech about bullying, in part because in that case he was the one abusing children to make his point. He was also wrong to suggest that adherence to religion leads to bullying, for it need not. Bullying results from people possessing superior power who lack the ability to empathize with those on whom they inflict their power, and thus inflict it not because they should, but because they can.

Somehow a critical number of students at this Catholic high school managed to learn the right lessons even though their teachers had forgotten them. They turned what could have been a terrible night for Hope and Tiffany into one that was filled with joy, love, good memories, and the invaluable wisdom that good doesn’t come from holy books, canons, rules or edicts, but from the human heart.




Graphic: Patheos

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at


9 thoughts on “Ethics Heroes: Seniors at Lexington (Ky) Catholic High School

  1. Jack, I’m sure you’ve been waiting for my reply. Personally, I heartily applaud those wonderful high school students for all of the reasons you cite. In a way, the situation created a beautiful (and, as you say, a far more memorable) opportunity far beyond that of any ordinary prom. From a practical standpoint, though, the high school administration probably had no choice. The high school is probably a diocesan school and therefore subject to the rules set forth by the diocese, a.k.a. the bishop. The bishop, as a member of the church’s hierarchy, will always (with very few stellar exceptions) uphold ALL of the items currently on the “Let them be anathema!” list. Those parents (and probably some of the kids) who, no doubt, would have been scandalized if the school had allowed the young women to attend would have been griping at the bishop who could then shut down the prom completely, or even the school. This lovely little act of civil disobedience is actually quite perfect.

    I find myself wondering if, in fact, some (probably not all) of the school administration knew that they had no choice, hoped that the students would do just as they did, and silently applauded them for their cleverness in figuring out “What WOULD Jesus do?” and then doing it.

    • Patrice, if a person silently hopes that others will do right, that doesn’t excuse him from doing wrong. No one has their hands tied ethically because they are otherwise beholden to a higher authority. Inaction or wrong action on that basis is probably one of the most common ethical mistakes that people make.

      I don’t think anybody could rationally expect the diocese to close an entire school on the basis of a single doctrinal transgression. If they did so, that would be severe overkill, and surely parents, students, and administrators would be up in arms, bringing more bad press to the Church. But practical consequences are irrelevant. Administrators had a single choice to make, and they chose to alienate to young girls in order to remain in the good graces of authority.

      • This is how I see it as well. There is always a choice, and in situations like this, adhering to strict dogma when the benefits are nil and the consequences are significant makes no long or short term sense. The students weren’t going to engage in homosexual sex–they wanted to come to the prom together. It shouldn’t have been difficult to reach the conclusion that they posed no threat to the school, its principles, of the Catholic Church.

  2. It’s a funny thing, in a way, but many Catholics will do things on which the Church frowns (a couple using birth control, for instance), yet nonetheless neither expect nor want the Church to teach otherwise. Hypocrisy, perhaps (though I seem to recall an old saying about hypocrisy being the tribute expediency pays to morality), but there it is. I think Patrice may well be right. The Church’s teaching on the subject of homosexuality is clear and, as doctrine, would be overlooked with difficulty or, more likely, not at all, by the Bishop. I’m not sure it was an act of civil disobedience, however. Once the kids walked out the door and started up in the parking lot, it ceased being the school prom and became an off-campus party, from an official point of view. It doesn’t even seem as though the school administrators and teachers present (plus, probably, some parent chaperones) did much to prevent or stop it, so obedience wouldn’t even enter into it

  3. At my children’s public high school in Northern Virginia, it is very common for girls (and sometimes boys) who have no dates for a prom to go in pairs with each other. Nor is it uncommon for them to dance with each other, or sororitize in all the ways that teenage girls do (and that teenage boys secretly envy.) If, as seems to be the case, these two promgoers were not trying to turn the prom into a platform for political rhetoric, they seem to me to be indistinguishable from other same-sex couples who go to proms.

    And actually, at my oldest daughter’s senior prom, a mixed bunch of about a dozen boys and girls pooled their resources to rent a limo and go as a group. I THINK some of them were there as (mixed or same sex) couples, but to this day I’m not entirely sure. Maybe they weren’t either.

    At least I can comfort myself with the knowledge that I’m slightly less of a fuddy-duddy than the administrators at Lexington High School.

  4. Even a big, BIG, BIGGER, BIIIIIIIGGEST BIGOTed heterosexist like me – despite my hateful intolerance of same-sex erotic couplings and terroristic violent opposition to re-definition of marriage (I’m being sarcastic) – can say that the school blew it with their rule about excluding same-sex couples from attending the prom. Pet monkeys and Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs are fit for exclusion as prom dates. But the human primates, even those with the most porcine tendencies, should be admissible. The Catholic Church will survive this episode. I’m fairly sure Jesus would have declined going to any prom; a “dress-up party” is one thing; celebration of the idolatry of narcissism, I think, would have tipped Him slightly against the whole idea.

  5. I don’t think they “blew it” at all. An important part of any school’s function (and a church school, in particular) is to stand up for values of decency. A lesbian couple, flaunting their deviancy at an important, school sponsored social function, is incompatible with this. It would have amounted to a sanction of homosexuality and promiscuity. One may snidely compare this with a “flat earth” mentality, but the analogy is wholly invalid. Kids need moral guidance. Homosexual couples are the epitomy of the converse.

  6. I think what these students did was wonderful, but can also see the schools side. This was a catholic school, and as such was expected by the parents and administration to follow a specific moral and educational guideline. While it might be repugnant to myself and others to see blatant homophobia, I also feel that everybody should have the right to their own beliefs. While I might try to educate people I meet that bigotry is a sad viewpoint, if they are adamant that their viewpoint is what they believe is right for them then I accept it and move on. A homophobe should have just as much right to their lifestyle as any human being. I believe that in a perfect world that should have the right to be themselves as long as those rights to not harm another. And while it saddens me that homophobia is rampant in the religious world, maybe it would have been better if the girls were going to a different school? One where the parents and administration weren’t expecting a narrow minded education.

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