Last Sunday, Austin Wallis, a 17-year-old YouTube vlogger, posted a video to his channel that details his experience of being forced to leave his private school for being openly gay. In the video, he talks about being found out by his principal, who presented Austin with a choice: either “go back into the closet” by deleting all of his social media accounts — including his YouTube vlog — or he would be barred from participating in any extracurriculars at his school. Saying he “couldn’t live with the fact of being at a school where they consider what [he is] to be wrong,” Austin chose to leave. At no point in the video does he name which school it was.
But, according to a Texas Observer article posted yesterday, the school Austin left was Houston’s Lutheran High North, a small institution located north of the Heights, whose mission statement says the school’s ministry is “defined first and foremost by caring relationships.”
In response to Austin’s claims, the Observer received a statement from Wayne Kramer, the executive director of the Lutheran Education Association of Houston, which oversees LHN and two other Lutheran schools. From the statement:
“We profess and proclaim our Christian beliefs with the foundations and authority taught in the Bible, all within the teachings of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. We respectfully require students to adhere to these accepted values and moral beliefs. Sometimes, as in this case, students have to make choices and decide whether their beliefs align with our community and we respect their choices. We also respect student privacy and do not comment on any individual student or their actions.”
Austin’s video, which has garnered more than twice the number of views than any of his other uploads, tells a story that’s not incredibly uncommon. As he notes in his post, what LHN did is perfectly within their rights as a private school. Austin wasn’t expelled as much as he was put in a position where leaving was a very attractive, but still difficult, option.
Anti-LGBT private schools similar to the one Austin previously attended were the subject of a 2013 Rolling Stone story set in Georgia, where a recently passed bill allowed state tax dollars to be funnelled into conservative, Christian schools. Some of these private schools have rules against homosexuality explicitly written into student agreements.
Austin’s old school has such a clause written into its school handbook, as pointed out to the Observer by Dallas Lusk, LHN’s head of school:
“Lutheran High North reserves the right, within its sole discretion, to refuse admission of an applicant and/or to discontinue enrollment of a current student participating in, promoting, supporting or condoning: pornography, sexual immorality, homosexual activity or bisexual activity; or displaying an inability or resistance to support the qualities and characteristics required of a Biblically based and Christ-like lifestyle,” the clause states.
Austin has since started at a new school, where he says he’s “making a lot of really great friends.” While his video draws attention to schools like LHN that equate homosexual activity with a greater kind of “sexual immorality,” it isn’t likely to change how these schools write their handbooks.
Austin ends his emotional video by asking viewers to share his story and help make a difference so this doesn’t happen to anyone else:
“If you feel like this is outrageous and awful, and if you feel like this isn’t what you want our country to be considered, please help me in my fight to make a difference. I hope that my story will make a difference in other peoples’ lives.”