Brokeback Media – Unwanted Press and Private Schools

The outgoing headmaster of Santa Fe Christian School in Solana Beach California has attracted some unwanted attention by trying to distance his school from attention paid to a former student, academy award nominated actress Michelle Williams.

A reporter from The San Diego Union Tribune contacted Headmaster James Hopson, wanting to visit the school and chat with students about movies and their feelings about a former student of their school being up for an academy award. Not only did the headmaster turn down the request for the interview, but his comments turned up in People magazine, and countless news feeds, with headlines screaming that he has “disowned” the actress.

“Michelle doesn’t represent the values of this institution. We would not approve of her movies and TV shows …We’d not like to be tied to ‘Brokeback Mountain.’ …I hope we offered her something in life. But she made the kinds of choices of which we wouldn’t approve. ‘Brokeback Mountain’ basically promotes a lifestyle we don’t promote. It’s not the word of God”

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His comment about the movie “promoting a lifestyle” really jumped off the page at me. No one in the position of the character that Michelle Williams plays in this movie “promotes” or asks to be involved in a gay lifestyle. The anger, lies, deceit, all are very overwhelming, especially when you are trying to raise children. Many women in this situation that I know through a divorce support group were strengthened by Michelle’s portrayal of a young woman slammed with this dilemma. They know they are not the only ones. The character has dignity. Some straight husbands and wives make peace with the gay lifestyle, others do not. Many who are divorced really do not want to be, but cannot live and raise a family in such a marriage.

Now hear this: Mr Hopson did the right thing for his school.

“Brokeback” is an R rated movie. It is not an easy movie for many adults to view. It certainly would not have been appropriate for him to allow a reporter to interview students about this film, or about Michelle Williams, who left the school after 9th grade. I can well imagine that the man is simply fed up with the hype. Much of the other material Michelle has starred in is not “family friendly” by conservative standards – her television series “Dawson’s Creek” opened a lot of controversial discussion about television ratings and sexual content in shows for teen audiences. Mr. Hopson did not call a press conference to denounce the movie, defame Michelle Williams, or criticize gay people and their families. The press called him. He was protecting his students and his school. He was doing his job.

Santa Fe Christian School is very clear in its bylaws about expectations of students and families. The bylaws very clearly state that the school does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national or ethnic origin. They also clearly state: “Santa Fe Christian School’s biblical role is to work in conjunction with the home to mold students to be Christ-like. On occasion, the atmosphere or conduct within a particular home maybe counter or in opposition to the biblical lifestyle the school teaches. This includes, but is not necessarily limited to, sexual immorality, homosexual sexual orientation, or inability to support the moral principles of the school. In such cases, the school reserves the right, within its sole discretion, to refuse admission of an applicant or to discontinue enrollment of a student.”

Well, I guess it is clear. If your family waves the rainbow flag at the gay pride parade every year, you might want to consider a different school. They don’t have to admit you, or keep you. I hope that if any of their students has a parent who lives a “biblical lifestyle” as defined by this school while practicing homosexuality in a very dark closet, they will be understanding and supportive of the student. Some straight spouses feel blackmailed into staying in the closet, because if they deal with a husband or wife’s homosexuality openly, the threat is that their lives will be tarnished, and they will no longer be supported by their community or their church. That fear goes double for children.

Boards of private schools are in a difficult position when the reason for expulsion has little to do with the student and more to do with the parent. They have to protect the assets, mission, and continuity of the school community regardless of how sympathetic they may be to the student’s circumstances. Expulsion for any reason often opens them to lawsuits and public criticism. Those risks are not just limited to Christian or conservative schools.

My children attend a very liberal nonsectarian independent school. Several years ago, a group of students were expelled in a notorious and organized cheating incident. One student paid another to take the SAT, and a third fabricated the fake ID and “brokered” the deal. The local television media picked up on it before the headmaster even had a chance to call an assembly of students and discuss what had happened. They wanted permission to interview students about the “Scandal”. Just like Mr. Hopson, the headmaster said “no way!” He agreed to be interviewed himself. After the interview he called a hasty assembly to tell students about what was going to be on tv, as well as what had actually happened, and hurriedly sent out a letter to parents. Not only was there a real crisis, but now there was a “Scandal”. The local TV station fixed him good. He gave a very thorough interview, and his accounting to the school community was very clear. The television sound bites reduced him to a blithering idiot who was making lame excuses. Extra extra! We got your bad kids RIGHT HERE! Since many of the students are from affluent families, the report hinted that when rich kids go bad, we all just cover it up. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

At least one family attempted to sue the school over the expulsion. This school, like others, has to be very careful about how policies for admission and expulsion are written, communicated, and carried out.

I’m sure Mr Hopson got some blistering e mails and letters from straight survivors of such deceitful marriages, and also from advocates for gay rights. Maybe he and the school will be sensitive if a student is in the position of discovering that one of their parents is in the closet. Regardless of anyone’s personal opinion of the school’s policy regarding homosexual lifestyles, or his choice of words, he did the right thing to protect his students. He is retiring this year, and I wish him all the best!

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