By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Don't ask, and definitely don't tell, if you want to graduate from this school
This fall, when rumors were flying at Trinity Christian Academy in Addison that Neal Stephenson, a senior, was gay, he decided to quash the mystery by coming out. "Don't be stupid," one of his friends told him. "The entire class will flip." Stephenson--that's not his real name--told just a few friends, who told some other people, and eventually "the school knew," as he recently recalled. And then, to the surprise of the friend who had warned him, "the class reacted in the most positive way...some of the guys thought it was weird, but they didn't treat him any different."
Not so for the evangelical school's administration, which expelled Stephenson for running a gay-themed Web site, he says.
According to Stephenson, late last month, a student revealed to Jamie Heard, the dean, that Stephenson had created the site www.my-boi.com, where gay teenagers create profiles of themselves and meet one another. Stephenson founded the site, which has some 1,700 users, because xy.com, a popular gay teen site, started charging its users a fee (Stephenson's site is free).
"When [xy.com] released this greed campaign, I said this isn't right. Kids who struggle with this and need some kind of help won't pay money," Stephenson explained in an e-mail to a teacher at Trinity he confided in. "Think of the message it sends to a parent who reads over the credit [card] statement: $2 xy.com Gay Personals."
On December 1, Bob Dyer, the school's chaplain and counselor, called Stephenson into his office and asked him if he is "homosexual." "And because he's the counselor, I didn't automatically assume he's going to go blab his mouth."
"I am 18," he told Dyer. "I reserve the right for my parents not to know, and I do not want them involved."
Before leaving the room, Dyer told Stephenson not to worry about attending his afternoon classes or about turning in his 10-page research paper on George Orwell's 1984 the following day. Fifteen minutes later, Dyer returned with Heard and Kyle Morrill, another administrator, and they began asking Stephenson about my-boi.com.
Stephenson told them that he vets "every picture that showed anything that could be remotely found offensive to any age group or sexuality," as the site's mission statement points out. "Accounts get deleted that are trashy," he told them.
The tenor of the profiles on my-boi.com is in fact more quotidian than salacious: "OK...so I dunno what to put here," one of them reads. "I graduated high school this past May. I just turned 18. Umm...I LOVE Tennis and play the drums..."
"Well, we think people are using it for hook-ups, and that's fostering immoral behavior," Stephenson says the administrators told him.
Since Stephenson, who had attended Trinity since kindergarten, had asked the administrators not to get his parents involved, he was surprised to see them walk into the counselor's office 45 minutes later. "They have to know sooner or later," Stephenson recalls the administrators saying. He preferred "later" to "sooner." "Maybe after graduation when I'm not living in the house anymore would be great," he now says. (The evening after Stephenson had spoken with the Dallas Observer on the record, he requested that we provide a fake name for him because his parents had just threatened to kick him out of his house if his name appeared in the news.)
In an e-mail message to the Observer, Trinity Christian's headmaster David Delph wrote that the school does not comment on any student's academic or disciplinary record.
"As a community of Christian families we also believe the Bible provides insight to help us discern God's desire for our conduct," Delph wrote. "Therefore we demand high Biblical standards of behavior from our students both academically and socially. Our families are asked to embrace these standards of conduct by signing a covenant with the school when students are admitted...The code for conduct and discipline at Trinity Christian Academy comes from a desire to please God and preserve a wholesome environment for the benefit of all our families."
Stephenson was suspended from Trinity. Six days later, Stephenson's father got a call from Delph, who asked the family to come to his office at 3:30 p.m., after classes were over. "That's when my dad said, 'Well, is this positive?' and Delph is like, 'No, it's not.'" Because the school was not going to let his son back into classes, Stephenson's father made the decision to withdraw Neal from the school. "It's in my best interest to do that," says Stephenson, who now attends a public high school in Plano and was recently accepted to Purdue University in Indiana.
Stephenson is far from a strident activist. Trinity's student handbook warns that the consequence for any student caught engaging in immorality is "probable dismissal," so this fall, Stephenson prudently asked several faculty members he trusted whether being gay and open about it could get a student expelled.
"We want to see you change," he says they told him, "but you can't be expelled for being gay."