JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Administrators at the Episcopal School of Jacksonville are receiving some backlash from a group of students and alumni after a planned dance performance, featuring a same-sex couple, was removed from an upcoming recital.
The dance number was a song from the musical/film, “The Prom,” in which a lesbian couple attends the titular high school event together, but according to a statement from the school’s spokesperson, Meg Sacks, administrators deemed the performance to be inappropriate for younger students.
“At Episcopal School of Jacksonville (ESJ), we strive for justice and understanding among all people and encourage all to respect the dignity of every human being,” Sacks said in an emailed statement. “As a Christian, Episcopal school, ESJ is committed to teaching our students in a way that is age-appropriate with regard to adult language, sexuality, and all other educational subject matters.” The full statement from the school can be found at the bottom of this article.
The decision prompted outrage among a portion of the student body and alumni, who said it was inconsistent with the school’s stance against discrimination.
“So we’re just kind of asking that the school clarify what it means by discrimination because they’re still censoring this dance on the premise that it’s inappropriate, which is blatant discrimination against the LGBTQIA community,” said recent alumna of ESJ, Gaby Diaz. “[It’s] just kind of absurd, especially in the year 2021. If you’re an educator, you’re facilitating an environment that’s supposed to educate people.”
Critics also pointed to other productions that the school recently mounted, including a 2019 performance of the musical “Chicago,” as well as dance performances set to music from artists Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, all of which, Diaz argues, is more sexually explicit than the dance number planned for February.
Diaz and her business partner, Anna Mayo, published an online document to encourage students, alumni, and other stakeholders to contact the school’s administration and demand an explanation and a reversal of the decision.
On Nov. 30, the dance ensemble students, along with student leaders of the school’s Awareness, Inclusion and Respect initiative, met with school administrators.
The meeting resulted in the administrator’s promise to schedule a performance of the dance number, only for upper school students and older, some time in the spring 2022 semester.
Also, after students brought it to the school’s attention, ESJ’s ‘Standards of Ethical Conduct’ was updated to replace “sex” with “sexual orientation” and “gender” in the list of specified classes protected from discrimination.
Still, Diaz says while the updated policy is a positive step, the school is still violating its own policy by censoring LGBTQ content from middle school students.
“Students expressed the need for more LGBTQIA+ representation in middle school, largely to affirm safety for those experiencing mental health issues,” Diaz and Mayo wrote in their online document. “Providing LGBTQIA+ representation in a younger age range would not only normalize different lifestyles but also serve as an outlet to those battling internal insecurities.”
In late November, an Instagram page called “QueerAtESJ” was launched, describing itself as being “dedicated to shining light on how the LGBTQIA+ community at the Episcopal School of Jacksonville is treated in order to raise awareness.”
As of this article’s publication, the page posted 36 submissions.
The social media outlet echoes similar pages launched in 2020, which offered students of color an avenue to vent their experiences at area private schools, including Episcopal.
The school later addressed the concerns raised on the page with its AIR initiative.
The issue of LGBTQIA+ inclusion in the education setting has recently been in flux in Florida after the state’s education department scrubbed a page containing anti-bullying content, including information specifically for LGBTQ students, from its website after complaints from a right-wing commentator criticized it for being inappropriate.
Full statement from Episcopal School of Jacksonville:
“At Episcopal School of Jacksonville (ESJ), we strive for justice and understanding among all people and encourage all to respect the dignity of every human being. We welcome students and families of all beliefs and do not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. We work to act with compassion, love, and integrity, as well as to name and challenge behaviors that promote exclusion, discrimination, and mistrust.
We are grateful students alerted us to a dated anti-discrimination statement on our website. This was an oversight on our part and without hesitation we immediately updated it.
As a Christian, Episcopal school, ESJ is committed to teaching our students in a way that is age-appropriate with regard to adult language, sexuality, and all other educational subject matters. We assess whether opportunities involving one of our Four Pillars (Academics, Spiritual Life, Fine Arts, and Athletics) should be for all on our campuses (Lower School, which includes students age 1 through grade 5; Middle School for students grades 6 through 8; and Upper School, grades 9 through 12), or a particular age group only. This might be related to an arts performance, an aspect of the curriculum, or the subject matter of Chapel, among others.”Meg Sacks, Spokesperson for Episcopal School of Jacksonville