The headmaster of a Christian school in the Dallas-Fort worth metroplex reportedly defended his expulsion of a gay student-athlete by claiming, “I’m doing what Jesus would want me to do.” And if his prayers don’t keep him from being sued, word is Tony Jeffrey has a “religious freedom” defense ready.
He may well need it. The Dallas Morning News reports 18-year-old Devin Bryant of Colleyville, Texas, has taken the first step toward a possible discrimination lawsuit: he’s retained a civil rights attorney in response to his expulsion.
The out student-athlete learned in August — just days before the start of his senior year — that he would not be finishing his education at the Covenant Christian Academy, because of his “lifestyle,” which is “not consistent with applicable biblical standards,” in the words of the headmaster.
According to the Dallas Voice, Bryant had attended CCA since Pre-K, was a consistently straight-A student admired by his teachers and has a sister who is also attending the school.
Benta Bryant told the Voice her brother had never lied, cheated, stolen or done anything dishonest. “I was the one who was always trying to get him to do stuff,” she said. “He’d follow the rules. He’s a leader.” She added that her brother ran track, cross country, and had played basketball for the school. He’d appeared in a school play, and his art won awards.
But he’s gay, and she’s straight. So she stays, and he’s out.
“I just wanted to graduate”
Devin Bryant came out on Instagram in October 2019, when he was still a junior. As is tradition for rising seniors at CCA, he applied to take part in the painting of individual parking spots on campus. The design Bryant submitted to the school’s booster club incorporated these words and phrases:
“Super Hot, Fun, Attractive, Fast-driving, Insane, Very Smart, Outgoing, Party Freak, Young, Gay (as in happy don’t worry lol), Pretty, Reckless, Humble, Pyromaniac, Fun, Gay (as in homosexual this time, sorry) Person Parking Only.”
As the Dallas Observer reported, the design was immediately rejected and he was called to the principal’s office. Bryant said he was told he needed to keep his sexual identity private. He agreed.
“I just wanted to graduate, really,” Bryant said. “We discussed the content of the artwork, which I agreed to change. And I promised to not be as vocal about my sexuality for the rest of the year.”
This is also when Tony Jeffrey took over as the new headmaster. He was made aware of Bryant’s original design and his orientation. Within a few days of Jeffrey’s arrival at CCA, he met with school board members, won their approval to dismiss Bryant, and phoned Bryant’s mother to notify her that her son was expelled. It was four days before the start of his senior year.
“His exact words were that Devin had chosen an evil path that was contrary to the Bible and therefore was evil and he was only doing what Jesus would do,” Consolata Bryant told the Dallas Observer. “He offered us parent counseling. Not Devin, though.”
Ms. Bryant asked the headmaster, “Are you a Christian?” She then told him, “Jesus would not do what you are doing.” According to the mom, Jeffrey replied, “I’m doing what Jesus would want me to do.”
Devin’s mother doesn’t deny signing the school’s student code of conduct, which bans homosexuality, alongside illegal drugs and premarital sex. The question is, if his case goes to court, which should prevail: Bryant’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, rights the founding fathers enshrined, or the school’s right to religious freedom, essentially a right to discriminate, upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court just this year?
Expulsion Sparks Protests Outside School
Bryant, his family and supporters have participated in protests outside Covenant Christian Academy.
In a written statement to the Dallas Morning News, Jeffrey claims the religious liberty exemption for faith-based educational institutions justifies his action.
“That is not something we ever enjoy doing, but which sometimes becomes necessary within a community committed to the Lord and each other within our shared framework of faith,” said Jeffrey in his statement.
Bryant is not the first Texas student expelled for being gay. Fuller Theological Seminary in California dismissed a Houston woman, along with a fellow graduate student, for marrying same-sex partners. Joanna Maxon and Nathan Brittsan sued, claiming discrimination on the basis of sex.
Although the district court dismissed their suit last month, Maxon is appealing the decision with the help of her lawyer: Oregon-based civil rights attorney Paul Southwick, who now also represents Devin Bryant.
“The family is examining its legal options, including litigation against the school, but is open to a resolution that would not require litigation,” Southwick told the Dallas Morning News.
Bryant is now attending a local public high school. He told the Dallas Voice he’s aware that other queer students have been expelled before. Although Bryant is keeping busy taking AP exams, he misses the people at CCA.
“I have relationships with teachers I’ll always cherish,” Bryant said. They’re genuinely good people who love and accept me.” He said he hopes that by telling his story, he’ll hopefully help protect the next LGBTQ student who comes out, and perhaps spark a conversation.