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A private Lutheran school in Texas is facing a media firestorm over forcing 17-year-old Austin Wallis to leave.
Last month, 17-year-old Austin Wallis was asked by his high school principal to delete the YouTube channel he shares with his boyfriend, Nicolay Sysyn. When he refused, he was given the option of leaving voluntarily, or facing expulsion.
Wallis refused to name the school at the heart of the conflict, but Thursday, after his video gained attention in the Houston community, the Texas Observer revealed the school’s identity—the exclusive prep school Lutheran High North.
Wallis and Sysyn have been making videos together for the last four months, often sharing a kiss or hugging on camera. Since Sysyn and Wallis started appearing together on Wallis’ channel, its popularity has surged, and it now has more than 15,000 subscribers.
But when his high school principal found out about Wallis’ channel, congratulations were the furthest thing on his mind. On February 1, Wallis and Sysyn explained what happened next in an emotional YouTube video:
Wallis: So it started about two weeks ago when I was at my old school, and I was called to the principal’s, and I was asked… well, he said that he had found out that I was gay, and that I was openly gay, and basically said that, you know, I’m gonna call your parents, they’re gonna get involved, all this stuff was happening. So we did that. So the next day my mom came in with me, and he basically told me—I’m not gonna explain everything, but the gist of it was I had to go back in the closet, which means I had to delete all my social media including YouTube. I had to erase my digital impact on the world. And, he said I would have to do that to stay at the school.
Sysyn: You could never mention it again.
Wallis: Yeah, I couldn’t—I could never be involved in another video, or, or do anything for that matter, which is really hard for me, because this YouTube channel means the world to me, and I love seeing the great response ya’ll have and I love feeling like this helps people. It means a lot to me that I can, you know, help a few people who might be feeling like they’re not worth it or like being gay is too hard and they might need to hide forever, and I don’t want people to feel like that.
So, after two days, I decided—and it was by my own choice—that I was going to leave. Because to me it felt like I didn’t really have—I mean technically I had a choice, but at the same time I didn’t. Right now I was being asked to leave. If anything else were to come up, I would be expelled. And I couldn’t live with the fact that, being at a school where they consider what I am to be wrong. And I had to leave, and I had to leave all my friends and all my teachers.
At one point in the video, Wallis turns and sobs on Sysn’s shoulder.
Unfortunately for Wallis, the school has the right to expel him based on its religious principles. Although Lutheran High North’s Mission Statement claims that “Meaningful Ministry at LHN is defined first and foremost by caring relationships…with a focus of being based on the fact that “we love because He loved us” (I John 4:10),” its message from Head of Schools Dallas Lusk also emphasizes that “our school cultivates Christ-like character.” Speaking to the Texas Observer by email, Lusk noted that students are prohibited from promoting “anything sinful” by a “morals clause” in the student handbook, which reads as follows:
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.
Additionally, the head of the Lutheran Education Association of Houston, Wayne Kramer, told the Observer that Wallis made his own choices:
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.
Lusk also indicated that Wallis had “misrepresented” the facts in the case, though he could not comment on the details.
Wallis’s video has been viewed over 200,000 times in the week since he uploaded it. One supporter has made a Change.org petition seeking the government to ban educational discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. But given free speech laws that protect religious organizations, and the provisions against being openly gay in the school’s handbook, Wallis unfortunately has little legal recourse.
It seems that the Internet might have the last laugh, however: an email to a reporter from Lusk to gay media outlet Towleroad indicated that Anonymous may be targeting the school in retaliation for its bigotry.
H/T Towleroad | Screengrab via YouTube
Aja Romano is a geek culture reporter and fandom expert. Their reporting at the Daily Dot covered everything from Harry Potter and anime to Tumblr and Gamergate. Romano joined Vox as a staff reporter in 2016.