Certainly Ehrhart has to be at least partially right; it's hard to imagine that all schools are consistently denying underprivileged students in favor of ones whose parents have means. But Ehrhart is also clear that he's as much behind free choice as he is in support of poor kids; he comes across as the particular type of Southern man who has been bristling at the federal government's dogged insistence on meddling in his affairs since well before the Civil War (a small rug in his office commemorates Georgia's Civil War sesquicentennial). As such, he firmly believes in a government that expands, rather than limits, the options of its citizens, especially when it comes to how they spend their money. "I am unabashedly a free-market Republican. And again, it's really not a loophole," he says of HB 1133. "If you take advantage of a tax regulation on your federal income taxes, that is the law. It was set in there so you could utilize that. I didn't hide this. I said what it is. I said, 'It is a quasi-voucher.' I'm proud of that – I wrote it in there on purpose. Deal with it, change the statute, but don't tell me I'm playing a game." In fact, Ehrhart is so behind the legislation he's helped pass, he's founded his own SSO, Faith First Georgia.
When it comes to the issue of supporting schools that very much don't support their LGBTQ students, Ehrhart points out that "the SSOs do not preclude a homosexual group starting an SSO that gives money only to groups of schools that promote that concept." The fact that such an SSO would probably not provide scholarship support to a Christian school, and that many LGBTQ students attend such schools, is less a problem to Ehrhart than a solution: He believes that gay students would feel more comfortable attending schools that are more supportive of their sexual orientation anyway. By way of illustration, he asks, "What if you were in a Muslim, a madrassa school? And you're a woman? I would think you'd choose a different school." In other words, schools should be segregated by school of thought.
To a certain extent, this line of logic is valid. Indeed, all of the students I spoke with said that they were, at some time or another, deeply hurt by their school's unabashed stance on homosexuality, which is often incorporated into the curriculum. The Accelerated Christian Education's 11th-grade science materials include a section on "Man's Corruptions," in which students are taught, "In Old Testament times, God commanded that homosexuals be put to death. Since God never commanded death for normal or acceptable actions, it is unreasonable to say that homosexuality is normal." A biology textbook published by the Bob Jones University Press begins a section on homosexuality by quoting Romans and goes on to say that "God calls homosexuality a sin and condemns those who engage in it." Such textbooks, and others with a similar stance on homosexuality, are part of the core curriculum in Georgia's Christian schools.
Furthermore, at an institution where such concepts are taught as "science," it's not hard to imagine that the prevailing attitude of the student body would be at least somewhat homophobic. When it comes to whether or not homosexuals are destined for hell, "it depends where their heart is," one student from Providence Christian Academy in Lilburn, Georgia, tells me when I meet him after school at a nearby Chick-fil-A. "If you know it's a sin and you continually decide to make that choice, then yes, I would say you're probably not going to go to heaven."
Yet when I ask Noah about Ehrhart's advice to gay kids at conservative Christian schools, he doesn't quite agree. "Coming from an outsider perspective, a comment like that might make sense: 'Oh, just change schools,'" Noah says. "But it's very hard to just change schools. There's a whole lot of chaos involved in picking up and leaving." For Tristan, changing schools would require him to provide his parents with some explanation for doing so, which he desperately fears would force him to out himself to them; he says that he's far less afraid of being expelled than he is of what expulsion would mean in terms of revealing his sexuality to his family. Just in case that happens, he's got a backup plan. "I have a friend whose parents would take me in," he says. He has no doubt that if his family knew about his sexual orientation, he would not be welcome in his home.
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