Students at a California Catholic high school staged a walkout Friday following a BuzzFeed News report that a gay classmate said she was singled out by school officials, who threatened to out her to her parents.
High school senior Magali Rodriguez attended Bishop Amat Memorial High School, the largest Catholic school in the Los Angeles area, for three years. The school has no written policy barring same-sex relationships, but Rodriguez said that once she began dating a female student she was forced into disciplinary meetings and counseling, and barred from sitting next to her girlfriend at lunch.
If she didn't follow these rules — which didn't apply to straight students in relationships — Rodriguez said school officials threatened to out her to her parents, who didn't know she was gay at the time.
Following the publication of BuzzFeed News' reporting on Rodriguez Thursday, Bishop Amat students organized a walkout in support of her Friday.
Several students BuzzFeed News spoke to Saturday said they hadn't heard about Rodriguez's experience prior to the article, and were shocked to learn how she was treated.
"I never would’ve imagined Amat to be an environment like this," said one student, who declined to be named. "Once I started to read about the article I was in full shock. I decided to walk out to stand up for her."
Rodriguez's parents eventually pulled her out of the school when they heard about how the staff was treating her. She now attends a different high school in the area.
The student who declined to be named said they staged the walkout during the seventh period until the end of the school day on Friday, about an hour and a half. The student said some teachers had commented that there were "two sides to every story," but none tried to stop the protest.
"I feel as if the principal knew they messed up. Before the bell rang for lunch he made an announcement saying he was aware of the news article," the student said, adding that counseling services were offered in the school's library for any students who had questions.
Because Rodriguez is now attending another high school, some of her friends called her via FaceTime, the student said, while others chanted for her and said a prayer.
About 200 students took part in the walkout, according to a second student who declined to be named because her mom didn't want her to talk about the incident. The student said teachers were supervising the protest but didn't try to shut it down.
"I decided to walk out because I wanted to take a stand," the student said. "I didn’t agree with what the administration did with the situation, and I feel like it was a good idea for the student body to stand as one to show our support for Magali."
The school tweeted a statement following BuzzFeed News' original report, denying that it was intolerant of LGBTQ students and reiterating that "excessive displays of affection" are not permitted for students of any sexual orientation. (Rodriguez told BuzzFeed News she and her girlfriend were not publicly affectionate.)
"Bishop Amat High School is committed to providing a supportive and inclusive learning environment for all students, irrespective of their sexual orientation," the statement reads.
Calls to the school were not immediately returned Saturday.
Rodriguez's first encounter with the school regarding her sexuality came when she began dating her girlfriend in freshman year, at which point she said the school's dean told the couple that there had been complaints about their relationship, and that it was "wrong."
The dean informed Rodriguez that if she continued attending disciplinary meetings and sessions with the school psychologist, her parents would not be informed of her relationship, Rodriguez said. She said she was so scared of her family finding out that she and her girlfriend both agreed.
Rodriguez said despite the fact that the two were not publicly affectionate at school, she and her girlfriend were constantly watched. One staff member even approached the girls during summer school to tell them they were going to hell and that she was trying to get them expelled, Rodriguez claimed.
Her grades and mental health suffered due to the school's scrutiny, Rodriguez said, so she decided out to speak up — after coming out to her parents in a letter.
"I really don't want it to happen to anybody else," Rodriguez told BuzzFeed News this week.
When Rodriguez's parents heard their daughter's story earlier this school year, they pulled her out of Bishop Amat and enrolled her in another local high school.
"They took it upon themselves to parent our daughter, to counsel her, to lecture her," her mom, Martha Tapia-Rodriguez, told BuzzFeed News.
Multiple students BuzzFeed News spoke with described Rodriguez as kind and positive and said they were shocked to hear how she was allegedly treated by Bishop Amat staffers.
"When I got to the school last year as a transfer I really had no friends, but once I met her she started to help me make friends," a Bishop Amat sophomore, who asked to be identified by his initials, D.G., said of Rodriguez. "She was one of my best friends that I can call at any time, so when I heard about all of this I texted her and once she told me that it was true, then I had to do something."