Gay Dads Describe 'Unsafe,' 'Threatening' Situation with Daughter's Religious School

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday February 9, 2023
Originally published on February 9, 2023

Jose Ortega and Don Williams
Jose Ortega and Don Williams  (Source:Instagram/AZ Central)

An Arizona religious school that receives public money left the married gay parents of one student feeling "uncomfortable and unsafe" after less-than-welcoming interactions with school staff, regional newspaper the Arizona Republic reports.

Don Williams and Jose Ortega uprooted their lives in California and moved to Arizona to stay close to Williams' 10-year-old daughter when William's ex-wife relocated, the Republic recounted. Williams and the ex-wife share joint custody, but Williams has no say in his ex-wife's choices when it comes to their daughter's education.

When the ex-wife enrolled Williams' daughter in Heart Cry Christian Academy, a private religious school in Queen Creek, Arizona, that receives public education funding, Williams and Ortega dutifully went in to meet with school staff members — but it quickly became clear to them that they were not welcome at the school despite their legal relationship to the girl as her biological father and her stepfather.

During the meeting, which took place last month, "Pastor Billy VanCamp took them to a conference room 'away from all the children' and started questioning the relationship between Williams and Ortega, Ortega said," the newspaper account relayed.

"The pastor told Ortega he wasn't allowed on campus because he is a gay man without any blood relation to Williams' daughter," the article went on to say.

Ortega recounted that he told VanCamp, "I'm still her stepdad, and as long as she is in my life and as long as she is attending the school, I'm going to be a part of it. And he said, 'Well, you are not welcome here.' So, I was like, 'Are you threatening me?' And he said, 'Try me.' Clearly, he is threatening me, and, at that point, I felt very unsafe."

Williams told the Arizona Republic "that a Heart Cry staff member told him his daughter wouldn't have been allowed to enroll at Heart Cry if they had known she had a gay father."

"Supposedly, as her father, I can pick her up and drop her off," Williams said. "I, supposedly, can come to any school event, but they have made it known that I am not welcomed at all."

Ortega recounted that VanCamp "made it clear to us that people bring their kids to him to stay away from people like us."

The Republic explained that the clash "shows how, as publicly funded education vouchers blur the lines between public and private education, anti-discrimination provisions that protect families enrolled in district and charter schools may not apply."

Specifically: "State law regarding the voucher program makes clear that a private school 'shall not be required to alter its creed, practices, admissions policy or curriculum in order to accept students whose parents pay tuition or fees' using a voucher" that provides public education money for tuition at private religious schools like Heart's Cry.

"Data from the Education Department, which oversees the voucher program, shows that most schools that receive voucher funds are religiously affiliated," the Republic noted.

"The school's mission, according to its website, is 'to equip children with knowledge, wisdom, and biblical principles,' and its education philosophy includes a curriculum that presents 'a biblical worldview across all subject areas,' " the article went on to add.

Williams expressed his concerns about the ways in which he fears his daughter is being indoctrinated at the school.

"One of my fears is the fact that she's in that school and they're brainwashing her," he told the newspaper, "and they're telling her that it's not OK for me to be me."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.