Family leaves church for its treatment of their daughter
For all the strides our country has made in terms of accepting people’s differences, one area in which we still have a long way to go is gender non-conformity. The pressure that is placed on many children to dress in a way that is “sex-appropriate” is enormous. Take 9-year-old Cady Mansell from Indiana, for example, who was forbidden by her family’s church to take part in her first communion because she wanted to wear a suit to the event instead of a dress.
Cady’s love of suits started when she was four and asked her parents for a bow tie. Since then, her parents have supported her in her love of suits, ties, and vests. So it was only natural that when the time came to prepare for her first communion, Cady decided she was going to wear a suit. This was nothing new for Cady, who has worn suits to church, for school photos, and to a Daddy-Daughter Dance and never had an issue.
Just three days before the event, however, the principal of her small Catholic school, St. John the Evangelist (where her mother, Chris, also works) and a representative of the church met with Cady’s mother and told her that Cady would either have to wear a dress to receive First Communion or she could wear a suit and be given communion privately. “She can’t sit with her classmates. She can’t be in any group photos. If she wears a suit we have to pretend like my daughter doesn’t exist,” her mother wrote on Facebook after the meeting. She also shared her post to the Facebook group Pantsuit Nation, where it garnered nearly 100,000 reactions.
Chris told Scary Mommy that when she told Cady what the school said, Cady initially insisted on wearing her suit. But then: “…she thought it over for a while [and] said ‘I don’t want to wear a dress but if you want me to I will.’ Her eyes were starting to tear up, she’s not a crier, and right then I decided she would not wear anything but her suit.”
My eyes are tearing up too, and I might need to fly to Indiana to give Chris and Cady big hugs.
The next day, at First Communion practice, the priest pulled Cady’s father into his office and told him, according to Chris, that “we are raising our daughter wrong by letting [her wear suits] and that she doesn’t have the brain development and maturity to make decisions about how she wants to dress.” Usually, there’s no better authority on children’s brain development than your local bigoted priest, but for the Mansells this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Cady’s dad took her home immediately and that night they decided as a family to leave the church and the school.
“I sat with Cady and her 8-year-old sister, Anabelle,” Chris told Scary Mommy, “and explained in their terms what the priest said. I told her, ‘The priest doesn’t like the idea that we let you dress how you feel comfortable and beautiful and thinks we should make you be a different girl. Since we think so differently, mom and dad think we should all find another school.'”
I will need to book a return flight for one more hug. Just one. Still totally comfortable and normal.
A few weeks later, the girls are in a new school and their parents are looking for a more progressive church. The experience has, sadly, left Cady nervous about asking their new priest about the suit. She’s scared that “the people at her new school will not like her if there ends up being a controversy here like there was at SJE,” said Chris. Instead, the family will be going to a church a few towns away “that is known for helping non-conforming children make their sacraments, so this way there are no rumors or whispers about our family.”
Cady’s story is so moving because of the way her parents have stood behind her. Sometimes doing the right thing means defending your child despite the criticisms of many. It means uprooting your kids from their school and church so that they know there’s nothing more important than them loving who they are. It means looking for a church miles away from home that will love your child the way their house of worship should. Cady’s parents are doing all of that, and we love them for it.
As Chris put it: “As much as Catholicism and the sacraments are important to me, my daughter is more important.”