Christian School Claims Their Bigoted Letter Wasn’t Just About Sunnie Khale’s Hair

Christian School Defends Itself Sunnie Khale CaseI’m not a very religious person. I’m not sure I believe in God per se, but I do know that if there is a God who watches over us and keeps tabs on everything we are doing and cares deeply about our actions and all of that stuff, he really, truly, one gazillion per cent does not give a shit about what type of hairstyle we have. On God’s big list of worries about the world and its inhabitants, women and girls having short haircuts is not placed between his laundry list of concerns, between serial killers and the threat of nuclear war.

Someone should probably tell the school administrators of Timberlake Christian School in Virginia this, because they informed the grandparents of eight-year-old Sunnie Kahle (who they are the legal guardians of) that if their granddaughter didn’t meet the school’s biblical standards, she wouldn’t be allowed to enroll there next year. What are these biblical standards that little Sunnie isn’t following? She loves sports, wears sneakers, and has an adorable little pixie haircut. My co-worker Julia at The Gloss wrote about this case recently, and now that news agencies are reporting on the incident the school has come back with their own statements that the public just doesn’t understand the whole story about why they sent their dumb letter.


However, Timberlake Christian says there is much more to the story than has been shared. Mat Staver with Liberty Counsel is now representing the school.  He says this has never been a about hair length or combat boots.

“Timberlake Baptist Church and Christian school gratefully regrets the misinformation that has been given to the media regarding a situation that they have been working with the family for a few years now” said Staver.

The school says gender distinction is a part of their Christian values, and it wasn’t just the way she dressed that violated their policies.

For confidentiality reasons, the school would not go into details but they did say restroom use became a problem.

“This is an 8 year old girl we are talking about, and I just feel uncomfortable putting her personal information out there for public scrutiny” said Staver.

Her great-grandma did speak of instances where girls thought Sunnie was a boy in the bathroom.


This is so ridiculously stupid. And I cannot think of a single God-fearing Christian I know who would disagree with me here. It’s absurd. I’m glad they sent this letter because I don’t think Sunnie, or any kid, should go to that school anyway. She’s better off attending a school that lets girls play sports and wear their hair how they want.

Until I hear Sunnie was just some monster child and was acting super terrible while attending school, I think this is just a simple case of these weirdos thinking her short hair was giving her the gay and that didn’t mesh with their “Christian values.”

(Image: WSET video)

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  • Kay_Sue

    “And I cannot think of a single God-fearing Christian I know who would disagree with me here.”

    I truly wish I could say the same.

    • Jessica

      When I saw the headline for this story in the news, I thought “I wonder if this is Lynchburg?” and sure enough- it is. I lived in Lynchburg for almost 10 years, and you are absolutely correct in your assessment that plenty of the citizens of that city (and others) absolutely disagree. It’s playing out on my Facebook right now, with supporters of TCA jumping to “not being able to condone the homosexual lifestyle.” It hurts my heart.

    • Kay_Sue

      I have family members that would be supportive of this action. They truly believe that homosexuality can be caused by environmental factors and that if we simply force people into “acceptable” gender roles, it will fix or prevent the problem. It’s just sad.

    • Ursi

      I too have people like this in my family and the logic of it boggles the mind. The same people who believe that a child might “catch the gay” from not conforming to gender roles and being around gay people are the same people who would stress long-term therapy and prayer for adults and kids who profess to be homosexuals in order to turn them straight. Begging the question– if it’s so easy for a kid to turn to homosexuality from outside influence then why aren’t gay folks accidentally turning straight all the time??

    • Kay_Sue

      I bet it happens all the time. One moment you have this wonderfully fabulous homosexual young man, singing Madonna at karaoke night, and then the next thing you know, he accidentally ingests too much Rush Limbaugh and winds up grunting and scratching his balls on the couch while watching NFL AM.

    • pixie

      Strangely, you just described about 80% of my male friends, gay and straight.

    • Kay_Sue

      With the Madonna or the ball-scratching? Because the idea that you are surrounded by fabulous karaoke singers of all types is the absolute funniest idea I have come across all morning.

    • pixie

      lol they do both. Perhaps not madonna, but pretty fabulous at karaoke, anyways.

    • Kay_Sue

      Aye, isn’t it mind-blowing when people turn out to be individuals and don’t conform to arbitrary stereotypes of how they should look and act?

      Also, I freely admit that if I had balls, I would spend all the time scratching them that I could.

    • pixie

      It totally is.

      And so would I.

    • whiteroses

      There you go using your logic again…

    • Alex Lee

      Because homosexuality is like those turnstyles at Disneyland. Once you go in, you can’t come out. Then you need to pray to the almighty gatekeeper to deliver you to the other side – which would be heterosexuality and/or the parking lot.

    • K.

      I always wonder how these people respond when you pose the question, “So…when did you decide to become straight?”

      I’m sure they’ve got some sort of contorted answer for it by now, but it still boggles my mind people think LGBT individuals–who risk death, abuse, depression, isolation, abandonment, ridicule and discrimination just being who they are–would choose that.

    • Kay_Sue

      I think they’d rely on their piety and the idea that such ‘perversion’ can’t touch them because of it…that, or their heads would implode.

    • K.

      Sigh. I mean, I don’t know what I was hoping–these are, after all, the same people who defy basic science like dinosaurs and evolution and climate change, right?

      But my problem with it is that as someone who has studied religion (although that’s not my actual field), the emphasis on homosexuality as a sin is to me, a misreading or at least a contortion of the Bible for a lot of reasons (it’s not a big feature within the Bible, homosexuality as we know it today didn’t exist in the ancient world, the scripture has other interpretations that respond more logically to that ancient culture, etc. etc.), and while science might be a stretch, the Bible they’re supposed to know. Sigh.

    • Kay_Sue

      I completely agree. My uncle is a pastor at a very fundamentalist church, and it still shocks me. He’s college educated–at a mainstream, secular college, actually–and attended seminary for his graduated education. He’s a very smart man, and yet, in this area, he’s completely blinded.

    • pixie

      Plus the bible was translated numerous times before being translated into English, so a lot of the nuances are lost with each successive translation. That, and some things just don’t translate very well and there’s the possibility of creative liberty.

    • Véronique Houde

      Actually, the translations have always been pretty excellent – if you compare the current texts to the originals, not much has been lost. However, there are some cultural nuances that can’t be captured in modern english society

    • pixie

      Ah, ok. I wasn’t aware of that, I just knew that it’s been translated a few times and usually things don’t always translate too well. But yeah, definitely the cultural nuances was a big thing that I was getting at.

    • waffre

      I know you meant “deny” basic science but I like the idea that these throwbacks defy evolution.

    • whiteroses

      If short hair equals homosexual, my mom’s been gay for over 40 years. I wonder if I should tell my dad. Sure would come as a shock to him, since they’ve been married for 33 years.

    • Jessica

      Someone replied to the verse you cited with verses about women and modesty. That’s when I knew there was really nothing left to say. Sigh.

    • whiteroses

      Well, I’m glad you’re still fighting the good fight. It warms my heart, to be honest, to know that there are people like you around. I don’t have a daughter, but if I did I’d like to think that it wouldn’t matter how she chose to be. Sadly, we don’t live in a perfect world.

      Good to know that they’re completely perfect and thus will have nothing to answer to when they’re standing before God, right?

    • Jessica

      Thank you for this, because the Facebook fiasco has really hurt me today. I am not sure what I was expecting, but it still is incredibly frustrating to engage with people professing deep faith and deep intolerance at the same time.

    • whiteroses

      It hurts my heart to know that people are so small. On the other hand- I’m glad to know that others aren’t.

    • K.

      Sadly, no amount of cajoling is going to make a person change their set mind, but I’m always suspicious of anyone who excises a single verse (or line, even) of scripture to support an argument. Context IS important, both textual and cultural.

      Even what appears to be straightforward verses (Deuteronomy 22:5 comes to mind on this issue) aren’t really all that straightforward–it’s simply more comforting to believe that they are.

      If it helps, my belief is that what the Bible (and the Qur’an and the Torah and most of the world’s great religions) actually teaches is exceedingly hard to do. Tolerance is very difficult; morality is nuanced. In the face of those practices, interpreting ceremonial verses becomes much much easier and it is sadly, much, much more convenient to use them, in their apparent concreteness, to practice INtolerance.

    • whiteroses

      Also, remind them that in heaven, everyone’s body is perfect and looks don’t matter. If 1) our earthly lives are a blip in the face of eternity and 2) we are ALL made in God’s image, who are they to criticize someone’s looks? Does that mean that they are criticizing God’s creation? Because I sure hope not.

  • JLH1986

    So they are teaching the girls that short hair means boy. Nope they still sound like judgmental jerks. I am getting my hair cut short (er) this weekend. I will be sure to send a photo of me looking all female with my boobs and all that.. With short hair.

  • rebecca

    So I’m an atheist, but I was raised evangelical. The church I grew up in was an absurdly welcoming place. They wanted everyone and anyone. If they saw a little girl like Sunnie and they were concerned for her gender identity, they would just say “well, thank the lord she’s here so we can help her”. They believed in guidance, not judgment. And while I didn’t always agree with their “guidance”, I can appreciate that it came from a genuinely good place. If these parents and school officials were really Christians they would want Sunnie in their school. If their concern is her spiritual well being they should agree that a Christian school is the best thing for her. Frankly I think she’s much better off in a public school, but all that little girl knows is that she’s been separated from friends and teachers she cared about. Assholes.

  • Anna

    Do so many people value “gender distinction” that a school like this can exist?

    • Jessica

      The culture of the city that this school is in is very evangelical. It is the hometown of the late Jerry Falwell (of 9-11 was caused by the gays fame.) It has more than 300 churches, and a majority of them are southern baptist. This particular school (if I am reading the information correctly) is a feeder academy into Liberty University, a very conservative Christian University (whose politics bleed into the culture of the city.) All of that is to say that yes, the culture of the area lends itself to promoting gender distinction as a value. And while I met a lot of wonderful people and made a lot of great memories living there, it is that culture that made moving before my children reached school age essential.

    • Anna

      Thanks for the background. I suppose this isn’t shocking then.

    • Jessica

      When I saw where it was, I wasn’t even remotely surprised. It’s an area that lends itself to a Lifetime Movie / Footloose crossover.

    • whiteroses

      I agree. I loved living in Lynchburg, but I wouldn’t raise my son there on a bet.

  • Ursi

    Everything about this school’s approach offends me as a Christian. Sunnie might be a girl unconcerned with feminimity or Sunnie might be a girl who is a tomboy at heart or Sunnie might even be transgender. Who knows? But nothing about her dress or actions is incongruous with Christian teachings. She can dress as she damn well pleases and love the Lord the same as anyone. And she should have the confidence that the Christian community will welcome her with open arms same as God will.
    As for the notion that the public is misunderstanding the school. No, I think we understand very well. You are holding up ridiculous gender standards and passing them off as Christian teachings. You are discrediting and trivializing the faith you profess to follow.

  • lpag

    They’re a private school, they can make whatever rules they wish. If the family doesn’t like it, they can (and should) send her to a different school. The schools my husband and I went to (and the schools we plan to send our kids to) are single sex and have strict dress codes/uniforms and rules about hairstyles (for both the boys and the girls). These rules reflect our Orthodox Jewish laws/values. Orthodoxy is a very wide spectrum, and I know we have to choose schools on the right part of the spectrum for us. Hasidic schools are way too strict, so we know not to consider those; it would be silly to send our kids there and then complain about all their silly rules. There are more liberal schools for those who want that. Parents who want to send to parochial schools need to make sure the school is their speed. I’m sure there are other Christian schools that don’t subscribe to such a rigid interpretation, and that’s what this family should do, not make a media spectacle over rules they should have known going in. I think the rule is silly too, but then again, lots of people think the rules my family plays by are silly. But we have the right to have them and enforce them so long as no one’s trying to impose them on others (yes, I realize they’re “imposing” on the family, but the family made a choice to send her there, implicitly agreeing to do things the school’s way). I do believe though that the child should not be humiliated in any way. That’s never OK, and if the school is doing that, well, that’s another reason you don’t want her there anyway.

    • jane

      I totally agree with you. This is the beauty of the American constitution – the school is totally allowed to have “free exercise of religion” and keep or exclude kids for whatever criteria they want. And because of the 1st amendment, we are allowed to comment that the decision is bigoted, small minded, hurtful, dickish and “unChristian.” I would never say the school should be forced to change their policies, but I reserve the right to call them assholes.

    • Sara610

      I wouldn’t say that a policy requiring that girls wear skirts and long hair deserves the term “asshole”–lots of religions have laws that dictate how women should dress. We would never (or at least, I hope we would never) call a Muslim school “assholes” because they require girls to cover their hair. That’s part of the religion, and people who believe firmly in following the religion’s rules in terms of dress and personal adornment don’t deserve to be derided for it.

      What DOES deserve to be questioned is that the school apparently didn’t have any rules in place, and it was only when they were confronted with a girl who didn’t conform to their ideal gender roles that they decided to try to bully her into conformity by citing some vague notion of Biblical gender roles. If they realized that the rules were too lax, the way to go about it would be to put new rules in place, make sure those rules are clearly communicated to everyone, and give families who disagree with them time to find a new school and prepare their children for the adjustment. That’s not what happened here, and THAT’S what I have a problem with. The school went about it badly and this little girl is paying the price for the school’s irresponsibility and incompetence.

    • jane

      Sorry, should have been clearer – I don’t think that all dress requirements in all schools are bad, even if I disagree with some of them.

      However, I do think that any policy, parochial or public, that has at it’s core the belief that there is an absolute gender binary, and that violations of that binary, however superficial and arbitrary, are somehow an affront to god and man, is an assholish policy.

      So yes, I have a problem with how the rules were communicated, and I also have a problem with the rules.

    • Ursi

      I think the difference is that at a school for Orthodox kids there would be a clearly spelled out code of dress based on the laws and values of the Orthodox Jewish community. But this Christian school, from every article on the case I’ve read, does not have a school uniform or strict code of dress except that Sunnie looks too much like a boy for their liking. That’s ridiculously vague. If there were a rule in place “girls wear skirts, boys wear pants”, I’d see the value of this argument. But for the school to attack her overall appearance indicates that no such hard and fast rule is in place.
      There are definitely fundamentalist Christians who believe that women should keep their hair long and never don pants. That’s their belief and that’s not something I take issue with. The school’s own objection offends me because Sunnie is being singled out for a myriad of reasons that don’t have anything to do with Christianity as whole nor any hard rule the school seemed to have in place before.

    • Sara610

      This. This whole thing smacks of cherry-picking to suit the school’s agenda, which is very different from dress codes in Orthodox Jewish day schools and camps, which tend to be explicitly laid out and in line with the laws of tznius (as interpreted by whatever branch or even sub-branch of Judaism the school identifies with), which would not be unique to the school and which the children will generally follow in their daily lives anyway.

      This situation, on the other hand, seems like they just didn’t like her tomboy style and rather than saying that and owning up to it, decided to try to use some vague notion of “Biblical gender roles” to defend their objection and hoped that no one would look too closely at it.

      Now, the school absolutely has every right to enforce whatever dress code they want. If they think that girls should wear skirts and keep their hair long, as a private institution, that’s their right and families who don’t mesh with those values should probably send their kids elsewhere. But the way they went about it, when there doesn’t appear to be any pre-existing rule in place, was inappropriate.

    • CMP414

      I went to Catholic school my entire life and there were definitely spelled out rules in the Handbook in regards to hair, make-up, ear piercing etc. We also had a strict dress code which included a full uniform and how to wear it. I’m not sure how strict the rules were at this little girl’s school but religious schools of any kind reserve the right to make religious rules. Her great-grandparents should probably consider a school for her that better suits who she is. That’s where she will thrive.

    • whiteroses

      I agree- but it doesn’t look like these rules were clearly spelled out. The school missed out on a massive teaching opportunity here- they could have taught their students that Jesus loves us no matter what we look like.

    • whiteroses

      They’re entitled to make their own rules, provided every parent and child is aware of those rules ahead of time. What they’re not entitled to do is attack an eight year old under the guise of “God would want it this way!”

  • TngldBlue

    This school would freak the hell out over my daughter who has recently decided she wants to be a boy-which includes peeing like a boy.

    Sure, they’re private so they get to make the rules but that doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t challenge their absurdity. They’re shaming a kid based on her appearance which is one of the least Christian things I think you can do.

    • Paul White

      How does that work without making a mess?

    • TngldBlue

      As well as you can imagine, girl goes through more outfits daily than Lady Gaga.

    • staferny

      She-wee, now available in multiple colours

    • Colleen

      You should buy her a “Go Girl”…no mess and can pee standing up!

    • AugustW

      I wanted short hair when I was younger. I had hair down to my ankles, while my brothers had shaved heads in the summertime. I hated it. I spent so much time washing and brushing my hair. It had nothing to do with my sexuality….I just wanted to spend more time outside playing!

  • ME!


    • Kay_Sue


  • bea

    Pah-leeze. I was a super tom boy at her age. I wore boy clothes, had dirt caked on my face.Give this kid a break, she’s freaking eight years old!

  • K.

    It really is tricky to tell the difference between boys and girls without the right hairstyle.

    I mean, I pulled my hair back into a bun today and several people called me “Mr.” And we all know how God feels about that.


    • Ptownsteveschick

      Right? I wore a tshirt and sweats with sneakers, and they wouldn’t let me in the women’s room unless I changed into a mini skirt and heels. People were so confused and frightened by me.

  • pixie

    So she doesn’t look like a stereotypical 8 year old little girl. Big whoop. I’ve known girls her age that were similar and I’m pretty sure most of them grew up and didn’t catch the gay. I can’t say 100% about all of them, but most of them are straight (or possibly bi, but I don’t ask about their sex lives). I’ve known little boys that would probably give the people at this school an aneurysm. Long, blond hair and delicate features. None of them wanted to be girls (that I’m aware of), it was just “cool” to grow out their hair at that point or they were growing it for a cause (like to donate for wigs).

    Sunnie might grow up to be gay or transgender, but there’s also a possibility she’ll grow up and be straight, get married, and have ten children. Whatever she discovers about herself as she grows up, I hope she has support from her grandparents and that she is able to surround herself with people who care for her as a person, not judge her by some made-up standards that are unfairly attributed to their religion. (PS, men also wore robes, didn’t cut their hair, or shave in Jesus’ time, so dudes, tie your bedsheets into togas and throw out your razors!)

  • Valerie

    This literally makes me ill. That poor sweet girl. People suck.

  • AugustW

    The photo above isn’t the most flattering and she does look a little more boyish than girlish, but I’m sure when you see her in person, you know she is a girl.

    • whiteroses

      She has the face of a girl, imho. My son has long, curly blonde hair, but if you look at him there’s absolutely no doubt he’s a boy.

    • Kelly

      Even if she looks like a boy in person, who cares? My son is 13 now and he constantly gets mistaken for a girl. He’s got a face like a porcelain doll with high cheekbones and long, gorgeous flowing hair that I’m jealous of. He’s going to be one of those beautiful men. It doesn’t bother him and while people have told both me and him that it should, it still doesn’t.

  • Ptownsteveschick

    Even as a kid, I never understood the panic over a supposed boy in the girl’s bathroom, like, I’m in a stall with a closed door so who cares? Are there a whole bunch of American open air squat toilets in this school, one toilet in the middle of the room that is under a spot light? It makes me so upset that a girl who does her own thing would be made to feel bad by anyone.
    Gender judgement is something I am really trying to work on with my daughter. We know that people have different parts, but some are girls, some are boys, and that might not always match the private areas of their bodies and that is ok. BUT, a girl with short hair, who likes tshirts and tennis shoes is still a girl if she wants to be called a girl. WTF is wrong with this school.

    • brebay

      Ugh! Thank you. People are freaking out now about transgendered people in bathrooms…seriously…stall doors!

    • Ptownsteveschick

      Yeah, also I don’t understand how transgendered also equals “wants to watch you pee/shit” These people are some extraordinary kind of self centered.

  • Robotic Socks

    If she pees standing up, I’m gonna side with the school on this.

  • 21foot house

    Is that what Sunnie looks like? Good grief I could dig up a picture of me at that age and we could pass for sisters. I had short hair, wore a gold chain, and was usually in a black t-shirt with the warner brother’s tazmanian devil on it and the caption “will race for food”. That or my green ranger power rangers t-shirt! Jeans or sweat pants, and wait for it… mighty duck high tops.
    I’m not claiming my fashion sense was all that great exactly, and it’s ok if you cringed or laughed at that description, but I was eight, and those mighty duck high tops were so cool that even though they were my designated indoor shoes I was so excited to show them to my friends that I put plastic bags over my feet to walk to their house with them on.

    Was I ever mistaken for a boy? Rarely. Did other children used to ask me “are you a boy or a girl?” Yes, but only my BULLIES. The same kids that pulled my pants down on the playground and shoved their hands down the back of my pants at the water fountain. So if kids are “unsure about whether Sunnie is a boy or a girl” then perhaps the school needs to wonder if those kids really can’t figure it out, or if Sunnie is being picked on at the peer level for how she looks, which should not lead to being picked on by her authority figures as has clearly happened here.

    As an adult I continue to experience the occasional “sir” and once a lady frantically tried to stop me from going in the ladies room. I grew very tall, have a very flat chest and no hips to speak of. I dress in jeans and hoodies because that is what I need to wear for work, and I can’t wear jewellery in my line of work as it is unsafe. I don’t bother with makeup unless it’s a special occasion, and I have in my lifetime had my hair nearly a buzz cut, and also so long it touched my butt.

    I did not “catch the gay” from my power rangers t-shirt and short hair cut, nor did I “corrupt” anyone around me and the only people who were ever at fault were those nasty kids who violated my space. I hope Sunnie continues to be herself, whoever that may turn out to be, and that she has adults who support and defend her from her bullies (child and adult alike)

    • Kay_Sue

      I’m jealous of your mighty duck high tops, even now and without having ever seen them…

  • guest

    Wow, that’s a shudder-provoking sentence:

    “Someone should probably tell the school administrators of Timberlake Christian School in Virginia this, because they informed the grandparents of eight-year-old Sunnie Kahle (who they are the legal guardians of) that if their granddaughter didn’t meet the school’s biblical standards, she wouldn’t be allowed to enroll there next year.”

    Overuse of confusing “they”s and run on. Edit!

    • BrendaKilgour

      Your second paragraph begins with an incomplete sentence. Please do better, Strunk & White.

  • Kitsune

    I had short hair in elementary school and I once had a girl try to insist that I shouldn’t be in the girl’s bathroom. My elementary school was public but in a super Italian Catholic neighborhood in Brooklyn (back before it was the home of hipsters) and most of the girls and boys went by very defined gender roles and you never saw short hair on the girls. I remember being hurt by it and my mom comforting me when I got home and that being the end of it. It would have been so much worse if the school had somehow made the incident my fault and forced me to grow my hair out.

  • AP

    So here’s the issue I take with this whole thing: the school has a clear dress code (I saw it on another article) that includes style of dress, shoes, and hair, in the school handbook. The parents had a choice: a) enroll their child in another school if they did not agree with the code, or b) keep Sunnie’s hair and dress in compliance with the dress code. There is no option c) Ignore dress code and complain when private school calls you out on it.

    I 100% don’t agree with their dress code that girls must look “girly.” I personally think kids of both genders should dress utilitarian, because it makes me sad to see kids unable to play because of what they are wearing or how their hair is styled. However, the parents chose to send their daughter to a school with such a dress code, so it’s the parents’ obligation to either explain the rules to their daughter, or admit that the school is not working for them and go elsewhere.

    • brebay

      She followed the dress code. Hair length is no where in it.

  • Kelly

    Seriously? So it’s not just that her hair was too short it’s because she was using the girls bathroom too?

    WTF? They have a problem with her not being girly enough and then claim that her being in the girls’ bathroom was a problem because it made the other girls uncomfortable? What the hell did they want this kid to do? They would have lost their damn minds if she had tried to use the boys’ bathroom. Was she supposed to go shit in the bushes?

  • lemon floor wax

    There is no “wrong way” to be a girl, especially not at eight freaking years old. Asshats.

  • brebay

    What the hell is “grateful regret?”

  • brebay

    “Gender distinction” is a Christian value? These new “christians” need to just quit all the bullshit and admit that they’ve just created a whole new cult that has nothing to do with Christ and everything to do with fear, anger, hate, and everything being Obama’s gay, gay fault!

  • brebay

    Are we talking about the same Jesus who had long, flowing hair, a dress, and sandals?