NEWS NOTES: September 2, 2014

September 2, 2014

News NotesHere are some items that you might find of interest:

1) Catholics United, a faith-based political organization, has called on Archbishop Charles Chaput to do more to show support for transgender people in the wake of the suicide of a transgender young man, Riley Moscatel, in Philadelphia.   Moscatel was raised Catholic and had a Catholic funeral.

2) In Alberta, Canada,  St. Albert Catholic High alumnus Brent Saccucci is one of 10 recipients of the University of Alberta’s 2014 Peter Lougheed Scholarship, according to The St. Albert Gazette.  Saccuci, a gay man, studies education, and he is active in addressing inequities in schools, especially around young students of colour and those who are LGBTQ.

3)  Elliot Wehrle, a student at Mother Teresa Catholic High School in Ottawa, Canada, was the youth marshal for Ottawa Pride this past month.  Wehrle wrote Break Before Bend, a musical about coming out, which was performed at the school in March.

4) In the heavily Catholic nation of Ecuador, President Rafael Correa, has allowed same-sex couples in civil unions to list their status on their national identification cards, similar to the way marital status is listed.  Same-sex marriage is not legal in the country.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Catholic School Honors Lesbian Alumna Soccer Star

August 12, 2014

While the LGBT news this past year from Catholic high schools has mostly been negative, focusing on the dismissals of teachers for being proud of their sexual orientation and their marriages, this summer sports seems to be offering a glimmer of hope in this arena.

Abby Wambach

The latest news is that Our Lady of Mercy School for Young Women, a Brighton, New York high school, has renamed its soccer field after Abby Wambach, a 1998 alumna and two-time Olympic gold medalist, who also happens to be a lesbian.  This news comes only days after a South Dakota Catholic school coach came out publicly as a gay man.

Wambach, who won  the  2012 FIFA World Player of the year, the top award in her sport, was present at the field’s dedication ceremonies this past weekend, and she exhorted current students to strive for excellence, integrity, and honesty.  The Rochester Democrat-Chronicle reported from her speech:

“I want you girls to believe in yourselves. Think about the people around you. Know what motivates you. Find a passion, find something you love and blow every record that I’ve set out of the water. I truly believe that because that’s how we … grow and evolve.”

And Wambach had praise for the Sisters of Mercy who run the school and her former coach there:

” ‘I want to thank Mercy and the Sisters of Mercy for always praying, especially late in some of those Olympic Games. We love you for that,’ Wambach said, opening her speech with a joke. . . .

“I’ve had a lot of coaches in my life, a lot of amazing soccer-mind coaches in my life. There is no better motivator that I’ve ever been coached by than Kathy [Boughton]. . . .

“She told me if you come from this school and you want to wear this jersey, you’ve got to be a good person … I appreciated all the tough love you showed me and all the teaching one needs to have about respect.”

These are strong words of praise coming from such a celebrated athlete.  The Democrat-Chronicle recounted her main achievements:

“A six-time winner of U.S. Soccer’s Female Athlete of the Year award, the former Section V standout was the 2012 FIFA World Player of the year, the highest honor given in her sport. In 2011 she also became the first soccer player to win The Associated Press’ annual Female Athlete of the Year award. The roots to becoming the greatest scorer in soccer history — her 167 international goals are tops among men and women in the record books for any player from any country — were planted at Mercy.”

Wambach came out publicly as a lesbian in 2013 when she married Sarah Huffman, another soccer player, in a Hawaii ceremony.  She had long been a vocal supporter of LGBT equality.

In a separate news story, Wambach again expressed her thanks for her Catholic education:

” ‘I am honored that my alma mater would want to do this for me and my family,’ Wambach said Wednesday via text message. ‘I owe so much of my success to my upbringing and education. Mercy is a massive part of my character.

” ‘The values (her former coach, Kathy Boughton) instilled in me still apply in all parts of my life. I couldn’t be more proud and thankful for this amazing honor.’ “

Jackie Robinson, the first African-American major league baseball player, integrated professional sports over a decade before American society began to wrestle with integration. Sports paved the way for larger change on the issue of race in America.  Perhaps sports will be the area that will help the Catholic community come to terms with its LGBT members and work for their equality.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related sports blog posts:

May 29, 2013: “Robbie Rogers: Soccer Star, Devout Catholic, and Now Openly Gay

May 29, 2013: “First Out Gay Student College Athlete Is at Catholic School

February 12, 2014: “Catholics Tweet Their Support for Mike Sam

March 22, 2014: “University of Notre Dame Athletics Closer to Full LGBT Acceptance

 

 

 

 


Catholic School Teacher in Italy Loses Job Because of Lesbian Rumors

July 23, 2014

The disturbing trend of firing Catholic school teachers because of LGBT issues has moved overseas, and the reason for firing has become even weaker than usual, compared to the cases here in the United States.

Students at the Institute of the Sacred Heart, Trent, Italy.

In Italy, a state-funded school, L’Istituto Sacro Cuore (The Sacred Heart Institute) in the northern city of Trent, did not renew its contract with a teacher because there were rumors that she was a lesbian, which she refused to either confirm or deny.

PinkNews.com reported that the teacher, who is known only by the pseudonym “Silvia” offered a reaction to the school’s decision:

“ ‘What happened to me is medieval.

“ ‘Maybe I’m a lesbian, maybe I’m not. But asking me about my sexual orientation as a condition for renewing my contract is unacceptable.’

“She also said that Sister Eugenia Libratore, headmistress and Mother Superior, ‘told me she was willing to turn a blind eye if I was willing to “solve the problem.” Homosexuality is a problem?’

” ‘Silvia’ said she had worked at the school for five years and lives with her partner in Trento.”

According to Gazzetta del Sudthe teacher has not provided information if her partner is male or female:

“Silvia told La Repubblica (an Italian newspaper) adding that she is aged between 30 and 40, has been teaching an ‘important and mandatory subject’ at Sacro Cuore for five years, and lives in Trento with someone she loves.”

Gay Star News reported Sister Libratore’s side of the story:

“Eugenia Libratore, the headmistress of Sacro Cuore, reportedly said she decided not to renew the ‘adequate and professional’ teacher’s contract because she ‘has the school’s environment to protect’ and ‘moral ethics’ to preserve. . . .

“Libratore told Corriere (an Italian newspaper) she had heard about the teacher’s sexuality through rumors in the staff room.

” ‘I told her I had heard these rumours and hoped they were false rumors, because I have the school environment to protect,’ she said.

” ‘When choosing teachers for a Catholic school, I also do assessments from the point of view of moral ethics…

” ‘The Catholic school has its own characteristics and set of educational guidelines that must be defended at all costs.’ “

Italy’s Education Minister Stefania Giannini

Because employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation has been illegal in Italy since 2003,  and because the school accepts government funding, Italy’s Education Minister, Stefania Giannini, has become involved in the case, after 20 Italian senators requested intervention.  In La Repubblicathe Minister stated:

“Whenever we are faced with a case related to sexual discrimination, we will act with due severity.”

As regular readers of Bondings 2.0  will recognize, most of the firings that have happened in the United States over the last few years have been due to a gay or lesbian teacher becoming legally married.  Only one action from the list of all reported ones since 2008 was due to perceived sexual orientation, that being Tim Nelson in 2013.

This Italian case highlights an attitude on the part of the school’s headmistress that may be important to understanding what motivates administrator’s to react so harshly in such cases. The Italian administrator said:

“The Catholic school has its own characteristics and set of educational guidelines that must be defended at all costs.”

Granted this rendering comes from a translation, not the original Italian in which it was spoken, but it seems curious that the headmistress sees herself as a “defender” of the faith, which seems to be under siege.  Such a sad attitude, and perhaps it is one which other church leaders share.

LGBT people are not out to destroy Catholicism or religion.  On the contrary, their experience of overcoming hatred, oppression, and fear contains many important elements which bring much life and spirit to faith.

If Church leaders would be able to stop seeing homosexuality as “a problem,” as the headmistress in this story described it, I know that it would be simply a small step for them to start recognizing the spiritual richness that LGBT offer the church community.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article

TheLocal.it: “Lesbian teacher fired ‘to protect Catholic school'”


Catholic Schools To Recognize Students’ Chosen Gender Identities

July 18, 2014

Tracey Wilson, the impetus behind the Catholic schools’ transgender-inclusive policy change

In an historic policy, Catholic schools in the Canadian city of Vancouver will recognize transgender students using their preferred gender identity.

CBC News reports the policy, announced by the Archdiocese of Vancouver earlier this week, will allow trans students to use their preferred pronouns, as well as wear the uniform and use the restroom associated with their gender identity. Transgender students will be able to file for accommodations and work with a pastoral team of medical, spiritual, and educational experts to create  individualized plans for each student. However, due to official Catholic policy, the schools cannot support students who transition.

The change comes after Tracey Wilson, an 11-year-old transgender girl, filed a complaint against the Catholic Independent Schools of the Vancouver Archdiocese for not allowing her to present as a girl. The Catholic school board settled with the Wilsons by implementing this new policy and paying an undisclosed sum to the family. The Wilsons say their children will remain in public schools. Superintendent Doug Lauson, who last year said ‘God doesn’t make mistakes‘ and that Tracey would have to wear the boys’ uniform, seemed pleased with the policy, which he views as a middle ground between supporting students and adhering to Catholic tradition.  Lausen stated:

“We are people of the Catholic faith. Our schools will be as inclusive as we can while still retaining our Catholic identity.”

Because Catholic schools in Canada are funded by the government, a history of religious exemption is not present.

CBC News reports that this new policy from a Catholic school board is making history, and there is hope it will impact more religiously-based schools:

” ‘This is, as far as we know, certainly a North American first and probably a world first,’ said the Wilson family’s lawyer, barbara findlay, who spells her name without capital letters.

” ‘Not only is it important for the students in Vancouver who go to Catholic schools, but it will serve as a template for other Catholic school districts everywhere.’ “

Tracey Wilson was one of two transgender students profiled by Canadian television program 16×9 last year, and at the time her mother, Michelle, said:

“They had no intention of letting her be who she wanted to be…Everyone says, ‘Well, what did you expect?’ I expected compassion. I expected a community that talks about love and acceptance to actually show love and acceptance.”

Though not freely chosen by the Vancouver archdiocese, this new policy is a huge step towards making Catholic schools into communities where love and acceptance are hallmarks. Tracey’s courage and her family’s willingness to call Catholic officials to account for their lack of inclusion will now mean Vancouver students who are transgender can be more authentically themselves, as God created them to be.

To view a video of Tracey and her mother talking about this recent victory, visit The Vancouver Sun by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


Catholic High Schools Extend Support as LGBT Students Come Out

July 15, 2014

Johann Go

Attending a Catholic high school and identifying openly as LGBT are often seen as mutually exclusive realities for many students, who fear bullying and discrimination from their principals, priests, and peers. Yet, two gay students’ stories reveal the changing landscape in some Catholic schools that will hopefully propel more students to merge these realities and feel comfortable in coming out.

Johann Go waited two years before coming out at St. Patrick’s College Silverstream, New Zealand, fearing the repercussions of doing so at a “conservative, Catholic all-boys’ school.” Go told The Dominion Post:

” ‘I was bracing myself to lose all my friends by coming out. I assumed the worst because I knew of people that had been kicked out of home and expelled from school because of it.’ “

Instead, he found love and support from the school’s principal and his peers. More than 30 LGBT alumni have contacted Go expressing their delight that he had the courage they had not had to come out while at St. Patrick’s. Go, who graduated last spring, used his openly gay status to advance inclusion at the school by speaking about homophobic attitudes present among the students and facilitating an LGBT peer support group.

Go’s parting gift to his alma mater was achieving approval for same-sex prom dates, which he asked rector Gerard Tully for and received “no objection” in what Go described as a “meaningful and remarkable step.” Tully said of the now alum:

” ‘Johann’s a fantastic young man who has made a positive contribution to school life, and we’re all very happy for him . . .’ “

Robert Paque

In New York state, Robert Paque spoke with the Olean Times Herald about being gay at a Catholic high school. The recent graduate thanked administrators during his commencement address for welcoming him, and specifically not expelling him, after he came out.

Paque was Olean, New York’s Archbishop Walsh Academy salutatorian this year and was lauded for his achievements during high school. During this time however, Paque was coming out to himself and feared he would be expelled if his sexual orientation became public. The Times Herald reports:

“[Paque] struggled with accepting his own sexual orientation and taking baby steps to make it public — all the while hearing news of religious schools elsewhere booting out gays — he feared his days were numbered…

“The day that haunted him never arrived. Conversely, Archbishop Walsh Academy administrators were staunchly supportive, he said.

” ‘It was just kind of like, “OK, we have a gay student in our school,”‘ Robert said. ‘Nothing changed. I’m still a student at the school. I didn’t act any different. I didn’t do my school work any different. It was just another fact, and it didn’t really change anything.’ “

He was open with his school because it was exhausting to hide, and faced only one bad incident when a schismatic priest was invited to Spanish class by the teacher and condemned Paque for being gay. That teacher was let go, and Principal Mykal Karl quickly met with the student to let him know he was supported.

The school’s board president, Beth Powers, said expelling Paque for being gay was “never a consideration” and said further:

” ‘Robert is a wonderful person. He is respected by everybody in the school, young and old, teachers, faculty and the kids…He is hard working. He is respectful. He’s honest. He’s got a really upbeat perspective on life.

” ‘From the board perspective … this issue never came up. Nobody expressed any concerns about him being in the school. We think he’s a wonderful person, and it was never a point of discussion to have him leave the school.’ “

Paque, who will be attending George Mason University, Virginia, in the fall, now says of his alma mater:

“ ‘Walsh has done nothing but support. They could easily have not, but they chose to support me…They’ve allowed me to grow as a person how I see fit for myself without trying to sway me any way. They’ve accepted me in their school community, and I’ll be forever thankful for that.’ ”

It will be a wonderful day when every LGBT student who walks across the graduation stage can speak so highly of their Catholic school. Though troubling incidents prove we’re not there yet, stories like Go’s and Paque’s are proof that in some places, students, faculty, and administrators are working hard to make Catholic education a supportive place to come out.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


New Employment Contract Clauses Raise a Host of Issues

July 13, 2014

Bishop Michael Barber

Oakland, California’s Bishop Michael Barber issued a statement recently to try to clarify the new clauses added to his diocese’s employment contracts which greatly restrict support for LGBT people and issues.  The problem with his explanation, though, is that he seems to be speaking out of both sides of his mouth.

The National Catholic Reporter’s Monica Clark noted the sentences in his statement which I find most confusing:

“Responding to apprehensions about a new so-called ‘morality clause’ in the Oakland, Calif., diocese’s teacher contract, Bishop Michael Barber has said he has ‘no intention of monitoring an individual’s personal life. What one does in one’s private life is between them and God.’ But, he added, ‘what concerns me is if someone does something in their private life that becomes public and then becomes a cause of scandal or detracts from the school’s religious mission.’ “

To me the bishop seems to be saying, “I don’t care if you do something that I consider a sin, but I just don’t want it to be public.”   That does not seem like a very pastoral approach to this question at all.

If we take it one step further, another way of interpreting the bishop’s message is that he has a total disregard for an individual’s conscience.  Perhaps he is saying, “You and God may have worked things out, but that won’t fly with me.”

And though the bishop says he does not want to monitor people’s lives, some teachers are suspicious of that promise.  Clark reported:

“Some teachers felt the addition allows the diocese to intrude into their private lives and creates a climate of fear and distrust. For example, if a teacher attended the same-sex wedding of her lesbian niece and a family photo of the event was posted on Facebook, would she be seen as violating the new terms of the contract?”

Indeed, in a number of the firings which have taken place, it was a revelation on Facebook about a marital relationship or support for marriage equality which initiated the unjust action.

Commentator Jocelyn Sideco, who teaches at Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland,  has also noted another passage from the new Oakland contract which makes it seem that, in fact, private lives of teachers will be monitored:

“The new contract language puts an explicitness on who teachers are, both in their personal and professional lives. ‘In both the EMPLOYEE’S personal and professional life, the EMPLOYEE is expected to model and promote behavior in conformity with the teaching of the Roman Catholic faith in matters of faith and morals, and to do nothing that tends to bring discredit to the SCHOOL or to the Diocese of Oakland’ (emphasis in original).”

Another O’Dowd H.S. teacher, Kathleen Purcell, is worried about how strictly enforced the contract will be, under this bishop and future ones. KALW Radio cited her thoughts:

“ ‘The bishop says I’m not gonna fire anybody, and I take him at his word,’ Purcell said. ‘But he’s not going to be Bishop forever, and he might change his mind. I don’t think employees should have to be operating under a contract that purports to take away their civil rights and just go on trust.’

“Purcell was let go after refusing to sign the new contract. She says she was not afraid of being targeteit is a matter of principle: before teaching U.S. history at O’Dowd, Purcell was a civil rights lawyer.

“Purcell says she understands Catholic doctrine but she says ‘being a catholic school is not a license to discriminate.’

“ ‘These are contentious issues in the church, about which faithful Catholics have very different conscientious positions. And what this contract language does is to place employees personal lives in the middle of that fight. And that’s cruel.’ ”

On the bright side, KALW Radio reports that the bishop has entered into dialogue with Catholics about the issue, and there is a possibility of a change of heart:

“The Bishop . . . met with teachers and students at two schools, including O’Dowd, at the end of the school year. Many say they were encouraged by the open dialogue. The Bishop says he is considering removing the controversial language from next years contract. For now though, it remains unchanged.”

Oakland is not the only diocese to institute new contract clauses. (For a complete list of firings and contract clause additions, check out this blog’s “Catholicism, Employment, and LGBT Issues” page.) One of the most public protests of new clauses has been in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.  Catholic parishioner Judy Hampel penned an op-ed at Cincinnati.com in which she says that it’s now time for Catholic to challenge their leaders on questions of discrimination against LGBT people:

“I’m trying to describe a not-uncommon experience that leaves many Catholics straddling a thorny pew: Should we stay, and hope and wait for a new vision for our faith community, or should we leave in protest before we find ourselves counted among those who would perpetuate such a dark legacy for the sake of tradition? Until recently, many of us never even considered a third possibility: challenging these egregious teachings openly by voicing our concerns. There is a very real danger that, whether we leave or stay, we are perpetuating a dark regime as long as we are silent. . . .

“It’s time to make up for lost time. It’s time for all Catholics and anyone else who will join us to collectively call to task all leaders and followers of any religion, sect or denomination that indulges in discriminatory doctrines and practices. Because, let’s face it, one of the most compelling forces inhibiting universal justice is intolerance toward others, which is often perpetuated by religious archaisms.”

It may very well be that time that Hampel describes.  According to a 2013 U.S. Catholic poll of 743 Catholics,  nearly 70% (or over 500 people) would not sign a loyalty oath if it was required for volunteer ministry in their parish.

With numbers like that, church leaders need to re-think not only the morality, but also the practicality, or instituting new contract clauses.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Fired Gay Teacher Files Legal Complaint in a Case Where Ironies Abound

July 11, 2014

The running controversy over LGBT people being fired from jobs in Catholic schools and parishes has mostly quieted down in the last month.  That silence, though, is probably due more to the fact that schools are on break and parishes are in “lite” mode for the summer than because of any moratorium on firings.

Flint Dollar

The topic surfaced again this week with news that one fired teacher is filing an equal opportunity claim against the Catholic school that fired him.

Flint Dollar, who was fired from his job as a music teacher at Mount de Sales Academy, Macon, Georgia, when it was learned that he intended to marry a man.

Dollar has had a difficult time seeking legal recourse in this situation.  This week, his lawyer announced that they found grounds to make a legal case against the school.  National Public Radio reports:

Since neither federal law nor state law in Georgia expressly forbids employers from discriminating against gays, it initially seemed like there was nothing Dollar could do. But Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which turned 50 this week, does prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex. Dollar’s lawyer, Charles Cox, sees an opening there.

“When you fire somebody because they are engaging in a same-sex marriage, I think that pretty clearly fits with gender discrimination,” Cox says. “You’re being fired because you’re not complying with traditional gender stereotypes, and that’s wrong, and we believe it’s unlawful.”

Though this strategy has been tried before in courts and failed, there is hope in this case because of a legal precedent set in April of this year:

“. . . [A] judge in Washington made a ruling in a lawsuit brought by federal employee Peter TerVeer. TerVeer claims his supervisor at the Library of Congress made his work life miserable because TerVeer is gay.

“LGBT rights attorney Greg Nevins, who is helping with TerVeer’s case, explains how TerVeer sued under Title VII:

” ‘His romantic or intimate interest in men is something that the women workers at the office were not penalized for, but he was,’ Nevins says. ‘He made that claim in federal district court, and the court allowed it to proceed, despite a motion to dismiss by the Department of Justice.’ “

“Now the TerVeer case is giving hope to people like Dollar. He’s filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, alleging sex discrimination.”

The Georgia Voice also notes another precedent that Dollar’s lawyer raised:

“Cox also cites Glenn v. Brumby, the Eleventh Circuit court case from 2011 which found that the Georgia General Assembly fired activist Vandy Beth Glenn due to her being transgender, which was a violation of the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution that protects against gender discrimination.

“ ‘The same thing applies to same-sex marriage because that’s not conforming to traditional gender stereotypes,’ Cox says.”

The Dollar case has sparked a variety of commentary examining some of the moral questions involved in the action of firing.  Back in June, David Oedel, a law professor, wrote about some of the ironies of the case:

“In its employee handbook and website, the school articulates policies of nondiscrimination as to ‘sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression,’ ‘marital status’ and ‘any other characteristic or status that is protected by federal, state, or local law.’

“Federal law protects the right to travel to other states and avail oneself of the benefits of other states’ laws, so the school apparently accepts Dollar’s right to go to Minnesota, join in a same-sex marriage, and have that marriage honored by federal law. Georgia doesn’t legally have to respect such a marriage, and neither did Mount de Sales — until the school adopted its nondiscrimination policy and made promises to Dollar.

“There’s little ambiguity about Roman Catholic teachings on promise-keeping. The church endorses keeping promises, such as those between church-married partners and, presumably, promises Mount de Sales apparently made to Dollar to hire and retain Dollar despite his sexual orientation, committed relationship and marriage plans.”

The school’s action is surprising to Oedel, given the progressive history of the institution:

“It wouldn’t have been a stretch for Dollar to take the school at its word because the school is known in Macon as a path-breaking institution. Mount de Sales was the first school here publicly to educate those of various faiths, first to integrate and first to embrace such a wide-open nondiscrimination policy. From some national press, though, you’d think the school is a regressive horror-chamber.”

And the contradiction goes even deeper:

“One wonders what St. Francis de Sales, for whom the school is named, would think. Francis famously advocated charity over penance. Where is Christ’s charity in firing Dollar now?”

For comprehensive coverage of all the firings, click on “Employment Issues” in the “Categories” box in the right-hand column of this page.  You can find a complete list of fired employees on this blog’s “Catholicism, Employment, & LGBT Issues” page. 

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
Related articles:

The Telegraph: “Fired Mount de Sales band director files EEOC claim”

The Telegraph: “Bigotry, prejudice and grace”

 

 


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