Gay Catholic High School Teacher Is Fired. But by Whom?

Charlotte Catholic High School

A gay teacher was fired from a North Carolina Catholic high school, the first firing announced in 2015 after a year which saw more than twenty church workers losing their jobs over LGBT-related employment disputes.  Who is actually responsible for the firing the decision is disputed.

Lonnie Billard, who taught English and drama at Charlotte Catholic High School, was fired last summer after more than fifteen years of teaching during which he won the teacher of the year award multiple times. Billard was let go when his engagement to a male partner became public on Facebook. According to Billard, the firing comes directly from the Diocese of Charlotte, not the school. QNotes repots :

” ‘This was not a decision by Charlotte Catholic High School,’ Billard said in an interview with qnotes on Monday. ‘I had talked with one of the administration officials. He knew [about the announcement]. He didn’t care. He said he knew me to be a good teacher and a good person.’…

” ‘Apparently there were a couple teachers there who are super-conservative Catholic…They are not friends of mine on Facebook, but they found out about it and escalated it so it got to the diocese.’ “

However, the diocese’s newspaper reports it was administrators at Charlotte Catholic who fired Billard from substitute teaching, a position he has held since retiring in 2012. Despite placing the blame for the decision with the school, a diocesan spokesperson is defending the firing which Billard says is not only personally upsetting but also quite dangerous for LGBT students. The teacher told QNotes:

” ‘I was terribly hurt…I love to teach. I absolutely love to teach and to be denied that opportunity for something never even enters the classroom was devastating.’

” ‘I know exactly what message it sends. I’ve heard from them. It sends the message that they don’t matter…One of the counselors there actually had a kid come into their office after this announcement and asked, “Am I going to be expelled because I’m gay?” It sends such a destructive and hurtful message to kids, instead of validating them for their beauty and validating them for the love they bring. It tells them they don’t count.’ “

Support from students, parents, alumni, and others at the school has been overwhelming and Billard is confident he will teach elsewhere. However, he is unsure how this will impact his relationship with the church:

” ‘It got to the point where every time something came up, the diocese was so negative and so hurtful to LGBT people. It’s very difficult for me to go into church and find the peace to worship when I know that everything they stand for behind that service is wrong.’ “

This case is not the first time LGBT issues have become controversial for both the Charlotte diocese or the high school. In 2012, a gay music director Steav Bates-Congdon was fired from a parish position for marrying his husband. Last year, the high school hosted anti-gay speaker Dominican Sr. Jane Dominic Laurel who told students at a mandatory all-school assembly that homosexuality results from absentee fathers or masturbation,  and she linked same-gender parents to child abuse. After public protests and petitions, more than 1,000 concerned parents showed up to a town hall meeting. The school later apologized for allowing the controversial nun to speak.

In 2014, there were 23 church workers who publicly lost their jobs due to LGBT-related issues. The scandal caused and damage done by each one is immeasurable, but these incidents are especially potent in the minds of high school students who are members of a generation which is overwhelmingly LGBT-positive. Whatever reasons that Charlotte Catholic administrators or the Diocese of Charlotte had for firing Billard, this discrimination is precisely what Pope Francis refers to when he speaks of “vaccines against faith” for young Catholics. Hopefully, this firing, which happened in July 2014 but is only now becoming public, will not be indicative of the months to come.

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of ‘Employment Issues,’ click the category to the right. For a full listing of LGBT-related firings, with links for further information, click here. And if you are interested in helping protect LGBT and ally church workers by implementing an inclusive non-discrimination policy at your local parish or Catholic school, more information on how to do this is available by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

12 thoughts on “Gay Catholic High School Teacher Is Fired. But by Whom?

  1. Friends January 13, 2015 / 4:55 am

    What’s the story on the Bishop of Charlotte? His name is Peter Jugis:

    http://www.charlottediocese.org/bishop-jugis

    What do we know about him, and about his pastoral (or anti-pastoral) attitudes? I doubt if this vile stuff could be happening without his explicit permission and consent. Interestingly, there’s a “CONTACT THE BISHOP” chat box at the bottom of his home page. Perhaps our folks should…um…”avail ourselves of the opportunity to contact him”? At this point, it couldn’t hurt, since the damage is done. But it might put him on notice that his very unpastoral attitude is being scrutinized…and that Pope Francis might not be pleased to learn about it.

  2. Kat January 13, 2015 / 7:28 am

    My mom is a devout catholic. She goes to holy mass every day. She takes the priests to lunch and shares friendships with them and throughout the church. She is a proponent of marriage equality. Her much loved grandson is gay and has a partner who we love as well. I share all the good news coming from new ways ministries with my mom, but feel the need to shelter her from bad news like the firings still going on. She is 80 years old and she needs the church to see her through. As for me, a cradle catholic, my mother’s daughter, I haven’t been to mass since August. I can’t see my way clear to return either until this madness stops. I can’t be a part of a church who continues to hammer at lgbt people. I feel so alone sometimes, but will perservere. God bless you all today for the good work you do to keep us informed and give us hope.

  3. Annette Magjuka January 13, 2015 / 8:06 am

    No one should accept this injustice. I hope the community protests every day until this is overturned. The problem is that people do not sustain the protest long enough or with enough energy. Verbal support for this teacher is not enough. Withhold funds from this parish!

  4. Vera Nugent January 13, 2015 / 10:43 am

    And will all the gay priests in the Charlotte diocese lose their “jobs” too?

  5. Rosa G. Manriquez, IHM January 13, 2015 / 1:54 pm

    Charlotte Catholic High School is a diocesan school. So the buck stops at the desk of the bishop. My understanding is that diocesan properties are “owned” by the bishop. This is different from a private Catholic high school where the ownership of the school would be someone other than the bishop.

  6. Joe Sacerdos January 13, 2015 / 5:07 pm

    It’s time to “out” all of the bishops/priests/deacons. And then fire them. Hmmm. How many will we have left?

  7. Bill Freeman January 14, 2015 / 6:37 am

    All of this (and similar actions) undermines the great work of Pope Francis. This is just vile and hateful. How can gay/lesbian Roman Catholics remain church members? In the end, actions like these continue to seed the mass exodus from the Roman Church.

  8. Leonard Bernardo January 14, 2015 / 8:25 am

    I taught for 30 years in a publicly funded Catholic secondary school in Canada and did so in fear. Almost all of the staff and all the administration knew I was gay and living with my partner, but again I feared that some ultra conservative teachers might report me to the board. It was difficult to say the least. Upon retiring I shared my feelings with the staff and opened the eyes of many. LGBTQ educators should not have to live like this. Just viewed the movie the imitators and was reminded of how much LGBTQ people have contributed to our world and how often they have been treated with disrespect and isolation.

  9. Friends January 14, 2015 / 9:14 pm

    Just to add that Bishop Jugis, whose web contact page was linked above, is apparently one of “Benedict’s Boys”. The first photo on his home page, at the link which appeared above, shows him being embraced by Pope Emeritus Benedict — who apparently named him to his present position. It tells us a lot about where he’s coming from. in terms of his attitude toward GLBT Catholics in public leadership positions. Obviously this situation is completely unacceptable — but how to change it remains the daunting challenge.

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