In a landmark decision for LGBT employees at Catholic institutions, St. Mary’s Academy in Portland, Oregon, has altered its employment policies to be more inclusive, in response to what was a growing backlash against administrators’ decision to withdraw an employment contract with a lesbian counselor, Lauren Brown. Bondings 2.0 reported on this incident earlier today and you can find more details here.
In a Wednesday night meeting of the school’s board, members voted to expand employment policies to welcome gay staff and administrators will attempt to reconcile with Brown, whose job offer was rescinded after she came out as a lesbian woman to school officials.
A statement on Facebook from St. Mary’s President Christina Friedoff said, in part:
“Effective immediately, St. Mary’s has added sexual orientation to its equal employment opportunity policy.
“St. Mary’s is a diverse community that welcomes and includes gay and lesbian students, faculty, alumnae, parents and friends, including those that are married.”
[New Ways Ministry’s official response to these decisions can be found by clicking here.]
Mounting pressure from students, alumni, and the local community triggered the board meeting, wherein the school reversed its position less than 48 hours after a previous letter from Friedoff defending the firing was sent. Yesterday, about twenty students protested at the school and others took to social media through the hashtag #FightForSMA to express their disapproval. Anna Lee, a senior, told The Oregonian:
“I was confused, then I started to get angry. . .There’s an unspoken rule of acceptance. The teachers make us feel safe, and we can confide anything.”
Another student, senior Katie Ferrarini, told KPTV that the decision to discriminate against Brown was “surprising” because their entire junior year religion class focused on social justice and it was made clear discrimination was unjust. Indeed, one alumna speaking to NewNowNext said:
“The irony is the school’s mission is so much about social justice. They trained us to fight this.”
Also worth noting is a critical statement from Tim Boyle, CEO of Columbia Sportswear, and his wife, Mary, a 1967 alumna of St. Mary’s who are among the school’s most generous benefactors. The Boyles were “extremely disappointed” and said the school’s decision “was wrong and should be reversed,” reported Willamette Weekly.
What happened at St. Mary’s Academy is a remarkable success, which has not happened in the more than 50 public incidents since 2008 where church workers have lost their job in LGBT-related employment disputes. First, Lauren Brown refused to be silenced through a payout and was a credible witness for young women at St. Mary’s of living with authenticity and integrity. Now, community members came together as church, using their different leverage points to enact lasting positive change from a wounding injustice.
New Ways Ministry has been advocating for Catholic institutions to adopt non-discrimination policies like the one St. Mary’s Academy has. Let’s pray that other schools, parishes, and church institutions will follow their example.
For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of this story, and other LGBT-related church worker disputes, click the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right or here. You can click here to find a full listing of the almost 50 incidents since 2008 where church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equality.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry