Earlier this month, Bondings 2.0 posted about the University of San Francisco’s (USF) acceptance of two women’s athletics staff who had come out and announced their marriage to one another. The president of this Jesuit university has now added his own welcome.
Fr. Paul Fitzgerald, SJ, in a statement to the San Francisco Chronicle, welcomed news that women’s basketball coach Jennifer Azzi and assistant coach Blair Hardiek were married to each other. He had not previously known about their relationship, but said:
“Coach Azzi has entered into a civil marriage according to the laws of the land. . .We will afford her every benefit and legal protection which she is due. The university is a Catholic Jesuit institution that is purposefully diverse and dedicated to inclusivity.”
The Chronicle reported that Fr. Fitzgerald said he received just a single negative response after Azzi’s coming out, while also receiving “a flood of more positive feedback from the USF community.” Athletic Director Scott Sidwell, the first USF official to welcome Azzi’s coming out, said there had been “a tremendous outpouring of support,” including members of the women’s basketball team. Rachel Howard, a junior, said:
“They are the two most professional women I know. . .If someone loses interest in our program because they hear that two of our coaches are married to one another, they are clearly missing the point.”
The Chronicle article also shed light into both coaches’ experiences growing up and coming out in accepting Catholic families:
“Both Azzi and Hardiek were raised Catholic. . .They still pray before every meal and every evening.
“When Azzi came out to her mother in her early 20s, she asked her if ‘God would love me differently.’ Her mother assured her that God’s love was nonjudgmental, like a parent’s love.
“Azzi and Hardiek have always had the support of their families. When Azzi told her father she was gay, he took her hands and told her, ‘you’re just as beautiful to me now as you’ve always been.’ “
In July 2015, Fordham University, a Jesuit school in New York City, publicly congratulated the head of the school’s theology department, J. Patrick Hornbeck, on the occasion of his marriage to Patrick Berquist, which had been announced in The New York Times.
Azzi’s coming out can have many positive effects. The coach herself hopes she might give “other people courage to be free and live truthfully,” if they desire to do so.
Golden State Warriors President Rick Welts, the first openly gay executive in the National Basketball Association, said young people “will read about her and get closer to believing they can be open about who they are.” Azzi made the announcement of her orientation and marriage at a ceremony during where Welts was being honored.
And in the church, it is now a reality that a Catholic college employs the only openly gay head coach of a Division I basketball program. Based on the excellent performance of USF’s women’s basketball last season, Azzi seems to be working out quite well. The public support of the university’s president hopefully ensures that Azzi and Hardiek will not join the 60+ church workers who have lost their jobs in LGBT-related disputes since 2008.
Hopefully, the combination of Azzi’s coming out and USF’s welcoming acceptance, will inspire more church officials to make statements and, more importantly, implement policies, as a handful of institutions have already done, that allow LGBT employees to live and to work freely.
This post is part of our “Campus Chronicles” series on Catholic higher education. You can read more stories by clicking “Campus Chronicles” in the Categories section to the right or by clicking here. For the latest updates on Catholic LGBT issues, subscribe to our blog in the upper right hand corner of this page.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry