Univ. of San Francisco President Congratulates Lesbian Coach on Marriage

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Fr. Paul Fitzgerald

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.”

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Jennifer Azzi

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

8 thoughts on “Univ. of San Francisco President Congratulates Lesbian Coach on Marriage

  1. Tim MacGeorge April 27, 2016 / 5:59 am

    Despite the “positive spin” and “isn’t-this-great-for LGBT-Catholics” perspective that seems to be promoted here, I still think (as I commented when this was first posted on FaceBook) that this is not a woman to hold up for admiration. In every work environment that I am aware of, there are HR and personnel policies prohibiting romantic relationships between supervisors and those who work for them. This head coach dated (and has now married) another coach who works directly for her. If this were not a same-sex marriage situation, what would Bondings’ take be on a male supervisor dating and marrying a female subordinate? In such situations, there is a power differential that cannot be ignored. In most organizations, it would involve some sort of HR action and require adjusting positions so that the two do not work directly together in the same “chain of command.”

    • Don Siegal April 27, 2016 / 10:05 am

      “[T]his is not a woman to hold up for admiration.”

      Tim, the question that you posit is not o matter of admiration or condemnation. Rather it is: “Does the University of San Francisco have a policy concerning supervisor/subordinate relationships.” If it does, what is that policy? And, is coach Azzi’s and coach Hardiek’s civil marriage consistent or inconsistent with that policy?

    • Larry April 27, 2016 / 12:26 pm

      Let’s take a broader focus. If this was an LGBT hostile environment, then I am sure the administration would have invoked the HR policy if one existed . BUT the school is making a larger point and it is to affirm, unlike many Catholic Church officials and priests who fire gay employees, that the University is accepting of the gay relationship. I am willing to overlook the HR detail to make that very valuable point in public.

  2. bruce byrolly April 27, 2016 / 6:15 am

    Thanks for this excellent article.

  3. Thomas April 27, 2016 / 6:57 am

    A completely normal response. How refreshing. Fr. Fitzgerald’s position will probably be assailed by the morally superior,

  4. Loretta Fitzgerald April 27, 2016 / 9:20 am

    It’s so encouraging to know of this unconditional acceptance. Thank you!

  5. Bishop Carlos Florido, osf April 27, 2016 / 10:38 am

    Wonderful news! Blessings and congratulations for all those involved, including spouses and supporters.

  6. Drew Conneen April 28, 2016 / 12:01 am

    The bar for what constitutes a “congratulations” seems to have been set awfully low. President Fitzgerald’s most positive word in his basic announcement was “afford” which hardly seems congratulatory. Have our standards become so low, in light of unjust firings, that we’re grasping for anything?

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