Gay Teacher Harassed by Students Fired by Jesuit High School

A Catholic high school in Chicago has fired a gay teacher after students outed and harassed him for over a year.

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Matt Tedeschi

Matt Tedeschi taught religious studies and French at St. Ignatius College Prep, a Jesuit institution. Having taught for four years, he was up for tenure next year. But trouble began in February 2016 when a student discovered his profile on an online dating website. DNA Info reported:

“After discovering the dating profile, the St. Ignatius student texted screenshots of Tedeschi’s profile to several other St. Ignatius students, and it spread across campus.

” ‘He “outed” me to a bunch of students. He knew that he was making fun of me and insulting me,’ Tedeschi said. ‘He wanted to embarrass me.’ “

Tedeschi said he never expected students to find him on the website, which is for people age eighteen and older and which is used by other staff at St. Ignatius. He told DNA Info, “Everyone should have the right to a private life.”

Students continued to harass Tedeschi for over a year. One student tweeted against him sixteen times. The tweets include one that said, “Let’s not forget I have screenshots that can end you,” a reference to the screenshots of the teacher’s dating profile, one of which was included in the tweet. All of this created what Tedeschi described as “a horrible environment,” especially given the aforementioned tweet which he considers “public blackmail.”

Unfortunately, school administrators offered little support for Tedeschi. He informed them multiple times about students finding his dating profile and about their continued harassment. Just one student received two detentions for tweeting against Tedeschi. Principal Brianna Latko did little to stop what Tedeschi called a “culture of harassment.” He explained:

” ‘[School officials] were just watching it play out. . .I was having anxiety attacks before I went to class. It just completely undermined my authority as a teacher and made me feel small. … This unnecessarily pitted me against my students, which never should have been the case.’ “

This March, Tedeschi was informed that St. Ignatius would not be renewing his contract for the 2017-2018 school year. According to DNA Info:

“The school gave him the opportunity to finish out the school year, but after he discussed his departure with a colleague, the school called him to say that his employment was being terminated immediately. In exchange for the rest of his salary he would have earned over the semester, school administrators urged him to sign a non-disclosure agreement, but Tedeschi declined, he said.

“Tedeschi said he was told he was being fired because he showed poor judgment posting photos online and didn’t stop the classroom conversation involving the sensitive information. He said he was also told he was negative and undermined authority — although administrators declined to elaborate to him on these charges or provide further details in writing.”

Administrators will not comment on the firing or surrounding events. Spokesperson Ryan Bergin said confidentiality precluded any comment, but that Tedeschi was “treated fairly” and that school officials “wish him all the best.”

Though his sexual orientation was not explicitly referenced when he was fired, Tedeschi said the firing is really about him being forcibly outed by students as a gay man, his decision to seek an end to the harassment, and the school’s attempt to cover up an embarrassing incident. A colleague agreed that it was not Matt being gay which was the problem, but that his public outing violated the “hush-hush” attitude towards gay faculty and students and was “creating too much trouble.”

Tedeschi has released an open letter (see end of linked article) to the school community, in which he expressed gratitude for the school community. He is publicly telling his story of firing because “only by speaking truthfully and openly can our institution become a better version of itself.” He is now considering his legal options.

This firing is a tremendous loss. Students have lost a teacher who by all accounts was gifted and enthusiastic. Tedeschi was not supported by the administration against harrassment. St. Ignatius administrators’ decision to fire him is troubling for one more reason. It sends the message to offending students and the wider community that homophobia is implicitly acceptable because, in this case, it was the victim who was punished, not the harassers.

 —Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 19, 2017

 

Why Catholic High Schools Need LGBTQ+ Student Groups

Last month, a St. Louis, MO, Catholic high school, Nerinx Hall, made news when it turned down a student request to establish a gay-straight alliance (GSA). Questions arose about how Catholic high schools can best serve their LGBTQ+ students while retaining their Catholic identity. 

To aid Nerinx Hall and all other Catholic schools when deciding whether to start an LGBTQ+ student group, Bondings 2.0 has compiled data on the experiences of LGBTQ+ high school students and the proven impact LGBTQ+ student groups have on high school campus climates. 

Educational Consequences of Unsafe Environments

The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Educators Network’s (GLSEN) 2015 National School Climate Survey Executive Summary spelled out the problems students face

op-story-lgbt-safety-300x250“A hostile school climate affects students’ academic success and mental health. LGBTQ+ students who experience victimization and discrimination at school have worse educational outcomes and poorer psychological well-being.” Additionally, the GLSEN document said that unsafe school environments also lead students to drop out of school early, “42.5% of LGBTQ+ students who reported that they did not plan to finish high school, or were not sure if they would finish, indicated that they were considering dropping out because of the harassment they faced at school.” 

LGBTQ+ students who experienced discrimination were “more than three times as likely to have missed school in the past month, had lower GPAs than their peers, and had lower self-esteem and school belonging and higher levels of depression,” according to the GLSEN report. 

“We see that LGBT youth are being deprived of an equal education based on these hostile school climates,” Emily Greytak, GLSEN Research Director.

School climate directly impacts how well students learn and socialize. Heightened stressors like bullying, discrimination, victimization, and lacking a sense of community are proven to make LGBTQ+ students more likely to have negative educational and developmental outcomes. LGBTQ+ student groups provide a space for students to create a sense of community and support so they can better perform as students as they develop into adulthood. 

Do LGBTQ+ student groups work? The data says, “Yes!” 

According to a report by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, data from as early as 1998 shows that LGBTQ+ students attending schools with LGBTQ+ student groups “were less likely to report being victimized, skipping school because of fear of victimization, or attempting suicide.” The same report showed that LGBTQ+ student groups are “significantly protective” in decreasing suicidal ideation and attempts by LGB high school students. 

More recent data in GLSEN “Safe Space Kit” 2016 and GLSEN’s 2015 National School Climate Survey shows students who did have an LGBTQ+ student group were less likely to feel unsafe because of their sexual orientation, experienced lower levels of victimization related to their sexual orientation and gender expression, reported a greater number of supportive school staff and more accepting peers, were more likely to report incidents of harassment and assault, felt more connected to their school community, and were less likely to miss school because of safety concerns than LGBTQ+ students in schools without an LGBTQ+ student group. 

LGBTQ+ student groups have even been found to benefit school climates on issues beyond sexuality and gender identity. According to the GLSEN “Teasing to Torment” 2015 document, even non-LGBTQ+ students in schools with LGBTQ+ student groups “experience less victimization based on race/ethnicity and based on appearance than students without a GSA” and reported “greater feelings of safety for the general student body.” 

Catholic Schools Need LGBTQ+ Student Groups

Some Catholic educators and administrators are worried that granting students an LGBTQ+ student group would negatively impact the Catholic identity of the school, but this fear is by no means an excuse to deny students what they need: an LGBTQ+ student group. 

rolingAccording to a GLSEN’s 2015 National School Climate Survey, barring students from forming or promoting an LGBTQ+ student group clearly sends “the message that LGBT topics, and in some cases, even LGBTQ+ people, are not appropriate for extracurricular activities.” GLSEN claimed that by denying or hindering LGBTQ+ student groups, the school administration marks “official school activities distinctly as non-LGBT” and that such discrimination prevents “LGBTQ+ students from participating in the school community as fully and completely as other students.”

In Pope Francis’ directive for Catholic education, listed on the Catholic education web page of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, he calls us to care for the needs of all students, which, of course, means LGBTQ+ students, too: 

“Our generation will show that it can rise to the promise found in each young person when we know how to give them space. This means that we have to create the material and spiritual conditions for their full development; to give them a solid basis on which to build their lives; to guarantee their safety and their education to be everything they can be.” 

Catholic school administrators and educators cannot ignore the needs of LGBTQ+ students as they raise themselves to the promise found in their own selves. Denying them the space to grow and heal does not rise to their promise, it denies that their promise exists. 

So, paraphrasing Pope Francis, Catholic school administrators should ask themselves: “Can we rise to the promise found in your LGBTQ+ students and guarantee their safety and their education to be everything they can be?” 

Glen Bradley, New Ways Ministry, March 28, 2017


Would you like to start an LGBTQ+ student group at your school? The GSA Network has resources available here. GLSEN also has resources on how to start an LGBTQ+ student group and general resources for LGBTQ+ student groups

Come to New Ways Ministry’s symposium this April for our focus session “Youth, Young Adult Ministry, and LGBT Questions.” Find more information on our symposium website.

Youth, Young Adult Ministry, and LGBT Questions

Don’t Forget! Spirit Day is THIS Thursday, October 20, 2016!

By Glen Bradley, New Ways Ministry, October 18, 2016spiritdayatcatholicschool_facebook

What is Spirit Day?

It is an annual national event reminding schools to confront anti-LGBT bullying and bias. Click here for more info from GLAAD.

When is it? 

THIS Thursday, October 20, 2016.

What happens? What can I do?

Wear as many purple clothes as you can on Thursday, October 20th. The display of purple will show that you are against anti-LGBT discrimination and you support your LGBT students, faculty, and staff. Wearing purple will show you want to have a safe and inclusive school! 

What if I am a student and have a dress code or uniform?

If you can’t wear a purple shirt or skirt/pants/dress, your school might allow you to wear a purple sweater, a ribbon pinned to your shirt, or a bracelet that is made of anything purple (ribbon, yarn, etc.). If you are comfortable, you could ask your parents for advice. Or, you can usually find your school’s dress code online if you Google your school’s name and “dress code” or “uniform.” If your school allows a non-uniform sweater and/or jewelry, wear them in purple!

What about social media? What should I post?

Spread the word! Share this page with your friends and teachers.

Use #SpiritDayAtCatholicSchools, @NewWaysMinistry and @GLAAD on all your social media posts and photos to join our new hashtag campaign. It will help you find fellow LGBT and ally students, faculty, and staff at Catholic schools while helping them find you!

Share our social media banner (download here).

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Post our social media image (download here). 

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Follow @NewWaysMinistry on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

Use GLAAD’s app (iPhone & Andriod) to make your profile pictures purple.

Important!

We know we’ve said this a lot, but don’t forget to use #SpiritDayAtCatholicSchools for all your Spirit Day photos! This hashtag is new and making it go viral can bring attention to the work needed at Catholic schools. You can join this new social media trend!

Want to find out more? Need help explaining Spirit Day to others or to your school? Wondering about the Catholic school context?

Download and print this resource from New Ways Ministry explaining Spirit Day from a Catholic perspective! (PDF download available here).

Click here for our original post calling Catholics to participate in Spirit Day 2016.

On Prom Dates as Pastoral Care: A Letter to My High School

img_7348Note: Bondings 2.0 writer Bob Shine is a 2008 graduate of Saint John’s High School, Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. This open letter is based on correspondence he sent to several school administrators this spring.

Dear Saint John’s Administration,

Earlier this spring, junior Matthew Barrett asked Saint John’s High School to allow same-gender prom dates. His petition garnered nearly 1,400 signatures, and the effort was widely supported in my conversations with fellow alumni. You can imagine my disappointment, then, when no positive response appeared from school administrators.

It was at Saint John’s that I came to know firsthand the deep harm caused when students are forced to hide and mitigate their authentic selves. These were the experiences of my best friends. Organizing in college and working in LGBT ministry since then has only affirmed this truth. And it has convinced me that, overwhelmingly, the church’s pastoral care for, and inclusion of, LGBTQ people is tragically deficient, despite magisterial statements of welcome and acceptance. Rates of self-harm, substance abuse, and suicide among LGBTQ youth remain sinfully high due to realities such as 84% of LGBTQ youth reporting harassment and 90% hearing prejudiced comments at school, according to the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Educators Network (GLSEN).

Acknowledging these realities, Catholic education should employ every means available to let LGBTQ students know they are good, as they are created in God’s image, and they can expect full inclusion as members of the community. Many of my close friends from Saint John’s have come out since we graduated in 2008. I cannot speak to the school’s environment today, but I know from their experiences that the high school years can be a traumatizing experience for gay, bisexual, and questioning students, even in schools offering the highest quality education.

Allowing same-gender prom dates would contribute positively to creating a safer space at Saint John’s, and it would also advance the school’s mission “to bring Christ to life in young men.” There is an evangelical aspect to becoming more inclusive, which invites your students to know the church we love as a place of mercy and of inclusion, rather than hostility and exclusion. These ideas are very much in keeping with the  mission of the Xaverian Brothers who sponsor the school.

For your consideration as you weigh this request from students, I highlight two instances where Catholic education allowed same-gender prom dates. Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne, Australia, approved such a policy this past January, saying “These are quite often emotional situations and it’s very important that we always have respect for the dignity of the human being involved.” McQuaid Jesuit High School in Rochester, New York approved same-gender dates in 2013. Fr. Edward Salmon, the president, cited Pope Francis when explaining his decision and wrote:

“[Gay people] as is true of every human being, need to be nourished at many different levels simultaneously. This includes friendship, [brotherhood] which is a way of loving and is essential to healthy human development. It is one of the richest possible human experiences. Friendship can and does thrive outside of sexual involvement.”

Allowing same-gender prom dates and recognizing the Gay-Straight Alliance students have organized for St. John’s would be big steps towards greater pastoral care. It may not seem much, but in this instance welcoming a diversity of prom dates could be considered pastoral care if it actively helps students experience further the inclusion, acceptance, and love that God offers us. I pray that you may hear the voices of your students with God’s ears and respond as Christ would with mercy and with understanding.

Sincerely,

Bob Shine

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For those interested in the betterment of life for LGBT students in Catholic education, the Gay & Lesbian Alumni of Notre Dame & St. Mary’s will be hosting a fundraiser for LGBT student scholarships in California. It will be Sunday, June 26, 12:00pm to 3:00pm in Malibu, CA. For more information and to register (requested before June 17th), please visit www.galandsmc.org

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Iowa Catholic School Will Not Recognize Student for LGBT Scholarship

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Liam Jameson

A Catholic high school in Iowa which previously fired a gay teacher is now refusing honors to a graduating senior who is also gay.

Officials at Dowling Catholic High School, West Des Moines, have said senior Liam Jameson may not receive an LGBT scholarship from the Eychaner Foundation during the school’s awards ceremony this Thursday. Jameson is asking school officials to reverse their decision, so that he can be recognized equally for his accomplishments, reported OutSports. A Change.org petition, which you can sign here, has more than 1,000 signatures already. The student wrote an open letter explaining his appeal, stating in part:

“I’ve worked hard to prevent suicides, and having this scholarship presented allows other students to learn that LGBTQ students are valued in society, not shunned. That’s why the Committee presents the scholarships at Senior Awards Programs, to try and help save other young lives who feel isolated and worthless, like I once did. . .Bishop Pates, President Deegan, Principal Meendering, please choose life and demonstrate that all lives are worthy of ‘wholeness and dignity’. Doing so shows the entire Dowling Catholic student body that they are truly valued and loved regardless of who they are.”

The Eychaner Foundation describes itself as a “non-profit organization committed to promoting tolerance and non-discrimination,” and notes that it is “dedicated to anti-bullying.” Jameson was awarded the $40,000 Matthew Shepard Scholarship, named after hate crime victim whose 1998 murder in Wyoming sparked a national call to end violence against LGBT people.  The scholarship recognizes Jameson’s leadership as a gay student at Dowling Catholic where he helped organize a 250-student walk-out last year protesting the firing of gay teacher Tyler McCubbin. He also led efforts to found an LGBT club, called One Dowling Family, which provides a safe space at the school. Of this latter work, Jameson shared:

“I wanted to leave Dowling a better place, one worthy enough to educate all the brave souls who have had lives far better and far worse than mine. A space for all. A space that valued the few just as much as it valued the many. That space is now called One Dowling Family, formerly One Human Family. . .I can leave Dowling knowing that I made it a better place, one that provides students a place where they can be free.”

Dowling Catholic administrators released a brief statement yesterday, stating that scholarship organizations are not allowed to present awards during the ceremony, and thus Jameson would be honored in a manner consistent with his peers. The statement reads:

“At Dowling Catholic High School we are proud of all of our senior students who have received awards and scholarships to further their education. All scholarship recipients are honored during the Scholastic Award Assembly. Each senior selects up to two scholarships to be read out loud when a slide that includes their name and picture comes up on the screen. We do not allow organizations who are awarding the scholarship to attend and individually present the scholarship to the student. This policy was shared in writing with the Eychaner Foundation regarding the Matthew Shepard Award. We are pleased one of our students received the Matthew Shepard Award and he will be honored in the same manner as his classmates.”

The Eychaner Foundation refuted this claim with their own statement from Rich Eychaner, which said Dowling Catholic “misrepresents the efforts the efforts the school has gone to in dishonoring Iowa’s Matthew Shepard Scholarship.” The statement continued, noting the scholarship had been presented at Dowling Catholic in 2014 without problem:

“Since then, Dowling constructed and then revised a policy to limit scholarships presented to their students. Dowling further tightened their policy to specifically target the Matthew Shepard Scholarship by writing in ‘rules’ that the school could deny the student’s choice of scholarships that were publicly read under criteria that targeted our scholarship. . .

“After Principal Meendering became aware that Liam intended to apply for Iowa’s Matthew Shepard Scholarship Program the policy was revised to state. . .’Students may choose to accept any award; however Dowling Catholic High School reserves the right to not acknowledge any award.’ (emphasis added)”

Other Iowa Catholic schools have welcomed the Foundation, though not without some controversies. In 2012, a student at Prince of Peace Catholic High School was also the recipient of the Matthew Shepard scholarship from the Eychaner Foundation.  Bishop Martin Amos of the Diocese of Davenport originally denied permission for the scholarship to be announced at graduation, but he reversed the decision and allowed the presentation to go forward. The bishop also congratulated the student, and re-affirmed the diocese’s support of anti-bullying and anti-discrimination principles.

In a related note, there are questions about the safety of One Dowling Family as a space inclusive of all students. Fr. Zach Kautzky, the school’s chaplain whose oversight of the safe space group had been mandated by the school, tweeted a link a news story which denigrates transgender identities. Though students have requested Kautzky be replaced, Principal Matt Meendering “downplayed the group’s LGBT focus” and said the matter was being discussed, wrote a columnist for the Des Moines Register.

It is inexplicable why Dowling Catholic administrators will not allow a graduating gay student to be honored alongside his peers, and why rules have been repeatedly revised. Jameson has contributed greatly to the school community, testifying to the power of being one’s authentic self, and to helping his peers do likewise. He should be celebrated not only for receiving this scholarship, but for modeling the type of student that Catholic education seeks to form when it is at its best. School officials will hopefully find a wisdom and courage similar to their student’s and reverse their discriminatory decision. Regardless, Jameson will surely excel at Iowa State next year and then wherever life takes him.  Congratulations, Liam!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 

CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Catholic University Students Document Struggles of Campus Gay-Straight Alliance

A documentary about CUAllies, the unofficial gay-straight alliance at The Catholic University of America (CUA) in Washington, D.C., was released this week by two recent alumnae.

Andrea Mineo and Heidi Green, both class of 2012, released the short film originally created for a media studies course in April. Mineo’s and Green’s documentary is the latest in a series of student-produced films about CUAllies since students began seeking official recognition in 2009.

You can view the video here: 

The documentary captures the students’ ongoing struggle, noting the challenges of attending a religiously-affiliated university where official Church doctrine seems unsettled by a group of people or an idea. It highlights support from students at CUA for a recognized gay-straight alliance, many of whom believe CUAllies’ purpose aligns perfectly with the Catholic identity and mission of the University.

At present, CUAllies awaits a response on their proposal for official recogniton, submitted seven months ago. Provost James Brennan, who assumed charge of student life this fall, will make the final decision, which could be several months away. CUAllies is a student movement at Catholic University to create a safe, welcoming, and affirming environment on campus for LGBT students that does not presently exist.Previously, the Organization for Gay and Lesbian Rights was disbanded by former President Fr. David O’Connell for being ‘political’ in 2002 and sexual orientation was removed from the University’s non-discrimination clause in 2006.

Bondings 2.0 contacted the new leadership for comment on their vision and hopes for CUAllies this year, along with responses to the documentary.

CUAllies Communications Director Chelsea Schoen said: “The documentary was truly well-done and offered beautiful images of community, as well as demonstrated the wide array of support of our movement throughout campus. We are the same as any other student organization: a group of like-minded students seeking to share in fellowship and commonality….we are a group of students striving to create a safe and welcoming environment on campus, working as one to live out the virtue of love.”

CUAllies Deputy Director Travis Dichoso said: “I think this year I would like to focus on solidifying our mission and raising awareness of our mission. I would like to say that we are trying to take the approach of working with CUA’s administration rather than against it. We want to create a group which helps to integrate GLBT students into CUA’s community in a way that is respectful to the mission of the University.”

Speaker of the Student Government Ryan Fecteau, formerly a co-director of CUAllies, released the following statement: “The Student Association made a commitment to support our LGBT brothers and sisters last semester by approving a 20-3 resolution that encourages the administration’s approval of CUAllies. It is clear from my discussions with students on campus…that CUAllies embodies the spirit of our University’s mission. No one should be excluded and a community of love and safety should be fostered for all students. This is our obligation.”

The CUAllies Executive Board recently stated the only agenda of the group is love and safety, which will manifest itself in ‘community’ and ‘safety’ being the primary focuses for the 2012-13 academic year.

For further information, visit CUAllies Facebook page, Twitter account, and YouTube channel.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry