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

 

Transgender Man Sues Catholic Hospital for Refusing to Treat Him

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is suing a Catholic hospital on behalf of a transgender man who was allegedly denied medical care.

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Evan Minton

The suit claims the Dignity Health hospital system in California discriminated against Evan Michael Minton by refusing to perform a hysterectomy on him. Mercy San Juan Medical Center canceled the surgery last summer on the day before it was to occur, reported The Sacramento Bee.

At that time, hospital administrators explained that they could not perform a hysterectomy because it violated policies against sterilization procedures, policies based on the U.S. bishops’ 20009 “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Services.” Minton’s doctor, Dr. Lindsey Dawson, said she didn’t blame staff or administrators at Dignity Health: “I blame the (Catholic) doctrines.”

With help from the Dignity Health medical team, Minton was able to receive the procedure at a nearby non-Catholic hospital. Minton explained what this entire incident has meant for him, and what is behind the decision to pursue legal action:

“‘It devastated me, and I don’t want it to affect my transgender brothers and sisters the way it affected me. . .No one should have to go through that.'”

This episode is a “clear-cut case of discrimination,” according to the ACLU Northern California’s senior staff attorney, Elizabeth Gill. She told The Bee that, in a time when trans rights are “under attack,” states like California must be leaders in protecting LGBT people. If successful, this suit would help clarify that trans persons are covered by sex discrimination provisions in the state’s Unruh Civil Rights Act.

Officials at Mercy San Juan are withholding comment, claiming they “have not been served with the complaint,” but said in a brief statement:

“We understand how important this surgery is for transgender individuals, and were happy to provide Mr. Minton and his surgeon the use of another Dignity Health hospital for his surgery within a few days.”

At issue here legally is whether Catholic and other religiously-affiliated healthcare providers should be allowed to deny services due to an institution’s religious beliefs.

This question is particularly relevant given the potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act (which had expanded access to transgender-related services) and the rightwing’s misuse of religious liberty to curtail LGBT rights. Indeed, Catholic groups were lead plaintiffs in a 2016 lawsuit against LGBT healthcare protections implemented by former President Barack Obama. These protections were overturned in January.

A lawsuit similar to Minton’s was filed earlier this year by Jionni Conforti. He claimed St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center, New Jersey, discriminated against him by refusing to perform a hysterectomy on him as a “medically necessary part of his gender transition.”

Nothing in church teaching restricts Catholic healthcare providers from enacting more inclusive policies and practices. But, if there is no other action, Catholics should at least be listening to the voices of trans patients, like these words from Minton:

“‘It’s almost magical, just to be able to be congruent with who I am – to have my outer body match my inner self. . .When I got my complete body, I said, “The rest of my life starts here.”‘”

Catholics should help folks like Evan Minton come to know and live into their truest selves?  In a moment when LGBT people in the U.S. are facing the prospect of having legal protections repealed, a trans-positive and more prophetic stance is exactly what is demanded of Catholic healthcare so each person can be the person whom God created them to be.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 6, 2017

Court: Church Legally Justified in Firing of Gay Church Worker in Chicago

In a ruling released last week, a federal judge has said a Catholic parish was legally justified in firing a gay church worker. The Washington Blade reported:

“In a seven-page decision, U.S. District Judge Charles Kocoras determined Tuesday the Holy Family Parish, which is under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Chicago, had the right to terminate Colin Collette because the worker’s position was ministerial in nature.

“‘By playing music at church services, Collette served an integral role in the celebration of mass,’ Kocoras said. ‘Collette’s musical performances furthered the mission of the church and helped convey its message to the congregants. Therefore, Collette’s duties as Musical Director fall within the ministerial exception.'”

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Colin Collette

Collette sued Holy Family and the Archdiocese of Chicago in 2015 claiming employment discrimination under federal, state, and county laws. It was hoped Collette’s case would add to the small, but growing number of legal victories for church workers who have lost their jobs over LGBT issues.

Judge Kocoras did not, however, rule on whether Collette was discriminated against by the parish; he ruled on whether the firing was protected under the so-called “ministerial exemption.”

According to the Blade, the judge’s actions preceding the ruling show he “entertained the idea Collette’s position wasn’t ministerial in nature and therefore protected under the civil rights law.” But that was not where Kocoras ended up, as he explained in the ruling:

“[A] position can be found to be ministerial if it requires the participant to undertake religious duties and functions. . .Here, Collette worked with church volunteers to choose the music that would enhance the prayer offered at mass. Choosing songs to match the weekly scripture required the group, including Collette, to make discretionary religious judgments since the Catholic Church does not have rules specifying what piece of music is to be played at each mass.'”

Collette was fired in 2014 as Holy Family’s music minister because his engagement to longtime partner and now husband, Will Nifong, became known to church officials. The firing was traumatic for the parish, where Collette had served for 17 years. Some 700 parishioners attended a town hall about it and there welcomed Collette with a standing ovation. One parishioner expressed anger and disappointment at the treatment of Collette, saying: “Everybody was welcome…That’s become a lie.

The firing is problematic not only for the parish, but for the Archdiocese as well. Archbishop Blase Cupich has said the consciences of LGBT people must be respected, and even endorsed legal protections for families headed by same-gender partners. Yet, the Archdiocese has continued to defend the firings of Collette and another gay church worker, Sandor Demkovich.

This latest ruling should not be celebrated by church officials because, while it may be legal justice, it has not advanced social justice. Archbishop Cupich could, however, freely choose to act for the common good by apologizing to Collette and taking the lead in reconciliation efforts at Holy Family.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, April 25, 2017

Griffin PromoIf you would like to learn more about the issue of LGBT church workers in Catholic institutions, consider attending 

Leslie Griffin, a professor of law, will give a plenary session talk on “Religious Liberty, Employment, & LGBT Issues” at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois.    During one of the focus sessions, three people affected by the firings, Colleen Simon, Margie Winters, and Andrea Vettori will give personal testimony about “The Challenges of LGBT Church Workers.” For more information, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

Under Trump, Will Transgender Lives Matter for Catholic Hospitals?

With the Affordable Care Act (ACA) under siege by the new U.S. president, many people in the U.S. are worried about changes in their healthcare, especially LGBT communities for whom access to competent and affordable healthcare can sometimes be more problematic than for most people.

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Jionni Conforti

Of concern to Catholics is the unclear position that church leaders and church-affiliated providers will take towards LGBT people in this unfolding situation. A closer look into one transgender man’s experience with a Catholic hospital reveals just what is at stake in the coming months.

Bondings 2.0 reported last month about the lawsuit filed by Jionni Conforti against St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in New Jersey. You can read an initial report by clicking here. The suit alleges that the hospital refused to perform a hysterectomy which was a “medically necessary as part of [Conforti’s] gender transition.” Conforti’s lawyer, Omar Gonzalez-Pagan of Lambda Legal, told the progressive media outlet Rewire:

“‘For them to say, in writing, we’re not going to do this service, or provide the ability to have these facilities available for this service, because it has to do with your gender identity, and it has to do with the medical treatment for your gender dysphoria, really is discrimination at its core. . .And for them to use religion as an excuse for this discrimination, I think, is something that cannot be accepted.'”

Conforti said the alleged discrimination has been especially painful because St. Joseph’s was his “neighborhood hospital,” where family members have been treated and “where I feel comfortable.” For this reason, though he underwent the hysterectomy elsewhere, Conforti remains troubled:

“[He said,]’My main concern right now is that I still live in Totowa and I’ve lived here my entire life, so in the event of an emergency, the only place that an ambulance would take me is to St. Joseph’s. . .And, you know, I worry that, God forbid something happened, what would I do, how would I be treated? So it’s a constant fear.’

“In October 2016, that fear partly came true. Conforti was in a car accident in Wayne, New Jersey, and suffered minor injuries. The emergency service technicians recommended he get emergency care, but said they could only take him to the two St. Joseph’s locations nearby. If he wanted to go elsewhere, he would have to hire a private ambulance. Afraid to seek care from St. Joseph’s, Conforti instead asked his wife to drive him about 25 minutes away, to another hospital in Montclair, New Jersey.”

Sadly, Conforti’s circumstances are not unique. Many trans people cannot access competent and affordable healthcare, or may even avoid healthcare fearful of discrimination. Rewire cited data from the National Center for Transgender Equality that reveals “23 percent of trans people avoided going to the doctor because they feared discrimination; one-third of respondents had at least one negative experience with their provider, including having to educate the provider on trans people in order to receive appropriate care.”

The Affordable Care Act of 2010 helped to improve healthcare for trans communities, especiallly since Section 1557 established non-discrimination protections based on sex, a class that was interpreted by the Obama administration to include gender identity. It is unclear whether such protections would still hold if the ACA is repealed and replaced by an as yet uknown program devised by Republican legislators.  Even if the ACA is not repealed, it is uncertain whether the Trump administration will interpret the non-discrimination protections in the same way as the Obama administration did.

Even if the ACA and its non-discrimination protections remain in place, will religiously-affiliated providers be allowed to discriminate under existing or even expanded exemptions? St. Joseph’s cited the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services” to justify its refusal to provide care for Conforti, guidelines which dictate care for “one in six hospital beds nationwide,” according to Rewire.

Just two weeks after Inauguration Day, efforts to repeal the ACA are well underway. There are more questions than answers about what comes next. But church leaders and Catholic providers do not have to wait and see what happens nationally. They can decide right now to provide high-quality, lifesaving care for LGBT patients.

Catholic hospitals and health systems can choose freely to adopt non-discrimination protections inclusive of gender and sexual minorities. They can train providers to be informed about the unique health needs of LGBT patients, and to provide additional services and programs that may be required. The complexities of law, ethics, and institutional bureaucracies are real, but there is wisdom, too, in Conforti’s statement:

“If there is a procedure that is medically necessary, there should be no question whether or not they will do it. . .No one should be rejected or denied care, especially just for being who you are.'”

Nothing in church teaching restricts more inclusive policies and practices from being enacted in church-affiliated healthcare. Indeed, the Catholic identity so often cited to deny care to patients like Jionni Conforti is the very mandate for why such actions must be now taken. With LGBT communities under attack, this is a moment in history for Catholic hospitals to state decisively that transgender lives, and the lives of all LGBT people matter immensely.

And if inspiration is needed, Catholics can look to St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York City which, in 1973, adopted a non-discrimination policy inclusive of sexual orientation.

To get started on an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination policy at your Catholic parish, school, hospital, or social service agency, contact New Ways Ministry at info@newwaysministry.org or (301) 277-5674. You can also find more information on making this change here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 6, 2017

 

Newly-Named Cardinal Comments on LGBT Church Worker Firings

A U.S. bishop who will be made a cardinal in late November has spoken publicly about the pattern in recent years of LGBT church workers firings.

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Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin

Archbishop Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis was interviewed by Michael O’Loughlin of America after being named last week as one of thirteen new cardinals. Asked how the church should respond to LGBT church workers, especially those employees in same-gender marriages, Tobin was skeptical that any national employment policy could be developed. He advocated dealing with church workers on a case-by-case basis:

” ‘If I have someone who is a teacher, I think that’s a little different than someone who is a [chief financial officer]. . .I would want to speak with the person about it, and ask, “Do you find any sort of dissonance within yourself teaching faithfully what the church teaches and the choices you make in your life?” ‘ “

Archbishop Tobin commented, too, on his episcopal colleagues and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), which will vote on new leadership and priorities at their fall plenary in November. The archbishop said bishops in the U.S. need to communicate better and follow the pope in valuing “discernment in a synodal way,” continuing:

“[We should] develop a spirit of discernment among us, reading the signs of the times and places in the light of the faith, and being able to talk about that and asking ourselves, what is God’s will? Where is God opening a door?”

For three years, the USCCB has defied the pastoral agenda of Pope Francis with little attention to the signs of the times on LGBT rights and many other issues. But Tobin affirmed the pope, with whom he is acquainted from the 2005 Synod on the Eucharist, and said Francis is calling in Amoris Laetitia for the church to elevate “a way of thinking of what it means to follow or lead a life of discipleship today.”

Two other notable points came up in the America interview.

First, the archbishop said today’s church officials in Rome had a deeper “appreciation and gratitude” for women religious in the U.S.  Tobin had been secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life when dual interventions–one a doctrinal investigation of  the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, and one an apostolic visitation of U.S. women’s religious communities–began in 2012.

Tobin defended the sisters, and he was promoted horizontally out of Rome to Indianapolis. The questions these investigations provoked, however, meant the church “understood in a more profound way, just what an important, critical role sisters play.”

Second, Tobin affirmed the need for ministry at the margins when speaking about his own religious identity. Ordained a Redemptorist priest, and later elected superior general, Tobin said the community’s mission is “always like to look on the other side of the tracks and care for people that maybe the church isn’t able to care for.” He said further:

“Our founder spoke of the most abandoned poor and that can take different form in different areas. The way I hear it, and the way I would speak of it when I was superior general, was basically we must go where the church isn’t able to go.”

By all accounts, Archbishop Tobin seems to practice the pastorally-oriented leadership so desired by Pope Francis. His recognition that the church must be present at the margins, and his affirmation of women religious, who have been present there, could indicate a more pastoral approach on LGBT issues.

That is why his comments on LGBT church workers are puzzling to me. While he affirms the need to interact with every employee in a charitable way, including a conversation, the case-by-case solution he proposes does not actually protect LGBT church workers and their families from discrimination.

When it comes to employment, such provisional solutions are almost never adequate. For every Archbishop Tobin in Indianapolis who is pastorally shepherding God’s people, there is a Bishop Tobin in Providence whose firing of a gay music director has forced many more parishioners to question their relationship to the church. . Lacking explicit non-discrimination policies and demonstrated support programs, church institutions remain dangerous workplaces when one’s livelihood depends on the bishop’s whim.

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 more than 60 incidents since 2007 where church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equality.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 20, 2016

Transgender Catholic Legislator Appeals to Peers for LGBT Protections

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Geraldine Roman

The first transgender person elected to the Philippines’ House of Representative, who is a Catholic, has powerfully asked her peers to pass LGBT non-discrimination protections.

Geraldine Roman addressed the House last Monday for over an hour about the “Anti-Discrimination Bill on the Basis of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.” Roman filed the Bill in June, but there has been little progress towards passing it for the highly Catholic nation. She appealed to legislators in a personal way, reported Inquirer.nettelling them:

” ‘I cannot turn my back at a group of people, who have long suffered discrimination, and have long been denied adequate legal protection. How can I turn a blind eye to the suffering that I myself have experienced at some point in my life?’

” ‘We are your brothers; we are your sisters; your sons and your daughters, and nieces and nephews. We are your family. We are your friends; your schoolmates; your colleagues at work. . .We are human beings.’

” ‘We love our families. We love our country. We are proud Filipinos, who just happen to be LGBT. The question is: do we, as members of the LGBT community, share the same rights as all other citizens? Does the State grant us equal protection under our laws?’ “

The Bill, if passed, would establish non-discrimination protections for LGBT people in employment, education, and healthcare, and it would train law enforcement on LGBT issues. Sanctions would be imposed for violations which, in addition to jail time and fines, could include human rights education or community service.

Her speech also identified specific problems facing LGBT people in the Philippines. She noted that there have been only 164 hate crimes reported in the last twenty years, due largely to issues with the police. Human Rights Watch reported:

“[LGBT-specific police] initiatives are essential given that LGBT rights advocacy groups have warned that hate crimes against LGBT are on the rise and that the Philippines has recorded the highest number of murders of transgender individuals in Southeast Asia since 2008.

“[Healthcare access] is crucial because the Philippines now has the world’s fastest growing HIV epidemic driven by new HIV infections among men who have sex with men (MSMs). Her support of the bill in such a public and heartfelt manner will hopefully motivate lawmakers to take meaningful action to protect the rights of LGBT people by supporting its passage.”

Roman said she was “one voice among many” urging passage of the Bill because LGBT people “simply ask for equality. With inclusiveness and diversity, our nation has so much to gain.” Despite some positive reviews, her speech and the bill for which she advocates have faced resistance. CNN Philippines reported:

“She was glowing. She would glow even as she fought back tears later on, a few minutes upon delivering her first privilege speech before the session hall. She would glow as she parried questions from her eight or so interpellators, including Rep. Rolando Andaya, Jr. of the first district of Camarines Sur, who would repeatedly address her as ‘Congressman.’ “

Elected with 62% of the vote in her district, Roman has not only made history but is now working to advance LGBT rights. She relies upon her Catholic faith in this work, saying previously that the church had been “a source of consolation” and that “If Jesus Christ was alive today, he would not approve of discrimination. I firmly believe that.

You can watch an interview with Roman, who speaks about her own journey and her LGBT legislative aims, by clicking here or viewing it below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 

Massachusetts Bishops Offer Temperate Response to New Transgender Law

mcc-logoCatholic bishops in Massachusetts have offered a tempered, though not perfect, response to newly passed anti-discrimination law aimed at protecting transgender people. Their statement improves upon other church leaders’ responses to this contentious human rights issue in other U.S. states.

Republican Governor Charlie Baker signed the bill in law last Friday. Building on employment protections passed in 2011, the new law provides non-discrimination protections based on gender identity for all public accommodations in the state. The Massachusetts Catholic Conference, representing the state’s bishops, released a statement which said, in part:

“While the purpose and intent of the legislation is to provide protection and access to public accommodations for transgender individuals in the Commonwealth, the issue of its implementation will require both careful oversight and respect for all individuals using such public accommodations. . .

“The understanding of and respect for transgender persons has only recently commanded widespread attention. The complex challenge of crafting legislative protections for some in our community while meeting the needs of the wider population will require sensitive application of the legislation just passed.”

The Conference statement suggested debate will continue, citing contested gender and sexuality issues addressed by Pope Francis in his apostolic exhortation, Amoris LaetitiaBut the Conference urged civility, concluding:

“Debate about this legislation and its implementation will undoubtedly continue in some form. It will inevitably touch on themes not easily captured by law. . .We urge respect in this discussion for all those whose rights require protection. In our parishes, schools and other institutions, the Church will respect the civil law while upholding the principles of our faith and our religious freedom.”

Public accommodation protections for transgender people have been hotly debated in the U.S., with more than 100 pieces of anti-LGBT legislation having been debated in state legislatures this year. Debates about these bills, and the broader issue of transgender public accommodations, have very often become rancorous.

The country’s Catholic bishops, for the most part, have responded poorly. North Carolina’s bishops welcomed that state’s HB 2 law which mandates restroom use according to assigned sex at birth, though one bishop later qualified his support. Bishop Joseph Kopacz of Jackson offered qualified praise for Mississippi’s HB 1523 law, a law which allowed for some discrimination.  It was described by one state legislator as “the most hateful bill I have seen in my career in this legislature.” Bishops in Nebraska actively opposed newly-approved policies to protect transgender student-athletes in the state’s schools. And at least two dioceses criticized President Barack Obama’s directive mandating public school students be able to use restrooms and locker rooms matching their gender identity. It is worth noting, too, that Vatican official Cardinal Robert Sarah, while addressing the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, referred to transgender rights as “demonic.”

Respecting transgender people should be a “fairly simple thing to do,” to quote Jesuit Fr. James Martin, but unfortunately this has been too difficult for many church leaders. Issues around gender identity and expression, civil law, and true religious liberty can be very complicated, as Bondings 2.0 has noted at least twice (here and here).

The church’s response should be respectful, a simple thing to do, but should not rely upon simple answers where nuance is required. The Massachusetts’ bishops response in this case should have highlighted more strongly Catholic teaching about opposing discrimination, but even with that deficiency, its tempered tone and willingness to dialogue is a step forward.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry