Title IX LGBT Exemptions Will Not Disqualify Catholic Colleges from NCAA

April 13, 2016

campusprideshamelistThe National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) will not disassociate from religiously-affiliated colleges, including some Catholic ones, that have requested Title IX waivers. Such waivers would allow schools to discriminate against someone based on the person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or gender expression.

LGBT organizations Campus Pride and Soulforce requested, in a letter to NCAA officials, that the NCAA disqualify schools which fail to protect LGBT students by seeking such exemptions. NCAA Chief Inclusion Officer Bernard Franklin responded in his own letter, defending the Association’s record on LGBT issues and deferring the matter of Title IX waivers to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits sex-based discrimination, has been interpreted recently to include LGBT protections. While religious exemptions are not new, application of these provisions has risen sharply as civil rights based on sexual and gender identity have expanded. 43 colleges requested exemptions in 2015 compared to just one college in 2013.

At least five Catholic colleges are among those who have requested such exemptions, according to a report from the Human Rights Campaign. These include Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina, Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, John Paul the Great University in Wyoming, St. Gregory’s University in Oklahoma, and the University of Dallas in Texas.

Schools which receive exemptions are essentially enabled to discriminate at will on the basis of sexual and gender identity. Jocelyn Sun of Soulforce, writing at Believe Out Loud, explained further why such exemptions are so deeply problematic:

“Title IX isn’t just about LGBTQI students in faith-based institutions. . .It’s about debunking the myth that you have to choose between being a Christian and all the other identities God gave you. It’s about educators not having to pick between investing in and building trust with students and making a living. It’s about holding our universities accountable to be the community we’ve dreamed of and are working hard to create.”

The NCAA’s decision not to sanction colleges which have sought Title IX exemptions is puzzling because it seems wrong to include schools in its athletics programs that institutionally advance prejudice. These exemptions also highlight the difference between the many Catholic colleges supportive of LGBT students and the five schools seeking exemptions. While there is a lot of progress to celebrate, there is much work to be done in college athletics and in Catholic higher education.

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


School Board Passes “Practically Meaningless” Transgender Policy Ahead of Deadline

March 21, 2016
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The Edmonton Catholic Schools office building.

Ahead of a March 31st deadline, the Edmonton Catholic School Board (ECSB) passed a policy on transgender students. But many LGBT advocates are disappointed with last Tuesday’s vote, saying the new policy is insufficient and even meaningless.

Trustees approved the policy in a 5-2 vote, reported Global News. It states that, because “all children are unique, loved by God and created in God’s image,” discrimination should not exist in district schools. The policy does not, however, mention LGBTQ students specifically or support gay-straight alliances, omissions which weaken the policy, say critics.

Marni Panas, the transgender mother of a Catholic school student, criticized the policy as “fine” for other contexts, but insufficient for Edmonton’s Catholic schools:

” ‘I mean 15 months ago, we started this conversation with a policy like that already in place and a child was still discriminated against – this policy doesn’t change that, that could still happen.’ “

The mother of the trans girl whose discriminatory treatment prompted Edmonton Catholic schools’ debate on trans students described the situation as “farther behind” than when it began fifteen months ago. (The mother chooses to be unidentified to protect her daughter.) She told Metro News that Alberta’s Education Minister David Eggen should reject the new policy, as it shows “a complete lack of effort” and “protects nobody.”

Kris Wells of the University of Alberta’s Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services said the policy approved is “the worst” of three proposed thus far because “it almost means nothing,” reported the Edmonton Journal. He continued in Metro News:

” ‘It’s so generic that it is practically meaningless. . .These kinds of generic policies don’t work when it comes to supporting vulnerable LGBTQ youth.’ “

ECSB chair Marilyn Bergstra and trustee Patricia Grell, the two votes against the new policy, explained their opposition to CBC

“[Grell,] who first spoke out about the issue last spring, voted against the policy and called it too general and too generic to be of much help to LGBTQ students.

“[Bergstra] also voted against the policy. She spoke about the pervasive ‘myth, fear and a general lack of understanding’ that continues to hamper efforts to embrace LGBTQ students.”

The Edmonton Catholic School Board’s actions around a transgender policy have repeatedly made headlines. Their meetings erupted into a “shouting match” last fall and the Board approved “just discrimination” of some youth in a draft policy last December. Bishop Fred Henry of Calgary described recent guidelines from the Education Ministry to help develop these LGBTQ policies as “totalitarian” and “anti-Catholic” and later refused to apologize for his harsh remarks. Letters from Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton, Archbishop Gerard Pettipas of Grouard-McLennan, and Bishop Paul Terrio of St. Paul were critical too, but less confrontational.

In related news, the Catholic Board of Education in Medicine Hat, Alberta, approved first and second readings of policy updates to protect LGBTQ students that will hopefully be approved in a third reading later this month. The policy updates, which are inclusive of gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation, are intended to meet provincial guidelines released in January, according to Medicine Hat News.

School districts in Alberta, including Catholic ones (because they are publicly funded), are required to submit LGBTQ policies to the Education Ministry by March 31 for review. There are 24 Catholic school boards in Alberta, including Edmonton and Medicine Hat. Education Minister David Eggen declined to comment about how he would handle school boards in Alberta whose LGBTQ policies fail to meet legal norms. Metro News reported that Eggen said he would evaluate all policies and regulations “in their totality” once they had been submitted.

Generic and meaningless policies may not be approved by Alberta’s Education Ministry, setting up more months of conflict and potential harm to students in the province’s Catholic schools. With just two weeks left before policies need to be submitted, there is enough time for Catholic educators and school officials to prioritize students’ well being over anti-LGBTQ ideologies.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


Fired Church Worker Reaches Settlement with Montana Diocese; Other Employment Updates

March 19, 2016
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Shaela Evenson

Fired Teacher Settles Lawsuit in Montana

Fired teacher Shaela Evenson settled her lawsuit against the Diocese of Helena, Montana, and Butte Central Catholic Schools  just weeks before the case went to trial. The parties have reached a private agreement.

Evenson, a lesbian woman who was fired in 2014 for becoming pregnant outside of marriage (although she is in a committed relationship with a woman), was suing for pregnancy and sex discrimination, as well as breach of contract. A trial was scheduled to begin in April, but will be avoided if a judge approves the settlement, reported Crux. Evenson’s lawyer did not comment, but Butte Central Catholic Schools Superintendent Tim Uhl said Bishop George Leo Thomas had instructed him to end the incident “because there has been a lot of hurt and harm.” Uhl acknowledged the intense pain this firing caused to Evenson specifically and to the Butte Central community.

To find out more about settled and pending legal cases involving church workers who lost their jobs in LGBT-related disputes, click here.

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Colin Collette

Terminated Music Director Files Lawsuit in Chicago

Fired church worker Colin Collette has filed a discrimination lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Chicago and Holy Family Catholic Church, Inverness, reported the Cook County Record.

Collette was terminated in 2014 after seventeen years as the parish’s music director when he announced an engagement to his male partner on Facebook. Fifteen months after filing with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Collette received permission from the federal agency to proceed with this lawsuit. Collette’s suit claims the Archdiocese and parish violated federal, state, and county civil rights protections. He is seeking to return to his job and  to receive lost pay and monetary damages.

Teacher Contracts Flare in Indiana

The next round of church worker firings may happen in Indiana. Educators in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend are expressing their concerns about new mission documents released ahead of new teaching contracts to be signed in April.

“Jane Doe,” pseudonym for a teacher interviewed, spoke to WNDU 16 about a troubling secondary document “read aloud point by point” during a staff meeting. Titled “Mission of Our Catholic Schools and the Importance of Authentic Witness of School Employees,” the seven-page text features sixteen points related to mission including some expectations for employee’s behavior beyond school walls. Describing church workers as “privileged participants in this ministry,” the document states:

“Respecting and upholding this teaching in their words and behavior, Catholic school educators are not to publicly promote, condone, or support so-called ‘same-sex marriages’, adultery, or other offenses against the truth and dignity of marriage. . .”

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“Jane Doe,” as she appeared in the television interview

Doe said church officials explained that support includes acts like displaying a same-gender couple’s photograph or attending a same-gender wedding. Similar bans are included against abortion, artificial insemination, in-vitro fertilization, and surrogate parenthood. Employees are also expected to support the bishop.

The diocese denied the new document is a change, saying it communicates “longstanding expectations,” but a number of employees believe this move is an inappropriate intrusion into their lives. Doe said church workers were made to understand they would be signing onto this mission document if they signed the new contract, although the text of the mission document is not included in the contract text. Doe explained:

” ‘What I do with my private life should be between me and my family. . .the Church is something that I go to, to look for faith. . .So telling me who I can and can’t be social with, basically with same sex marriage, even within my family or friends, it’s not right. . .

” ‘It hurts. . .We all carry ourselves in a professional manner and as Catholics—everybody sins in the world—no one is perfect out there. I don’t know how you could find one person who could follow that entire doctrine and have enough people to employ in one school, let alone 10, 15 schools.’ “

Doe said she would not sign the new mission document even if it risked her job, and she said many colleagues were weighing their options because they disagree sharply with the document’s intrusive language. Similar new changes in other dioceses have caused many teachers in Catholic schools to lose their jobs in the last couple years. Contractual shifts have been reported in at least six dioceses.  Before releasing the new contracts in April, the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend should be cautious about whether a demand for explicit assent to micro-managed morality is worth losing highly committed and qualified church workers.

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of these stories, 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


Reconciliatory Path Opened for Catholic School that Banned Transgender Students

March 7, 2016
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Mount Saint Charles Academy

The Rhode Island Catholic school whose ban on transgender students ignited controversy last week has released two statements which have potential for opening doors to reconciliation and to greater inclusion.

Officials at Mount Saint Charles Academy responded to the intensifying criticism to their policy change which excluded transgender students from school  with an initial statement last Friday, saying the policy which explicitly bans transgender students:

“. . .is not intended to be discriminatory toward transgendered [sic] students nor is Mount Saint Charles Academy’s intent or desire to exclude transgender students. The policy was put in place for the simple reason that Mount Saint Charles feels that its facilities do not presently provide the school with the ability to accommodate transgender students.”

Citing other personal needs which may disqualify applicants from attending Mount Saint Charles, such as academic disabilities, the statement suggested the school was incapable of serving all students. Administrators added that they were “exploring ways in which it [the school] might provide reasonable accommodations for transgender students and fulfill its mission.” The statement concluded with an appeal for help, as the school “would very much like to correct the problem” inherent to this policy’s existence. According to the school, this policy was not prompted by any transgender applicants or students.

A second statement released within an hour of the first one added an opening sentence which said Mount Saint Charles “deeply regrets the unintended hurt feelings at and seeming insensitivity of our policy,” reported Go Local Providence.

These statements came after alumni quickly organized themselves to protest the ban, which had been implemented last fall but only came to their attention last week. A Facebook group called Concerned Alumni Against Mount St. Charles Trans-Exclusive Policy has 800 members and nearly 1,500 people signed a petition on Change.org, available here.

Alumni claim they knew trans students who have attended Mount Saint Charles in the past. 2007 graduate Johnelle Bergeron told NBC 10 that alumni “would never expect that from Mount because they always preached about tolerance and God is love, everyone’s equal.’ ” Parents of current students have been critical of the policy change , too, with Kristine Kinnear saying she hopes the school would make necessary accommodations if it were her child.

YouthPride, an LGBT organization in Rhode Island, released a statement saying the transgender ban is “not an acceptable solution” and offered to help Mount Saint Charles become capable of supporting transgender students, reported RIFuture.org.

Last Friday morning, with little information about how and why the policy came into existence, I suggested that Mount Saint Charles administrators seemed indifferent to accommodating the needs of vulnerable transgender students. In view of the school’s two statements later that afternoon, it seems it is not indifference that is the problem. It appears the ban on transgender students was an honest acknowledgement by school officials that they had not addressed gender identity issues to the point where they could provide a safe space for trans students. Despite good intentions, the administrators’ ban on transgender students was a misstep, which has been understandably painful for alumni and the local community.

But with the school’s new resolve to address these issues head-on, and with alumni support for transgender students, there is tremendous potential right now for Mount Saint Charles Academy to help students of all genders can be “known, valued, treasured, and taught,” as their mission statement declares.  Alumni have crowdfunded over $4,000 to provide an “actionable solution” to this problem, saying the money should help create accessible restrooms and locker rooms for transgender students along with supportive policies and non-discrimination protections. Mount Saint Charles officials should follow through on their statements’ desire by reaching out to alumni seeking to help and others in the community with relevant expertise and resources.

Banning transgender students was a harmful decision, but if all involved can tune into the reconciliation called for by yesterday’s readings at Mass, this could be a tremendous moment for Catholic education.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Catholic School Rejects Lesbian Alumna’s Wedding Announcement

January 22, 2014

Sarah Rupert-Sullivan, left, with wife, Molly

Notre Dame Preparatory School, a Catholic high school in Baltimore, Maryland, has rejected the wedding announcement of a lesbian alumna in their class notes, prompting an outcry from alumnae and supporters of LGBT equality.

Sarah Rupert-Sullivan graduated from the school in 2003 and married her wife, Molly, last August. Around that time, she submitted the announcement for the “Class Chatter” notes through the school’s website. The Baltimore Sun reports further:

“Weeks later, when the Catholic private school’s class notes were posted online, news of Rupert-Sullivan’s nuptials in Maryland was omitted.

“The reason, according to Notre Dame Prep spokeswoman Cami Colarossi, is an editorial policy tied to the school’s identity as a ministry of the Catholic Church. Colarossi is also the publication’s editor.

” ‘We do not print in official school publications information which conflicts … in any way with the totality of the Church’s teachings,’ Colarossi said.”

Rupert-Sullivan spoke with other administrators at Notre Dame Prep, including the headmistress, and was told there are no plans to change policies, but alumnae will now be notified immediately if their announcement is to be rejected. In response, the she started a petition with over 1,505 signatures calling on the school to allow all marriages to be announced in “Class Chatter.” Of this effort, The Baltimore Sun reports:

“Rupert-Sullivan — who doesn’t identify as Catholic and says she was sent to Notre Dame Prep because her parents thought it seemed like ‘a forward-thinking school’ — said the religion-based policy only seems to go so far.

” ‘The weddings that are listed are not Catholic-only…I got a message from a woman on Facebook that was married, divorced and did not have her first marriage annulled. So technically her second marriage is also a sin, and therefore her child was born illegitimately. NDP happily published both of those things.”

” ‘My other goal was to make sure no other student, whether it be current or past, feels like they are the only ones left out…At this point, I can only push on. I can’t just quietly settle down.’ “

This is the latest in a string of anti-LGBT actions by Catholic schools, which have included firing LGBT employees and failing to respect transgender students who are transitioning. You can read more about such incideants by clicking the ‘Schools & Youth‘ category on the right sidebar of this page.

With marriage equality spreading around the nation, there are only going to be more incidents like this one multiplying in Catholic high schools and colleges. As Catholic Schools Week approaches, beginning January 26th, incidents like these highlight the need for Catholic education to raise its standards on LGBT issues and reiterate that forming gay-straight alliances and implementing inclusive non-discrimination policies should be top priorities for 2014.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Another Teacher Is Fired for Marrying; What You Can Do to Stem These Actions

October 19, 2013
Tippi McCullough

Tippi McCullough

Yet another LGBT employee has been fired from a Catholic school, this time in Arksansas. The firing at Mount St. Mary Academy in Little Rock adds yet another victim to anti-equality thinking, which punishes employees in same-gender marriages or those who support marriage equality.

Tippi McCullough, an English teacher with 15 years experience at the high school run by the Sisters of Mercy, received a phone call on her wedding day warning her against marrying long-time partner, Barb Mariani. The couple had traveled to New Mexico to wed, and less than an hour after doing so were told by principal Diane Wolfe that McCullough was terminated. The Daily Mail reports that the school was notified of the marriage by the diocese, although the school is not commenting on the incident.  The news story reports:
“When Mrs McCullough asked how her marriage had violated the clause [which allows for firings based on lifestyles that contradict Church teaching], Wolfe responded by saying she wasn’t going to have a theological debate and that there was nothing else she could do…

“No law protects McCullough from being fired as a religious institution citing church teaching would be exempt from discrimination laws.”

McCullough says the school knew of her relationship with Mariani for years  but only offered her an opportunity to resign when the marriage became known to school officials. As has been the norm with such firings, students and the wider Catholic community are rising to defend McCullough. A petition with almost 1,300 signatures appeared on Friday in support of McCullough, who is still weighing her options.

Jezebel also published email correspondence between an alumna, who is now a teacher herself, and Wolfe. In it, the principal defends the school’s decision:

“While I respect your thoughts and concerns, you really have no clue. This was not just my decision. I am only the messenger…It is not for me to decide, judge or disobey the tenets of the church. I was hired to uphold my contractual obligations as a Catholic school administrator and to carry out those functions, as unpleasant as they may be…Do you not think it took moral courage to carry out and uphold the tenets of the church..?”

Sadly, the views expressed by Wolfe indicate not moral courage, but rather a fear too prevalent in Catholic schools when it comes to LGBT issues. Bishops and administrators who are publicly challenged on firings claim it is painful, but necessary and the hierarchy asks lower administrators to enforce this legalism. The pain in Wolfe’s defensive tone is evident.

National Catholic Reporter published an article analyzing this broader trend of firing employees who either are transgender, enter into same-gender marriages, or simply support LGBT rights that notes:

“It’s not news that gay teachers and other employees of Catholic institutions lose their jobs over a same-sex relationship…What’s different in recent years is a growing acceptance of gay marriage among Catholics and gay people’s increasing ability to marry and unwillingness to hide their relationships…

“Such firings, once the private affairs of Catholic schools, whispered about in the teachers’ lounge, now air on the nightly news and circulate on Facebook.”

This discrimination continues, however, because the schools are legally protected due to religious exemptions in non-discrimination laws, even where sexual orientation or gender identity is explicitly protected. They are reminders that even as marriage equality spreads, like in New Jersey this coming Monday, LGBT rights remain unsecured and change is still needed in the Catholic Church.

However, there is hope as Francis DeBernardo, the executive director of New Ways Ministry, told NCR:

” ‘What we know, what everyone knows, Catholic and non-Catholic, is that the younger generation is much more supportive of marriage equality than older generations, which is the indicator that it is the future’…

” ‘I’m heartened by it not only because they’re young but because a lot of them have discussed their support for the teacher in terms of Catholic principles…It’s a good case of the church hierarchy undone by their highest ideals.’ “

One way to make an impact is for Catholics to get their local church institutions to adopt non-discrimination policies that protect sexual orientation, marital status, views on marriage, and gender identity.   We need to get our parishes, schools, and other Church-affiliated institutions to live up to their Catholic principles of non-discrimination and justice.  Speaking out for such policies would help spread the word that there is a Catholic tradition which supports and protects LGBT people.  For more information, you can contact New Ways Ministry at info@NewWaysMinistry.org.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


LGBT Employees Must Be Protected at Catholic Institutions

October 1, 2013
Jim Smith

Jim Smith

Regular readers of Bondings 2.0 know the shameful trend of LGBT employees at Catholic schools and parishes being terminated for their sexual orientation, gender identity, and support for marriage equality.  Less known are the ways that Catholics are taking action against these discriminatory policies and other steps to make Catholic schools welcoming for LGBT people.  In today’s post, we have news of such actions from Minnesota, Washington State, and California.

Jim Smith, program manager of DignityUSA and a Minnesota resident, recently  authored an article on the trend in The Star Tribune. He begins the essay, written in the name of the Equally Blessed coalition:

“The list keeps getting longer.

“At an accelerating rate, Catholic schools and churches around the country are firing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees who have decided that they can no longer deny who they are and whom they love…

“At a time when even Pope Francis himself is urging the church to move beyond what he calls its ‘obsession’ with sexual issues, Catholic schools and parishes are intensifying the judgmental behavior that the pope urged Catholics to eschew in a recent interview with Jesuit publications.”

Equally Blessed LogoSmith references the dual departures at Totino-Grace High School of William Hudson and then Kristen Ostendorf in his home state as part of the ‘obsession.’ He then asks why the bishops and administrators so quickly terminate LGBT people if their aim is to defend teachings on marriage:

“Catholic parishes don’t fire heterosexual musicians who choose to get married at City Hall rather than in a Catholic Church. Catholic schools don’t check up on heterosexual teachers to determine whether they might have remarried without having their previous marriages annulled, or whether they are using artificial contraception. If the hierarchy were defending what it defines as Catholic principles, it would have to fire individuals in marriages that the church does not recognize as sacramental. But it does not.

“When gay, lesbian or transgender people attempt to live openly as the individuals that God created them to be, however, the hierarchy is suddenly zealous to defend its doctrine. This double standard is increasingly obvious both to lay Catholics…and the general public.”

While this hypocrisy is evident, there has been little recourse for terminated employees at religious institutions, although a recent ruling in favor of a transgender educator could be changing this reality. Regardless, Smith admits he cares less about the legality of discriminatory firings and more about Catholic teachings of dignity and equality, alongside the good that LGBT employees provide in the Church’s institutions.

Many who echo Smith’s beliefs are acting for change in Catholic institutions. Two examples come from the West Coast in September, and are only the latest in organizing efforts at schools and colleges nationwide to make campuses more LGBT-friendly.

In Seattle, Washington, LGBT and ally students in Catholic high schools are responding to hostile environments by requesting officially-recognized gay-straight alliances. Students have lobbied Archbishop Peter Sartain with a petition, letters, and calls to allow for the formation of these alliances, reports the Ballard News-Tribune.  The story quotes a lesbian student:

“ ‘It’s important to have that support and have that community of people you know you can always go to when you’re having a bad day,’ said Katie, a recent graduate of a high school where she helped found a GSA group. To avoid endangering the school’s accreditation, the Ballard News-Tribune is not naming the school.”

In Glendora, California, silent protesters tried to attend a school board meeting for St. Lucy’s Priory, a Catholic high school. The protesters were there to support fired gay educator of seventeen years Ken Bencomo, but were turned away and the school continues to deny Bencomo was fired for his sexual orientation. Their efforts gained 90,000-strong petition as well, as reported in the Glendora Patch

For full coverage of those employees fired from Catholic institutions, view Bondings 2.0‘s Labor Day post commemorating them.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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