3,000+ Sign Letter Protesting Catholic School’s Firing of Lesbian Educator

August 24, 2016
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Kate Drumgoole, left, with wife, Jaclyn Vanore

Thousands of alumni and others have organized against a Catholic school’s decision to fire lesbian educator Kate Drumgoole.

In just 24 hours, more than 3,000 Paramus Catholic High School alumni and school supporters signed an open letter calling upon school officials to apologize to Drumgoole, who was the head of the guidance department and basketball coach, and implement LGBT non-discrimination protections. The letter opened:

“We, the alumni of Paramus Catholic, are devastated that you have terminated Dean Kate Drumgoole’s employment because of her same-sex marriage. We are disappointed that, by abandoning Kate Drumgoole, you have abandoned the pride that we share in our diversity. . .

“At Paramus Catholic, our community was diverse in race, ethnicity, nationality, religious and spiritual affiliation, biological sex, gender identity, gender expression, sexual attraction, romantic attraction, language, socioeconomic background, age, and ability—whether or not we were thoughtful and patient enough as adolescents to appreciate diversity as we do now.”

The signers, organized under “Concerned Alumni of Paramus Catholic High School,” said the firing will “perpetuate misinformed hate against individuals on the basis of their gender and sexuality” and deny LGBT students “a psychologically safe learning environment.” These Concerned Alumni include signatories from every graduating class dating back to the school’s founding in 1969.

The letter ends with a series of requests from Paramus administrators to rectify the injustice done to Drumgoole in some way. These requests include formal apologies to the fired educator and to the school’s students, along with the adoption of comprehensive non-discrimination policies for staff and students alike, and diversity trainings for the school’s community. If you are connected to the school and interested in adding your name to the letter, click here.

In related news, New Jersey Superior Court Judge Lisa Perez Friscia denied a motion by the school to dismiss Drumgoole’s discrimination lawsuit which Bondings 2.0 reported on Monday. The judge’s decision said a more extended discovery process was necessary, reported The Recordto determine “whether Drumgoole worked in a ministerial capacity and whether the dispute is secular or ecclesiastical.” If Drumgoole is considered a minister, it may allow the school to claim a religious exemption from state non-discrimination protections under the First Amendment.

Paramus Catholic officials fired Drumgoole in January because she had married her wife, Jaclyn Vanore, two years earlier. Their marriage came to light after Venore’s sister submitted pictures of the couple to Paramus Catholic social media pages and school president James P. Veil, following a family dispute.

By all accounts, Dean Kate Drumgoole was a respected and beloved member of the school community. With more than 3,000 signatures and growing on the alumni letter, Paramus Catholic officials will hopefully recognize the error of their decision and seek reconciliation.

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

 


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

June 11, 2016

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


Lesbian Student Ejected from Catholic School’s Prom for Wearing a Suit

May 10, 2016
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Aniya Wolf

A Catholic high school in Pennsylvania ejected a lesbian student from the prom for wearing a suit rather than a dress.

Aniya Wolf was escorted out of Harrisburg’s Bishop McDevitt High School prom last weekend by a school official who grabbed the student’s arm and threatened to call police. Wolf’s ejection was the culmination of a debate over dress code between Wolf and her family, and Bishop McDevitt administrators.

Wolf said she has “always been more masculine,” wearing a shirt and pants for her school uniform all three years she has attended Bishop McDevitt. But ABC 27 reported that a sudden change in the school’s dress code occurred right before prom:

“The [Wolf] family said a last-minute email explained girls had to wear a dress to prom. . .Wolf’s mom called the school. ‘I told them that I had read the dress code that was given to the students and I didn’t think that it precluded her from wearing a suit.  I said that this was very unfair, particularly at the last minute.  We had gone out and bought a new suit. I think my daughter is beautiful in a suit,’ Carolyn Wolf said.”

Knowing school officials objected to her suit, Wolf went to prom anyway because she had anticipated the event for a while, and believed her experience “shouldn’t be any different than anyone else’s because of something I was born with.” Bishop McDevitt’s student body is generally affirming of her sexual orientation, Wolf said. The manner in which school officials treated her, in contrast, makes her feel like “a mistake.”

In a statement, Bishop McDevitt denied any wrongdoing. School officials claimed the dress code had been announced three months ago, and when they became aware that Wolf would not be wearing a dress, contacted her mother to resolve the situation. The statement concluded with a commitment to “practice acceptance and love for all of our students.”

What administrators ignored was the real issue behind this troubling incident, problems with the dress code itself rather than the timeline of events. I offer three points for consideration.

First, the dress code, as made available by ABC 27, does not specify that female students must wear dresses. It details what are considered acceptable dresses, but does not mandate them, though it mandates that male students “must wear a suite and tie.” Aniya and her family’s reading of this dress code is correct; it does not bar her from wearing her suit.

Second, dress code controversies in Catholic education need not exist, but, sadly, church officials keeping causing them. There is nothing in church teaching to support gender normative clothing, nor is it wise pastoral practice to insist these norms be maintained. Gender-based dress codes have nothing to do with the Catholic faith. Gender-based dress codes are outdated, sexist, and transphobic. Enforcing them so forcefully appears simply to be an attempt by school officials to impose traditional gender norms.

Third, the priorities of Bishop McDevitt administrators are called into question by this incident. To ensure an archaic dress code is upheld, they were willing to ruin a student’s prom night and cause her to feel like “a mistake.” Not a pastoral response.  And they created an issue where there needn’t have been one. The ejection of Aniya Wolf from prom would be a prime moment for reflection for the school’s administrators about how they really can practice acceptance and love for all students.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


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

 

 


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