Students, Alumni Rally Round Fired Gay Teacher

Students, alumni, and other school community members gathered at St. Ignatius College Prep School, Chicago, last week to support Matthew Tedeschi, a gay teacher who was fired from the Jesuit institution this spring.

As has happened with many such protests to support other fired LGBT church employees, the demonstrators used messages derived from Catholic teaching and values to protest the dismissal of Tedeschi.  According to The Windy City Times, a sign of one of the protesters read “Make Ignatius Jesuit Again.”

Bondings 2.0 readers may recall that Tedeschi was fired after he repeatedly complained about students harassed him for over a year about his sexual orientation.  The students had learned about his being gay from searching his online dating profile.

Matt Tedeschi (right) addresses the protestors, while supported by Chris Pett (left).

At the protest, Tedeschi called for six changes at the school, according to the Windy City Times report:

“First of all, Tedeschi wants the school administration to change its nondiscrimination policy to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Next, he wants the administration to allow the LGBT student organization to post flyers in the school and make online announcements, similar to other student organizations. As of now, he said, the group is not allowed to do either of those things.

“His other demands include a ‘fair panel to decide cases of faculty dismissals’; an impartial ombudsman who is present at meetings involving employee discipline or termination; the ability for teachers to ‘have more say in drafting, implementing, and evaluating the school policies that affect them’; and the opportunity for St. Ignatius teachers to form a labor union.”

The fired teacher was joined at the protest by Chris Pett, the incoming president of DignityUSA, and Colin Collette, a former music director at a Chicago-area parish who was fired when his same-gender marriage became public.

Tedeschi noted that a firing such as his has wide repercussions for the entire community:

“Tedeschi said this lack of transparency in disciplinary practices makes teachers ‘far more afraid’ to do their jobs because they don’t know what the administration will use against them to discipline them. He said the practices are bad for young Catholics because it makes them ‘not want to be part of the Church.’ And he said the practices are bad for parents and alumni, ‘who wonder what values the administration is instilling’ in its students.”

A school official denied that sexual orientation was involved in Tedeschi’s firing:

“St. Ignatius Director of Development Ryan Bergin emailed Windy City Times, ‘We are able to say unequivocally that Mr. Tedeschi was not fired because of sexual orientation,’ adding, ‘At this time, Saint Ignatius does not have an official LGBT group however the school does run Project Unity, which is a group for students dedicated to expressing an open understanding of all people, regardless of identity.’ “

While Tedeschi said that one of the reasons he was fired was because he “undermined authority,” he also said the administration failed to offer examples of how he supposedly did so.

Tedeschi’s requested changes at the school are all in line with Catholic teaching and values.  They should be changes that all Catholic schools institute as a way to show that they are living up to their best ideals about non-discrimination of LGBT people, as well as Catholic social teaching about workers’ rights.

New Ways Ministry has been encouraging Catholic institutions to adopt non-discrimination policies to protect LGBT employees.  For more information on how to start the discussion of such policies in your Catholic community, click here.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, July 1, 2017

Jesuit H.S. Denies Teacher Was Fired Because He Is Gay

A Jesuit high school in Chicago is denying allegations it fired a gay teacher because of his sexual orientation, but that statement has not stopped alumni from organizing against the firing. (Bondings 2.0 reported the firing over a week ago .)

extralarge (1).jpgIn a statement to faculty and staff, administrators at St. Ignatius College Prep said, “While we cannot share details of Matt Tedeschi’s term of employment, it is important for you to know that he was not fired for his sexual orientation.”

However, no reason was given for why he was so abruptly terminated, reported DNA Info.

Tedeschi, who taught religious studies and French, was fired earlier this spring after having been at St. Ignatius for four years. Students who found his online dating profile had harassed him through social media and in the classroom since February 2016. Despite multiple reports, Tedeschi claims the administration did almost nothing to stop the harassment or to discipline the students. Tedeschi responded to the St. Ignatius administrators’ most recent statement:

“‘I was fired for asking the administration to protect me from student harassment leveled against me precisely on the basis of my sexual orientation. . .I may not have been fired solely “for” my sexual orientation, as the school writes, but I certainly was fired “because of” it.'”

Many members of the St. Ignatius community feel similarly. Alumus Christian Johns described Tedeschi to DNA Info as “arguably one of the best rookie teachers at Ignatius.” Johns said further:

 “Granted, the details are still murky, it is clear that the administration at Ignatius fails to get ahead of crises that could be handled with professional zest. The administration, community, and students have to do better so that Ignatius remains an incredible place to learn and grow.”

A petition for administrators to better support LGBT people and people of color at the school gained more than 530 signatures. A Facebook group, “SICP alumni in opposition to Tedeschi firing,” now has more than 1,200 members. The organizer of the group, Jessica Schneider, told DNA Info firing someone because of their sexual orientation is inconsistent with the school’s values:

“The school doesn’t seem to be able to have open discussions,” said Schneider. . .”I know that there are certain things that can’t be disclosed, but the reaction [from administrators] isn’t sufficient for the incident.”

Alumus Andrew Rayner wrote a blog post entitled, “On Being in the Closet at St. Ignatius.” He described the atmosphere at the school as “virulent” when it comes to homosexuality, an atmosphere that stymied his own coming out process. On this latest news about Tedeschi’s firing, Rayner commented:

“I do not know all sides of the story to explain why the teacher, who seemed to be well respected by staff, well-liked by students, and was on his way towards tenure, was fired. . .but when the issue was said and done, the students involved received small disciplinary slaps on the wrist. The teacher ended up canned.”

Rayner expressed concern not only for Tedeschi, but “the student like me who is walking the halls of St. Ignatius feeling even less supported and loved than they felt before because of this incident.” He concluded:

“I also understand as a former educator and proud, fully-out gay man the importance of modeling for young people. The failure of the school to model proper behavior in this situation is what I am most concerned about. Modeling can literally save lives. . .

“What kind of modeling is this for young people? For a school whose motto is ‘men and women for others,’ these actions by the students and the response by the school do not seem to uphold these values. As I said, it is totally within the rights of a Catholic school to not condone homosexuality. You can believe whatever you want to believe. But as an educational institution that holds itself to the standard of teaching God’s love, the school is obligated to teach respect for all people, to decry bullying, to promote justice, and to protect its young people, regardless of beliefs or identities. This is a failed teaching moment. Or, at least, the lessons taught were not ones of love.”

If Tedeschi was not fired because he is a gay man, St. Ignatius officials owe the school community and the wider church community a more thorough explanation about the incident.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 2, 2017

 

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.

extralarge
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