Erin Macke returned to her alma mater, a Chicago-area all-girls’ Catholic high school, to teach in 2009. Two years later, high school administrators chose not to re-hire Erin after it was revealed that she was a lesbian, and had counseled a struggling LGBT student. In a piece in The Huffington Post, she writes to the high school’s principal, Sr. Lois, with an appeal to welcome LGBT members into a school she greatly cares for.
Erin begins by describing her education at the high school in the early 2000s, writing:
“I left these halls with a strong sense of self, unwavering confidence, a conviction to charity, and the belief that I was accepted and valued in this community. I felt securely rooted in the teachings and values fostered within these walls. If one were to ask, I would concede that this institution has uniquely shaped the woman I am today.”
Erin expresses her concern for the high school’s lack of LGBT support, citing statistics that say 9 of 10 LGBT youth are bullied in school and they are four times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual youth. She writes:
“Yet, this institution, a school which boasts pillars of character, has made it a point to outright exclude the LGBT community on the basis that they do not fit into Catholic teachings….Ignorance and blind denial will not solve this problem. Sincere and sensitive consideration needs to be given to the issue at hand: there is not a single resource for students struggling with the ideas of sexual identity. Furthermore, empathetic and proactive adults are left as offerings on the altar of litigation and politics. What example are we setting for students when such atrocities are condoned?”
Erin then addresses her own termination in 2011 and calls the high school to embrace a more welcoming attitude:
“I find no remorse in my spirit as an offering of condolence. In my heart, my behavior was justified in that it was in the best interest of the student. Her physical and emotional well-being surpassed my need for professional safety and personal anonymity. I find the shortsightedness of this administration unconscionable and my dismissal to be a cowardly attempt to sweep a larger issue under the rug…
“Make this a community that behaves in the most Christian of manners by accepting all children of God and creating an environment safe from judgment, ridicule, and violence…It was with charity and compassion in my heart that I reached out to a student in need. If this is my penance, I righteously accept it.”
Finally, she speaks to Sr. Lois and those reading the letter about how the trials since 2011 have changed her, and the hope she finds moving forward:
“There’s no point in reliving the negativity of a select few; better to rejoice in the appreciative nature of the majority. My main takeaway revolves around the ideas of fear and vulnerability…[Fear] prevents us from telling someone how we feel, trusting the unknown, or reaching out to people in need. We are afraid that the actions we might take will cause us pain, embarrassment, or judgment, so we don’t take them. Instead, we stand very still, moving cautiously in familiar directions…Vulnerability is my greatest fear and yet in instances when I’d least like to be vulnerable, I find it to be my greatest ally. This year, I learned to trust that, in most cases, people will do the right thing.
“More importantly, had I not trusted, I would have forfeited the opportunity to allow people to do the right thing; essentially, perpetuating and justifying my fear…I am contented in knowing I chose to open the door, in the face of fear, risking vulnerability, and was met with understanding, compassion, and love from most. Although my dismissal has been hard to bear, it is my hope that, in the not too distant future, I will think of my time here with fondness, rather than resentment. As a woman of faith, I know that forgiveness is as much a gift to the innocent as it is the guilty.”
While Erin Macke is only one of many LGBT individuals fired from a Catholic institution, similar to Carla Hale or Nicholas Coppola of recent weeks, she provides a hopeful lesson for all who find themselves rejected or hurt.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry