Alumnae and students of one Catholic school are raising concerns about where the school and its administration stand on LGBT issues after a respected speaker on HIV topics, who had been a frequent guest at school events, was disinvited due to conservative protests.
Notre Dame High School in Belmont, California, annually invited Gregg Cassin to speak for nearly two decades. His presentation to the junior-level Women in Relationships classes focused on HIV education, but also covered “issues of self-esteem and self-acceptance,” according to the San Francisco Examiner.
This year’s presentations were cancelled after a conservative Catholic website posted about Cassin and his work for LGBT rights. The Daily Journal reports:
“Cassin was scheduled to talk to the four religious studies classes in March but, because he has a new work schedule, could only come for one of two days scheduled. The online post came out between Cassin’s appearance in March and this week. Over Easter break, Notre Dame teacher Barbara Sequeira arranged for Cassin to come back to the school Tuesday to make up for the missed day, which Head of School Maryann Osmond didn’t find out about until Monday. Given the publicity, she felt the best thing to do for the present time was to hold off on having him back again until next year while things settled down…
” [Osmond said:] ‘It was my intention to protect my relationship with Gregg and to make sure I could continue the relationship. … I realize that my reasons for the decision could be misinterpreted.’ “
In the wake of cancelling Cassin, Notre Dame alumnae began “NDB Women Respond,” a Facebook group supporting the speaker which has gathered more than 2,400 members and includes current students as well.
Rather than confrontation, though, the alumnae, the school’s head, and Gregg Cassin have sought a positive resolution through their honest conversations with one another.
The school’s head admitted that she failed to communicate appropriately with Cassin, who she called a “really valued member of this community…[who] has made a profound difference in the lives of our graduates.” Osmond would like to talk with Cassin about rescheduling for this year, if time permits. Alumnae are crediting Osmond for being communicative about the incident and meeting with almost all current students.
For his part, Cassin is hopeful that a positive resolution will be reached and blames the “witch-hunt that this right-wing Catholic website has on the LGBT community” for the unfortunate incident. The Daily Journal quotes him as further saying:
” ‘It’s really damaging and it sends schools into a little bit of a tailspin. They wonder “what’s going to happen? Is the archdiocese is going to come down on them?” Is LGBT staff safe? Is there going to be some sort of mandate? ‘ …
” ‘All of those schools should have come together immediately and taken a stand…I would love to have the four schools meet. It would be a show of unity and not cowering to that kind of bigotry. The Archdiocese is staying out of it, so we should be taking the stand. We know our values and what our hearts require of that and that is inclusion. A much greater majority of Catholics are in support of gay rights and LGBT equality. It’s ridiculous to cower to a few archaic, mean-spirited people.’ “
Cassin is referencing three area Catholic high schools also included in the conservative website’s criticisms. He expressed a willingness to meet with Osmond and end the controversy, which was simply a “misstep based around fear of negative publicity.”
The situation in Belmont is an instructive one for LGBT people and their allies when approaching institutions in the Catholic Church. Neither school administrators, alumnae, nor Gregg Cassin hold ill will against one another. Yet, when faced with the potentially troubling situation of conservative attacks, fear influenced decision-making. Osmond regrets her actions and will seek to rectify the harm done, but let us hope that the next time a school or parish faces such a situation, the students and leaders will stand united against critics seeking to divide LGBT people from the one Body of Christ.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry