Update: In a follow-up statement, Barbara Webb clarified that it was her pregnancy outside marriage and not her sexual orientation that was the cause of her firing. There is still no comment from Marian High School officials.
There are more questions than clear answers in the firing of Barbara Webb, a former chemistry teacher at Marian High School in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. In a Facebook post, Webb states the Catholic school fired her for being a gay woman and mlive.com quotes the post for further explanation:
“Kristen and I are expecting our first baby. I’m about 14 weeks. We are very excited and blessed and look forward to all that parenting will be.
“On the flip side of the coin, Marian was unwilling to offer me any type of leave and of course they were not willing to grant me the same right that a half dozen other teachers are enjoying this year while starting their families. In fact, Marian’s options to me, after 9 years of dedication including league winning coaching, 4.0 averages in AP chemistry scores, PD for the school based on my personal best practices, and dozens of students and family testimonials is 1) resign or 2) we will terminate you.”
Webb notes that administrators at the all-girls school offered to continue her health insurance through May if she signed left willingly and remained quiet, but the fired teacher’s response was that “$4k of health insurance wasn’t enough to buy my silence.”
The former teacher, who was also a volleyball coach, linked her firing over maternity leave issues to her identity as a partnered lesbian woman, writing:
“It is part of Marian’s mission to educate women about human diversity and in this have really missed out on a true life opportunity to set an example. Instead they are only perpetuating hate…
“My job can’t be saved but the torment that the poor LGBT students at Marian must be feeling (right let’s be real they exist too) the other LGBT staff (again let’s be real people) and those that are silenced by fear can be helped.”
What remains unclear are the exact reasons for Webb’s firing, as both diocesan and school officials have remained quiet. Ned McGrath, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Detroit, confirmed only that a teacher from the high school was no longer employed after a “personnel matter” and there would be no further comment. Marian administrators, as well as representatives of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters of Monroe who sponsor the all-girls school, have been silent after repeated requests for comment.
It is certainly a possibility that Barbara Webb was fired for a number of reasons: her sexual orientation, her relationship status, becoming pregnant while not officially married, a combination of these, or something else entirely. The firing of more than a dozen LGBT and ally church workers this year alone adds credibility to Webb’s claims, but until school officials and the IHM sisters are willing to clarify publicly what happened, the public is left to guess. Hopefully, information on just what happened between Barbara Webb and Marian High School will be forthcoming as a matter of truth and justice for all involved. Since we live in an atmosphere where LGBT people are regularly being fired from Catholic institutions, the church leaders in this case need to be clear what their motivations were. They owe it to Webb and the public, but they also owe it to themselves, as a matter of integrity, to state their reasons. Injustice is always perpetuated by silence.
That said, Webb’s closing of the Facebook post (which has been shared more than 650 times) is a message worth repeating:
“Here is what you can do: make one conscience effort to stand up to hatred. Whether it is for LGBT rights or racial, or religious or socioeconomic or women’s or special needs… Make yourself take that leap of faith to do the right thing and I promise you will not regret it, you may even find it catchy…Every act of justice that we can do collectively gets us one step further to a truly recognized human diversity.”
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry