Supporters of two fired church workers have continued their ongoing protests in Michigan and Missouri, responding to the latest in at least twenty employment disputes at Catholic institutions in 2014 that have been related to LGBT issues.
Marian High School
Community members at Marian High School, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, are standing by Barbara Webb, the lesbian chemistry teacher and coach fired in August for becoming pregnant outside marriage. More than 100 school community members have twice rallied at the school’s entrance and plan to do the same today. Online, a Facebook page called “I Stand with Barb Webb” has gained nearly 5,000 followers, a Change.org petition has gained more than 34,000 signatures, and there is a website, www.standwithbarb.com.
“Amber Mazza Cunnings, a 2001 Marian graduate, said the movement is about bringing light to a social injustice she said the school teaches its students to confront.
” ‘Marian teaches us about social justice in profound ways…This is a human rights issue. There’s a mother and a child involved. (Standing up for them) is what we were taught to do.’
“Brigid Johnson, 17, a senior at Marian, said the teacher’s absence was not explained to students. Teachers have told students they are forbidden to speak about it, she said.
” ‘I was just really kind of disappointed…We’re taught, as Christians and Catholics, about love and forgiveness and acceptance. So the first thing that came to mind was, “What could we do?” ‘ ”
Speaking with Michigan Radio, Johnson said that firing a pregnant mother “does not seem to be supporting life, or anyone’s life,” a nod to the school’s pro-life identity. Another student has commented, “After all, Marian was named after a woman with a nontraditional pregnancy.”
A Marian employee, speaking anonymously to WZZM 13, said faculty are supportive of Webb and some have even offered to resign in protest. The employee also expressed concern for students, who are “visibly upset” and yet unable to discuss Webb’s firing per school officials’ orders. Senior Brigid Johnson commented on the situation for students as well, saying:
” ‘Lower classmen … don’t know what’s happening right now just because they’re new, and no one’s talking about it. So I hope we can bring it to light and teach these younger students that we are accepting and we are loving and you’re safe here.’ “
Marian president Sister Lenore Pochelski is still declining to comment beyond confirming Webb is no longer employed, though this incident has received widespread international and media attention.
This is not the first time Marian High School has fired a lesbian employee. Charlene Genther was let go in 2006 after coming at as gay in a book she authored, and said Webb had been supportive then and that the two speak daily now.
Barbara Webb has said she would not return to Marian if offered her job back, but identified this movement around the firing as something bigger with import for the school community, and especially LGBT students:
” ‘It’s not about me anymore…Really, it never was. It’s time for the students at Marian to have an outlet. There’s no (Gay-Straight Alliance) club for students to express themselves. It’s time to change the outlook for the future.’ “
Cor Jesu Academy
Members of the Cor Jesu Academy community, St. Louis, Missouri, are similarly protesting after two educators were fired from the chool. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, dozens rallied last week for Olivia Reichert and Christina Gambaro who lost their jobs due to their same-sex relationship. Those attending included LGBT advocates and other Christian groups who expressed solidarity with students at Cor Jesu who identify as LGBT.
Rev. Wes Mullins of the Metropolitan Community Church cited Pope Francis in her explanation:
” ‘If the pope says that, what is Cor Jesu doing?…Where is their message of Jesus’ love and grace in their actions? Because we don’t see it.’
” ‘If you’re a student there, do you really feel safe talking to any of the teachers now?…Are you going to talk to a principal now? I wouldn’t.’ “
A letter to the editor from a gay Catholic, Andrew Brown, sets the Cor Jesu firings in the larger context of LGBT discrimination. Brown uses his faith and these firings to call for legislative action in Missouri:
“As a graduate student at the Brown School of Social Work, I am passionate about ending all injustices, including discrimination for being gay. As a gay Catholic, it deeply hurts me to see a school that represents my church discriminating against someone who is gay just like me…
“LGBT people face similar discrimination in nonreligious workplaces throughout Missouri. One way to improve this situation is the passage of legislation that protects LGBT people from discrimination. The Missouri Nondiscrimination Act, which would supply basic protections in workplaces across Missouri, must be passed in order to ensure equality for all citizens.”
Non-discrimination laws would help protect LGBT workers, but these have often contained religious exemptions allowing faith-based institutions leniency. One way to make an impact at Catholic institutions would be implementing an inclusive non-discrimination policy at your local parish or Catholic school. More information on how to do this is available through New Ways Ministry by clicking here.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry