A gay teacher was fired from a North Carolina Catholic high school, the first firing announced in 2015 after a year which saw more than twenty church workers losing their jobs over LGBT-related employment disputes. Who is actually responsible for the firing the decision is disputed.
Lonnie Billard, who taught English and drama at Charlotte Catholic High School, was fired last summer after more than fifteen years of teaching during which he won the teacher of the year award multiple times. Billard was let go when his engagement to a male partner became public on Facebook. According to Billard, the firing comes directly from the Diocese of Charlotte, not the school. QNotes repots :
” ‘This was not a decision by Charlotte Catholic High School,’ Billard said in an interview with qnotes on Monday. ‘I had talked with one of the administration officials. He knew [about the announcement]. He didn’t care. He said he knew me to be a good teacher and a good person.’…
” ‘Apparently there were a couple teachers there who are super-conservative Catholic…They are not friends of mine on Facebook, but they found out about it and escalated it so it got to the diocese.’ “
However, the diocese’s newspaper reports it was administrators at Charlotte Catholic who fired Billard from substitute teaching, a position he has held since retiring in 2012. Despite placing the blame for the decision with the school, a diocesan spokesperson is defending the firing which Billard says is not only personally upsetting but also quite dangerous for LGBT students. The teacher told QNotes:
” ‘I was terribly hurt…I love to teach. I absolutely love to teach and to be denied that opportunity for something never even enters the classroom was devastating.’
” ‘I know exactly what message it sends. I’ve heard from them. It sends the message that they don’t matter…One of the counselors there actually had a kid come into their office after this announcement and asked, “Am I going to be expelled because I’m gay?” It sends such a destructive and hurtful message to kids, instead of validating them for their beauty and validating them for the love they bring. It tells them they don’t count.’ “
Support from students, parents, alumni, and others at the school has been overwhelming and Billard is confident he will teach elsewhere. However, he is unsure how this will impact his relationship with the church:
” ‘It got to the point where every time something came up, the diocese was so negative and so hurtful to LGBT people. It’s very difficult for me to go into church and find the peace to worship when I know that everything they stand for behind that service is wrong.’ “
This case is not the first time LGBT issues have become controversial for both the Charlotte diocese or the high school. In 2012, a gay music director Steav Bates-Congdon was fired from a parish position for marrying his husband. Last year, the high school hosted anti-gay speaker Dominican Sr. Jane Dominic Laurel who told students at a mandatory all-school assembly that homosexuality results from absentee fathers or masturbation, and she linked same-gender parents to child abuse. After public protests and petitions, more than 1,000 concerned parents showed up to a town hall meeting. The school later apologized for allowing the controversial nun to speak.
In 2014, there were 23 church workers who publicly lost their jobs due to LGBT-related issues. The scandal caused and damage done by each one is immeasurable, but these incidents are especially potent in the minds of high school students who are members of a generation which is overwhelmingly LGBT-positive. Whatever reasons that Charlotte Catholic administrators or the Diocese of Charlotte had for firing Billard, this discrimination is precisely what Pope Francis refers to when he speaks of “vaccines against faith” for young Catholics. Hopefully, this firing, which happened in July 2014 but is only now becoming public, will not be indicative of the months to come.
For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of ‘Employment Issues,’ click the category to the right. For a full listing of LGBT-related firings, with links for further information, click here. And if you are interested in helping protect LGBT and ally church workers by implementing an inclusive non-discrimination policy at your local parish or Catholic school, more information on how to do this is available by clicking here.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry