Though church officials’ employment disputes with LGBT church workers continue, faith communities are increasingly resisting such discrimination being perpetuated in their names. The community of Dowling Catholic High School, Des Moines, Iowa, site of one of the most recent cases, is a perfect example.
A moment of healing and unity occurred when more than 150 people prayed together following a student walkout on Wednesday. As one student described it:
“Students spoke their minds, spread words of love, held hands in prayer and even mustered up the courage to come out as gay/lesbian/bisexual in front of their peers.”
In prayer, those gathered were protesting the school’s decision to deny Tyler McCubbin a teaching job for being openly gay, while at the same time they were making known their support for LGBT students. Sophomore organizer Grace Mumm told The Des Moines Register:
” ‘I just want the community to know that this is a really important topic, and that just because our school officials or diocesan leaders might have made this decision, it does not directly reflect what we believe as students.’ “
Parents and alumni expressed their concerns to The Register, which ranged from the negative impact on educational quality and fundraising to the anti-Christian nature of such acts and how they turn young people away from faith. Brendan Comito, a parent and alum, said:
” ‘It saddens me that our school treated someone in that manner. I don’t think this is how Christ would act’…[School officials] are missing out on a lot of talented people who can have a positive impact.’ “
Concerns are also high about the wellbeing of LGBT and questioning students at Dowling Catholic, as such youth can be particularly vulnerable to mental health issues, self-harm, and suicide in such a formative life moment. McCubbin applauded students for “exercising their right to protest in terms of social justice,” adding:
“I want those students to know I want to be there for them, but I’m not allowed to be there because I’ve been true to myself…I hope there is a continued dialogue about discrimination and religion…The two together in the same sentence is a big oxymoron. It’s ridiculous that an institution that preaches peace and tolerance and so many great things about human beings can still discriminate against people who are just themselves.’ “
The school announced it will not be disciplining students who participated in the walk out, according to marketing manager Tara Nelson. Officials did, however, send letters to parents and alumni to explain their reasons for denying a contract offer to McCubbin. Reports indicate that due to Iowa’s religious exemptions in nondiscrimination laws, Dowling Catholic administrators are on firm legal ground in their decision.
The school’s negative decision, however, has become a rallying point for positive developments to emerge.
Kate Courter, a junior at Dowling, said she was able to come out to her parents as bisexual because the incident was being discussed at home and other students came out as gay and bisexual during the walkout rally.
Elsewhere, students began a Change.org petition, accessible here, asking the school to sponsor an LGBT support group and organizers are meeting with Dowling administrators to discuss how the school can better care for its students.
Faithful America, in their own petition here, is asking Des Moines’ Bishop Richard Pates to end the de facto “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in the diocese’s Catholic institutions.
More than 2,100 people have joined the Facebook group “Dowling Catholic Alumni, Faculty, and Students Against Discrimination” and are organizing around the hashtag, #DowlingCares.
Despite the tragedy of the school’s action, these acts of resistance are hopeful signs for the church’s future. To educate and minister to God’s people requires that church workers be their truest selves, ministering in openness and authenticity. For the good of the church’s mission, LGBT church workers must be welcomed to live as God created them so they can share their gifts with the students.
The intensity and frequency of movements to support church workers is increasing. Local communities, often led by high school students, are less and less afraid to say “no” to LGBT injustices committed by church officials. In a twist, their actions show how, contrary to discriminatory policies, Catholic schools are succeeding at forming students for a lived faith that does justice.
To lend your support, consider signing the above petitions or voicing your support on social media.
For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of these and other LGBT-related church worker disputes, click the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right or here. You can click here to find a full listing of the more than 40 incidents since 2008 where church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equality.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry