A few weeks back, Bondings 2.0 reported and commented on employment disputes over LGBT issues at Catholic schools in the neighboring states of Iowa and Nebraska. Though neither case has been resolved with a gay teacher being allowed to work, some unexpected results have occurred.
In Des Moines, Iowa, where Tyler McCubbin, a substitute teacher, had a full-time job offer revoked when it was learned that he was engaged to a man, student organizers at his former school, Dowling Catholic H.S., have succeeded in getting a gay-straight alliance established and officially recognized and supported.
The group, called “One Human Family” was proposed by four students on the day after McCubbin’s dispute was announced. According to The Des Moines Register, Dowling President Jerry Deegan wrote to parents announcing the organization’s formation:
” ‘Pope Francis has challenged us to be sensitive and provide a caring, compassionate, respectful environment for all of our students on their faith journey.’ He went on to say the club will support students who may identify or have questions about same-sex attraction.
” ‘Some will believe that One Human Family will not be progressive enough while others may believe the formation of this club is misguided,’ the letter said. ‘As the president of Dowling Catholic, I will always strive, along with our faculty, to make certain all students are given the support, respect, and guidance during their formative years. This club will add to that effort in a positive way.’ “
McCubbin had stated that he was hopeful that such an organization would be established to support LGBT students at the school. Student leaders were very pleased with the administration’s recognition. The Register quoted two of them:
” ‘I’m really excited to get this started,’ said Grace Mumm, a sophomore who organized the walkout, which sparked national media coverage. ‘I have a lot of confidence that the school is going to cooperate with us really well, and we’ve been working really closely with them.’ . . . .
” ‘I feel really great,’ said Junior Liam Jameson, who started a petition that garnered 1,700 signatures in favor of the club. ‘I’m sure we’re going to get some backlash, but it’s a big step forward for students at Dowling and in the community in general.’ “
In an editorial after the gay-straight alliance was announced, The Des Moine Register praised the students’ efforts for compassion and equality, and noted the importance of such an organization:
“A Catholic institution may have the legal right to deny employment to a teacher who does not follow church canon, but all schools should provide a welcoming and safe environment for all students.”
I would add that just because a Catholic institution may have a legal right, it doesn’t mean that it is moral or just to exercise that right by firing competent teachers.
In Omaha, Nebraska, where Matthew Eledge was fired from his job teaching English and coaching the speech team at Skutt Catholic H.S., students recently used the school’s fundraising walk for financial aid programs to show support for him and express displeasure at the administration’s decision.
KETV reported that during the annual “Hawk Walk,’ students donned T-shirts emblazoned with the messages: “I Support Mr. Eledge” and “Love one another as I have loved you,” a passage from the gospels.
The students’ petition to reverse the administration’s decision has collected over 95,000 signatures in less than a month.
The Huffington Post interviewed one of the students who organized the action:
“Darya Kaboli-Nejad, a senior at the school, said that about 100 Skutt students purchased the shirts. She told HuffPost that Eledge has changed her life forever ‘through his teaching and actions.’
” ‘To be honest, I didn’t think the T-shirt campaign would get Mr. Eledge a job back at Skutt,’ Kaboli-Nejad told HuffPost in an email. ‘But my goal is for this unfair situation to never occur to another human being again. The ultimate dream is to impact one person’s life. If this campaign can get enough attention, then maybe one day, one person out there will remember how much hurt and pain this caused Mr. Eledge and his friends and family, that they will stand up for what they know is right and just.’ “
In a BuzzFeed interview, Eledge explained some of his motivation for going public and also his gratitude to supporters:
“Eledge said he was reluctant at first to address the issue because he wanted to make sure he wasn’t just speaking with his ‘ego.’
“However, he said, he’s come to realize that his story has ‘represented something way bigger.’
“Eledge said both he and Elliot are ‘more than anything totally and 100% moved and humbled and in awe of the way people are reaching out.’
“ ‘The support from the community has made me feel very loved and accepted,’ he said.”
The responses in both cases show how the Catholic community’s quest for justice and equality for LGBT people may take some necessary detours, but that the work will go on, no matter what kind of obstacles are placed in the way.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry