Three of the main figures in the recent story about a Catholic school’s decision to continue employing a transgender teacher have spoken with The San Francisco Chronicle, sharing some of their thoughts about this landmark case. Their reflections provide important information which could help other Catholic institutions follow their example when dealing with LGBT employment issues.
The newspaper account says the Sisters’ decision to keep Gabriel Bodenheimer, the teacher in question, on the staff of Mercy H.S., San Francisco, was “the only decision that aligned with their values.” Sister Laura Reicks, RSM, the president of the West-Midwest Region of the Sisters of Mercy, the sponsors of Mercy H.S., San Francisco, told the newspaper that though there were many facets to this case, one idea quickly surfaced as most important:
“Supporting the dignity of each person — regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identification — was paramount, Reicks said.”
Reicks also explained that the Sisters examined their congregation’s charism and traditions, and they realized that though this case was new to them, they had guidance from the principles upon which their community was founded:
” ‘We have not had any other teachers ask for any kind of coming out before,’ Reicks said. ‘This is just our way of continuing to live out what our founders of Sisters of Mercy had always said, that regardless of what type of prejudice or feeling in society, we have to take a higher road and look at the person and how we can be supportive of each person.’ “
In addition to seeing the decision as one based in moral principles, it sounds like the Sisters also saw their decision as a good professional policy:
“Reicks said the decision exemplified an overarching position within the order to hire teachers without considering gender identification, race, religion or sexual orientation.
” ‘Their personal lives are completely separate from their qualifications as teachers,’ she said. ‘We are concerned about the education of young women and we do not consider personal criteria when we hire the best person for each position.’ “
Also offering comments on the case was Diane Lawrence, board chair for Mercy H.S., who noted that so far no one from the school community has protested the decision. Lawrence also saw the educational value of such a decision, saying:
“We work with the girls on being respectful, respecting the dignity of others. In my mind, this exemplifies what we’re teaching.”
And, finally, there is Gabriel Bodenheimer, the transgender teacher, who is Jewish, but says that he loves teaching at Mercy H.S. Bodenheimer said the he “never sought to break ground in transgender rights,” but also that “after four years it was time to come out.” He added:
“It was very important to speak, and name myself, and not be silent. The response I got was tremendously positive.”
Bodenheimer described one small incident over the last few days which seems to have touched his heart. The newspaper recounted the event:
“. . . [O]n Wednesday night, he received an email from a student — a simple, mundane note about rescheduling a meeting because of a doctor’s appointment.
“It started with, ‘Dear Mr. Bodenheimer.’
” ‘That was really a great moment,’ he said, noting that students, concerned about final exams, were largely unfazed by the announcement. ‘This is consistent with who I am. This is not some shocking information.’ “
So many lessons to be gleaned from this entire case:
- the importance of religious leaders being true to their values
- the realization that gender identity does not affect a teacher’s professional effectiveness
- the recognition that a school teaches not only in through its classroom lessons, but through its administrative decisions, too
- the necessity to be true to one’s self
- the next generation’s amazing acceptance of diverse gender and sexual identities
Leaders in other Catholic institutions should take the time to reflect on these ideas and facts, so that when they are faced with similar situations, they, too will be able to respond authentically and justly.
For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of 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 50 incidents since 2008 where church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equality.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
Related articles and posts:
Associated Press: “Catholic school lets transgender teacher keep job”
Queering The Church: “New Ways” Welcomes Trans Employment at Catholic School”