As schools open their doors in the U.S., many LGBT educators in Catholic schools will re-enter what one teacher has called a “somewhat fraught existence.” Working in Catholic education is not an entirely safe employment environment; some 60 church workers have lost their jobs in LGBT-related disputes since 2008.
Writing in Eureka Street, an Australian Catholic magazine, that same teacher, using the pseudonym Alex Ryan, described his experiences as a gay religion teacher. Ryan said a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is “implied” for LGBT people in church-affiliated institutions:
“This black cloud hangs over our every public action because, for some reason, teachers’ lives are something our communities feel entitled to know and talk about. . .Whether it’s our social media posts, or even just holding our partner’s hand in public, we must carefully curate our outward appearance so as to not technically break Church rules, even if many of us live in a ‘glass closet’. Though we know it is unlikely we will be fired, we also know the potential is there if the wrong student or parent catches whiff of our supposedly un-Christian behaviour.”
Many other educators openly defy Catholic teaching in regards to other issues, be they Protestants or heterosexual people using artificial contraception. Ryan said the potential firing of LGBT educators exclusively”arbitrarily discriminate[s] against an already vulnerable group.” He commented:
“That, surely, would be a plank in the Church’s eye far bigger than the speck in mine.”
Ryan’s own concerns increased in 2016 when he entered his first long-term, same-gender relationship since he began teaching. Working for a Catholic school meant Ryan could not be public about his boyfriend. He described his experience:
“You may think this isn’t a big deal, but I would challenge the average person to go weeks, months, and years without mentioning any aspect of their love life to any coworker. The stress of hiding a major part of life is not insignificant; one wrong move and our livelihood is on the line. This is not to mention that, with the personal scrutiny school administration positions face, our career advancement opportunities in Catholic schools are limited.”
Against critics who might argue Ryan should leave Catholic education, he affirmed both his desire to be a religion teacher “in a place where my faith is ingrained in the everyday routine,” as well as the benefits to Catholic schools that LGBT employees bring:
“Ever since I decided I wanted to be a teacher, I wanted to teach religion. Though it’s not my job to convert students, like in the old catechetical model of Catholic schools, I hope students can at least leave my classroom with an appreciation of how faith contributes to our world. I’m gay, but I’m also Catholic.
“LGBTIQ+ people have a lot to contribute to our Catholic schools. To deny our students access to amazing teachers is surely a greater assault to ‘decency’ than what these teachers are doing in the privacy of their own homes.”
Compiling this post, I was struck that a pseudonym was needed to protect the author from repercussions when he was simply sharing his narrative. Honesty like Ryan’s should not mandate hiddenness, though it is understandable that he did so. The church, especially its educational institutions, must be spaces of inquiry and dialogue consistent with the conciliar teachings of Vatican II. To paraphrase Pope Francis, Catholic education should seek to help form consciences, not replace them.
This “somewhat fraught existence” described by Ryan is thankfully not the final word, either in Ryan’s essay or for the church. He envisioned that when Catholic institutions welcome community members as their fullest selves, passions will become ignited, gifts will be shared, schools most definitely will be enriched. As a new school year begins in the U.S., let us pray Catholic schools will embrace honesty and authenticity as they end “glass closets.”
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 9, 2017