A church worker placed on administrative leave after her same-gender marriage became known to Catholic officials will appear on The Ellen Show tomorrow, September 7th, after weeks of support from the school community where she works.
Shelly Fitzgerald, a guidance counselor at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, will appear on Ellen DeGeneres’ show alongside pop music superstar Cher this coming Friday. Last month, school officials told Fitzgerald she could choose between keeping her job and dissolving her marriage. Since then members of the school community have objected strongly to Roncalli administrators’ actions.
Students have led the campaign in support of Fitzgerald. Some students formed “Shelly’s Voice,” a group aimed at expanding LGBT inclusion at Roncalli, but there has allegedly been pushback by the administration, too. The Indianapolis Star reported:
“In the school’s season-opening football game two weeks ago, Roncalli students donned multi-colored leis, waved pride flags and wore heart-shaped stickers in a show of support for Fitzgerald. Senior running back Elijah Mahan came onto the field waving a pride flag and played the game wearing rainbow wristbands.
In an email to IndyStar, [senior Matt] Gaskill said the school started shutting down such displays last week.
“‘Last week we were told that none of the football players could wear anything besides school colors which was obviously directed at Elijah bringing a pride flag onto the field,’ Gaskill said. ‘(Principal Chuck Weisenbach) told us today that we were no longer supporting Mrs.Fitzgerald but simply going against the church and that any rainbow or pride gear worn inside of school or at football games would result in punishment which could include suspensions.’
“He said there were signs hung on school lockers encouraging students to wear rainbow to Friday’s football game.
“‘He specifically told the school that the locker signs in school saying to wear rainbow to the game were against our faith and religion and that we can be punished for it,” Gaskill said, after being asked about Weisenbach’s statement.”
Principal Chuck Weisenbach has denied students’ claims about banning all rainbow apparel or threatening punishment. Still, an alumnus sent the Indianapolis Star an email from the principal which confirmed that signs with the words “Pride Day” and a rainbow on them had been removed from the school. In that email, Weisenbach explained the signs were removed because they are “offensive” to Catholics by “advocating for a group or cause that stands in opposition to some of the Catholic church’s teachings.” Weisenbach has also been criticized for his recent use of the N-word at a school assembly, as an example of words that would not be tolerated at the school.
Alumni have expressed their opposition to the potential firing of Fitzgerald. Indiana State Representative Dan Forestal, who attended Roncalli, is working on legislation to withhold public funding from private schools that do not have adequate employment non-discrimination policies. Some 350 students at Roncalli received vouchers last year, and the school has received more than $6.5 million in public funds over the last five years. Forestal told The Indianapolis Star via a statement:
“‘As an alumni of Roncalli High School, I remain a part of the Roncalli family, and that makes Shelly Fitzgerald a family member too. . .Roncalli should not be rewarded with state dollars if they choose to discriminate against employees simply based on who they love. . .Roncalli should practice what they preach and reinstate Shelly Fitzgerald immediately and without any further consequences. And in the meantime, I will work to ensure that Hoosier tax dollars no longer fund these discriminatory actions.'”
Elsewhere, a Roncalli board member and parent of Roncalli alumni, Dan Parker, resigned over what he referred to as an “unfortunate and unnecessary” decision against Fitzgerald. According to the Indianapolis Star, in a letter to the board’s president, Parker wrote:
“‘I can attest to her amazing ability to inspire, guide and help shape the spiritual life of our Roncalli students who have been blessed to have her as a counselor. . .In every way, Shelly has been a faithful minister of the Church’s teachings and she has always preached the message of the Gospel in the meetings with my family. I believe her to be one of the greatest assets at Roncalli High School.”
Local Catholics unaffiliated with Roncalli have expressed their support for Fitzgerald as well, drawing parallels between this discrimination and the release of a Pennsylvania Grand Jury’s report detailing widespread clergy sexual abuse. Dignity/Indianapolis member Sam Albano, who was dismissed from parish ministry over his support for LGBT equality in 2014, told the Indianapolis Star, “It’s very hard to wrap your head around the hypocrisy in this situation.” Rita Wagner, a parishioner in Indianapolis, said, “There are no victims in a same-sex marriage. . .But there are definitely victims in the state of Pennsylvania. It’s sick.”
Addressing students before a school liturgy, Roncalli President Joseph Hollowell exhorted them to “take up your cross” and to “somehow ask for Jesus’ help to carry whatever cross this situation has brought on you.” Despite the school community’s widespread efforts to show support for Shelly Fitzgerald and to reject discrimination, it seems Roncalli administrators like Hollowell remain unmoved.
The actions of the school’s administrators are causing harm to Fitzgerald, her loved ones, and LGBT students? The school officials, not anyone else, are imposing the crosses? People in power exhorting the marginalized to “take up your cross” is a classic form of exploiting faith to sustain oppression.
Perhaps Hollowell and others do not comprehend the harm they are doing, perhaps they are unwilling to admit it to themselves, or perhaps they consider this harm an acceptable cost in pursuing anti-LGBT politics. Whatever the reason, it is past time for Shelly Fitzgerald to be reinstated and for discrimination at Roncalli High School to stop.
More than 80 cases of church workers losing their jobs in LGBT-related employment disputes have become public in the last decade. For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage LGBT-related employment issues in the church, click the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right or here. You can click here to find a full listing of such church workers and volunteers, as well as other information and resources about the topic..
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 6, 2018