A lesbian couple has filed a discrimination complaint against a Catholic housing agency in Ohio, which has previously had trouble due to alleged anti-LGBTQ actions.
Melanie Dingess and Leslie Conners filed their complaint against St. Vincent de Paul Housing Facilities with the City of Newark’s Fair Housing Board. The couple claimed they had to leave their apartment at The Gardens on Sixth, a transitional housing facility, because they were in a same-gender relationship. The Newark Advocate reported further:
“The couple moved into the apartment on Jan. 1, 2018. A month later, they learned from Donna Gibson, director of operations for St. Vincent de Paul Housing Facilities, the couple was not welcome living there. . .
“Gibson said her boss, John Paul Munhall, executive director of St. Vincent de Paul Housing Facilities, had a problem with a gay couple living together at The Gardens.
“‘It was the end of January, beginning of February, when he said there’s girls here, both in the same apartment, and they’re a couple,’ Gibson said. ‘I didn’t know where it was leading. I said what is the issue, and he kept saying they’re a couple.’
“‘He said we can’t have a gay couple here. The Catholic Foundation would not fund us. I was dumbfounded.'”
At this time, Dingess, who was in recovery for substance abuse, relapsed and was jailed for seven-days. Upon release, Gibson told Dingess and Conners they were no longer welcome at The Gardens. Gibson, who has since left her job with St. Vincent de Paul, claimed her action was to prevent a more damaging encounter with Munhall in which she described as a “very harassing situation”:
“‘I was more concerned at that point what he might say to her,’ Gibson said. ‘People have lost their lives when they’ve relapsed. We’re trying to help the addicted, not make it worse.’
“Gibson, who confirmed other residents were not asked to leave following a drug relapse, said Munhall told her to ask residents if they’re gay, if they’re married, and if they’re having sex.
“‘I said I’m not doing that,’ Gibson said. ‘I said you’re asking me to do stuff that’s against the law.'”
St. Vincent de Paul Housing Facilities is denying any wrongdoing. Tom Harvey, the president, released a statement describing the complaint as “groundless” and said the agency would cooperate. Newark, Ohio city councilors approved an LGBTQ non-discrimination ordinance in 2016 that includes housing rights, and an investigation is now being opened as result of Dingess’ complaint.
Dingess’ complaint is not the first claim of discrimination by St. Vincent de Paul Housing Facilities; indeed, she said she only filed after talking with another same-gender couple who shared with her their own discrimination by the agency. The Newark Advocate described other alleged incidents:
“The United Way of Licking County last year rejected an application for funding from St. Vincent de Paul Housing Facilities after learning of alleged discrimination against gay and unmarried couples living at The Gardens.
“United Way Executive Director Deb Dingus said local organizations can only receive United Way funds if they pledge not to discriminate in providing services. They must sign a diversity and inclusion agreement.
“‘They signed the agreement, but it was clear they were not going to be able to abide by all the statements in the agreement,” Dingus said at the time.
“Dennis Harrington, managing attorney at Southeastern Ohio Legal Services, said last summer he had received several complaints about housing discrimination at The Gardens.”
Whether or not the city finds discrimination occurred in the the case of Dingess and Conners, clearly something at St. Vincent de Paul Housing Facilities is amiss when it comes to LGBTQ people. The tragedy of this situation is compounded by the fact that a Catholic social service agency should be alleviating the problems of people who are in recovery or are finding stable housing, not further discriminating against them because they are LGBTQ-identified. Hopefully this investigation, whatever the outcome, will be an impetus for St. Vincent de Paul administrators and funders to review their approach to LGBTQ clients for the benefit of all parties.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, April ??, 2019