Alumni of a Chicago Catholic high school which fired a gay teacher two years ago have begun renewed efforts for justice after that teacher released an essay about his experiences last month.
Twenty seven alumni of St. Ignatius College Prep wrote a letter to school officials that revealed they were “outraged and disappointed” upon learning about the firing of Matt Tedeschi. The Chicago Sun Times reported:
“‘It is shocking to learn that a gay teacher at St. Ignatius was subjected to harassment and bullying by a small group of students, and that the administration not only failed to defend Mr. Tedeschi, but instead turned around and protected his harassers, and then fired him,’ the group wrote.
“The alumni proposed a long list of changes and protections for LGBTQ faculty and students, including promoting LGBTQ student groups; adding sexual orientation and gender identity to its non-discrimination policy; allowing faculty to unionize; and removing and replacing the school’s president, vice president and principal.”
The alumni action came after Tedeschi, who used to teach religious studies and French, published an essay online in March that described his firing in greater detail. The Sun Times explained that the former teacher shared for the first time about an incident of sexual assault reporting that happened in the same time period he was fired:
“In Tedeschi’s essay last month, he revealed that he had been dismissed a few weeks after he told administrators of a situation in his class where a student publicly told him of the sexual assault of a girl by a fellow student.
“Students in Tedeschi’s class were upset about the firing of another teacher who was gay and felt there was a lack of transparency and accountability by school leaders, he wrote. That’s when one student told Tedeschi about the sexual assault and said it had been reported to administrators and nothing had been done about it.
“Tedeschi brought the report to the school principal, who said it was good he relayed the information quickly but became upset the teacher “allowed the discussion to go on at all,” he wrote.
“Tedeschi was fired days later with his handling of the report and his ‘poor judgment’ in making a dating profile given as the official reasons. Tedeschi, though, said he found out from an administrator that there were plans to terminate him solely because of the dating profile before the sexual assault was even reported. His firing came despite there being no written record of charges against him in his personnel file, which only contained positive performance reviews, he said.”
Controversy over the dating profile was known in 2017 when news of the firing broke. Tedeschi claimed at the time he had been targeted by students who found his profile online and who used it in a campaign of harassment in person and on social media. The former teacher said school officials did almost nothing to curtail the students’ behavior after he reported it. St. Ignatius officials have continued to deny Tedeschi was fired because he is gay, suggesting that while they could not comment, in the latest alumni letter “there were many facts omitted.” Students and alumni of St. Ignatius rallied behind Tedeschi in 2017 as well.
Meanwhile, Tedeschi’s essay included his own recommendations building upon the school’s Jesuit charism for how it could become more inclusive of LGBTQ students and staff. These include changes to the non-discrimination policy, improved treatment of the school’s LGBT student group, as well as implementing some best practices for worker rights like a union. Tedeschi, who now works at a law firm specializing in non-discrimination, also said the Catholic school should “disavow invoking the ‘ministerial exemption,’ which often serves to rob victims of justice.”
To read Matt Tedeschi’s full essay on the website Medium, click here.
Tedeschi’s recommendations reveal his new work in non-discrimination law as they are nuanced and thorough. He has not simply decried the firing of LGBTQ church workers, but offered St. Ignatius (and Catholic schools more widely) a concrete road map to ensure it practices Church teaching on labor rights in a meaningful way, including an end to anti-LGBTQ discrimination. There may be no just solution for Tedeschi’s firing, but with his wisdom and alumni pressure, St. Ignatius officials have what they need to make sure a similar incident never happens there again.
In the last decade, more than 80 church workers have gone public about losing their jobs in LGBT-related employment disputes. You can find a full listing of these incidents here, as well as New Ways Ministry’s resources on church employment and LGBT issues here. For Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of church employment issues, click the “Employment” category on the right-hand side of this page.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 8, 2019
Patch Chicago, “Ignatius Fired Gay Teacher in 2017 – Has Anything Changed Since?