A former student at a Catholic high school which has fired two LGBTQ church workers in recent years is exposing the what he says was a hostile environment administrators created for him and others who called for justice.
Dominic Conover shared in The Advocate , a U.S. national LGBTQ magazine, bout how the firing of lesbian guidance counselor Shelly Fitzgerald led him and other students at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis to stand up for justice – and then face the consequences.
Conover wrote that twelve years of Catholic education had instilled in him the virtues of doing what is right and treating people equally. But when he tried to live out those values after Fitzgerald’s dismissal, Roncalli administrators allegedly punished him. The student was told by one teacher he was “leading people away from Christ” and by another official that Roncalli might not be “the right fit” for him. Conover continued:
“Until February, I continued to advocate despite the administration’s constant attempts to quiet my outspokenness. The fear of losing my ability to advocate became a reality in early February when I was told by the principal of Roncalli and the superintendent of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis that my recent public statements were no longer acceptable. They said graduation was only a few months away. They ‘wanted’ to let me walk on graduation day.
“In that very moment, I was terrified. My diploma. My college education. My hard work. That is what they were willing to dangle over my head in order to hear nothing but silence from me. I felt defeated when I looked down at the table and said, ‘I will be silent in order to graduate from this school.’ They ended the meeting shortly after. The closing remark still rings in my ear: ‘Well Dominic, this seems to have been a very productive meeting.’ They finally got what they wanted and, at that very moment, my heart finally broke as I realized I fell in love with a church that did not approve of who I was.”
Conover explained that he felt “heartbroken” during graduation because of the pressure. Now, having graduated, he choosing to speak out for the “countless students who were and are still being targeted for supporting LGBTQ+ causes.” Conover concluded with an appeal especially to LGBTQ youth who had become involved with activism, but to all advocates for equality, too:
“To this day, Shelly’s Voice Advocacy Group continues to live out its mission of advocating for a better, more inclusive Catholic community. I urge each one of you to stand with us by writing a letter to a church leader asking them to change the way in which they treat the LGBTQ+ community. Join us in making sure the Catholic Church understands that LGBTQ+ youth matter. Join us in erasing the prejudice that LGBTQ+ students have to experience in their schools.
“Stand up and be a part of the change with us, unafraid.”
To that end, the group Shelly’s Voice has initiated a letter-writing campaign directed at the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, reported The Advocate. The group said it encouraged “healthy conversation” and making Catholics’ voices heard to church leaders.
Conover’s description of school administrators’ intimidation is quite alarming. Threatening a student’s educational path goes against all Catholic education values. Such actions are further evidence that Roncalli’s firings directly injure other community members, too. And each instance of discrimination and intimidation multiplies in the negative atmosphere that it creates for LGBTQ students and staff who remain there.
Instead of issuing threats, Roncalli officials should be lauding students like Dominic Conover for enacting the Catholic values which they have learned when it matters most. Catholics everywhere should take up his call and write to church leaders in support of LGBTQ youth. To find contact information for your local bishop, click here.
For the latest developments on church employment disputes at Roncalli and other Catholic schools in Indianapolis, click here. For Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of church employment issues, click the “Employment” category on the right-hand side of this page. For New Ways Ministry’s resources on church employment and LGBTQ issues here.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 4, 2019