The two LGBTQ church workers terminated by Roncalli High School have spoken out in recent interviews about their quests for justice.
Shelly Fitzgerald, the former Roncalli guidance counselor who lost her job for being in a same-gender marriage, spoke with the Indianapolis Star about her life in the year since she was placed on leave and then fired. Fitzgerald shared about the costs of not only losing her job, but being publicly outed and labeled a source of division:
” ‘It makes me sick. . .But even more than that, students have felt like they didn’t have a voice. And teachers felt like they couldn’t stand up for us because they risked losing their jobs.
” ‘And even my family, you know, they didn’t ask for this. My wife, my daughter, they didn’t ask for this. My parents and my siblings. … They’re proud of me, and we love each other and it’s brought us closer, but there’s been a lot of pain that’s been caused, because of this.’ “
Being outed in national news was hard for her because “when you’re outed, without your permission, it becomes a really scary place to be” with people knowing invasive things about your life and having their many opinions.
But Fitzgerald also spoke about being “truly blessed” for the opportunity to become an advocate her firing has presented. She explained:
” ‘Instead of the focus being on that I’m a counselor that got fired, it allowed me to fight for something that was way, way bigger than just that.'”
That advocacy has included supporting the student-driven formation of the group Shelly’s Voice aimed at changing the Archdiocese of Indianapolis’ LGBTQ-negative employment policies. She has also spoken at several Pride events. Fitzgerald is also continuing her legal campaign against Roncalli. The Indianapolis Star reported:
“[David] Page, her lawyer and fellow Roncalli alum, argues though that the legal question isn’t about whether she broke the contract. It’s discrimination, he said, because of how that contract is being used against employees in same-sex marriages. Employees who violate the church’s morality clause in other ways — by getting divorced and remarried without an annulment or by using birth control — aren’t targeted in the same way, he said.
” ‘That’s where the discrimination lies,’ Page said, ‘not in the language of the contract, but in how you enforce it and who you enforce it against.’ “
Fitzgerald said she is unsure what the future holds, but it will likely not be a return to education because while she loves being a guidance counselor, she intends for something bigger now.
The Indianapolis Star also interviewed Lynn Starkey, who was the second Roncalli employee fired for being in a same-gender marriage after serving the school as a guidance counselor for nearly four decades. Starkey said she “fully intended to finish my career” at Roncalli and “that was taken away on the basis of who I am — not a choice — who I am and who I’m married to.”
Starkey now works at a local public school, but she, too, has continued to seek justice. She said it was “in my DNA that when there’s a wrong done, you do what you can,” and in her life that means attempting to prevent more church worker firings. Starkey has filed a lawsuit claiming discrimination against both Roncalli and the Archdiocese.
Advocates for the two church workers have continued to speak out against Roncalli, adding on grievances about the alleged mistreatment of students who publicly criticized the school for firing Fitzgerald and Starkey. Faithful America has launched a petition with more than 10,000 signatures now that asks school administrators to retract new policies that threaten students with expulsion for making such criticisms. The petition is available here.
Fitzgerald and Starkey’s legal and moral struggles for justice are important for all church workers, especially in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis where Archbishop Charles Thompson has targeted LGBTQ employees for discrimination and stripped a Jesuit school of its Catholic designation for refusing to discriminate. Whether or not their lawsuits prevail, these former employees have taught students valuable lessons in living with integrity and doing the work of justice.
To read an Indianapolis LGBTQ Catholic’s account of where she finds hope and freedom amid that archdiocese’s harmful employment disputes, click here.
To read a Catholic priest’s moving letter to Dominic Conover, a young gay advocate involved with Shelly’s Voice, click here.
For Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of the Indianapolis employment disputes involving Roncalli High, Cathedral High School, and Brebeuf Jesuity Preparatory School, click here.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 8, 2019