A Catholic high school teacher whose job was terminated several weeks ago because of his same-gender marriage has spoken publicly for the first time out about the employment dispute and efforts to address the church’s treatment of LGBTQ employees.
James Zimmerman, a teacher for more than two decades at Archbishop Alter High School, Kettering, Ohio, was told by school administrators his contract would not be renewed for the coming academic year because of his same-gender marriage. That decision prompted protests by students and alumni. And now Zimmerman has ended his silence about the situation by speaking with Dayton Daily News:
“Zimmerman told the Dayton Daily News last week that after news of his firing, he made a detailed proposal to the Archdiocese, suggesting creation of a new group to study how the Catholic church treats gay employees. But Zimmerman said the Archdiocese rejected that proposal last week, and he said he’s considering legal action, not for money or to get his job back, but to trigger changes in Catholic policy.
“‘The goal of this letter was to find a way that LGBTQ teachers can serve openly and serve the needs of LGBTQ students at Catholic schools,’ Zimmerman said. ‘I’d rather do a win-win, where we can say we’re all working together on this, and we have a common goal of providing the best education and support for our students.'”
Zimmerman’s proposal, coming in at 20 pages and assisted by 18 Alter alumni, sought a monthly group with equal representation from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and the LGBTQ community for discussion:
“The proposal presents four research questions — about existing gay-friendly Catholic groups, about Pope Francis’ statements on this issue, about whether church policy pushes away young people, and about past nonconformists who changed the church — with links to existing research on each topic.
“Zimmerman said at the beginning of the document that if the Archdiocese ‘agrees to make a good-faith effort’ to examine the issue, he will not sue over his non-renewal as a teacher. But he said Archdiocesan officials declined his proposal in a May 7 phone call, saying that only the Pope could change the policy on gays. . .
“‘I understand this effort is a long-term journey. If my situation moves us forward a step, then that’s a success,’ Zimmerman said. ‘I really honestly believe that eventually the Catholic church will come to see that gay people are not fundamentally broken and that we’re just like everybody else, and they’ll (OK) gay marriage. Now whether that takes 20 years or 100 years, I don’t know.'”
The veteran English teacher also spoke about his experience with students, whom he never told he was gay or married, but Zimmerman suggested they were “pretty sharp”:
“‘I began to see a need for the LGBTQ students to be supported. . .I’ve gotten testimonials from young men and women who have gone through and are going through Catholic school and what it means to have someone from the LGTBQ community support them. … There have been a handful of students throughout my career who have come out to me (as gay), and we’ve gotten them resources and helped them along.'”
Along with students, alumni, and community members, another church worker who resigned over the “morality clause” added to teachers’ contracts by the archdiocese in 2014 is also supporting Zimmerman. Matt Deters left his position at Archbishop Alter High School that year in protest of the clause, which specifically prohibits same-gender sexual activity and public support for LGBTQ people:
“‘The Church must own how it contributes to the structures that perpetuate hate,’ Deters wrote in a letter to [Cincinnati Archbishop Dennis] Schnurr. ‘Forces of hatred are always seeking legitimacy and justification. When the Church’s catechism says that homosexual acts are “acts of grave depravity,” or the Church fires a teacher for being in a private same-sex marriage, the Church actively contributes to and fortifies hate and homophobia.'”
Protests against church officials’ decision regarding Zimmerman’s employment continue. Supporters of the terminated teacher launched a group, Cut the Clause, to target the “morality clause” in teacher contracts and seek church worker justice. A petition on Change.org in support of Zimmerman has gained nearly 39,000 signatures, while a similar petition by Faithful America has more than 11,000.
The Archdiocese of Cincinnati is not commenting on Zimmerman’s recent comments. Previously, Archbishop Schnurr wrote a letter to the Alter High School community in which he claimed that “sometimes, personal decisions mean that an individual and an organization are simply no longer compatible” and that not all behaviors can be condoned.
With Zimmerman’s termination and now news of Matt Deter’s resignation more widely revealed, the total of public cases of Archdiocese of Cincinnati church workers who have lost their jobs in LGBTQ-related employment disputes rises to four (Molly Shumate and Mark Moroski also lost teaching jobs a few years back). There have been more than 100 of these LGBTQ-related church employment disputes made public in the last decade.
For Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of church employment issues, click here or click the “Employment Issues” 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, May 28, 2020