A well-known actor was fired from a gig at a Catholic university in Ohio because he is gay, according to a YouTube video he produced. But a school official disputes this allegation, offering a different explanation for the employment dispute.
Daniel Franzese, who is most well-known for his role as Damian in the comedy film Mean Girls, was contacted by Walsh University, North Canton, and asked to host their Mr. Walsh pageant, The Advocate reported. Franzese said that he reached a deal with the university to host the pageant on February 18.
The following month, Franzese was contacted by the university to inform him that his contract to host the pageant was not approved. The Canton Repository reported:
“Franzese, who described himself as a ‘Christ-loving Christian,’ believes his dismissal is due to his sexual orientation and he’s one of the first casualties of the Vatican’s March 15 statement that Catholic clergy should not bless same-sex unions.
“Franzese read an email he said was from Walsh’s student activities director, saying, ‘I am incredibly disappointed and sincerely apologetic for this is, I know, unprofessional and clearly based on personal beliefs of the higher administration.’”
In a statement obtained by the Repository, Walsh University said:
“Mr. Daniel Franzese has neither been employed nor under contract for any services in any form at any time with Walsh University. The email cited by Mr. Franzese from Director of Student Activities and Leadership reflects her personal views.”
In an email sent to the school community, university president Tim Collins cited elements of Franzese’s Christian podcast Yass, Jesus! as a reason that his contract was not approved. Franzese and his co-host describe the show as “a faith and sexuality affirming podcast that believes you don’t have to pick between gay and God” and invites listeners to “find out what it means to be a Christ-loving member of the LGBTQIA+ community during these divided times.”
Collins cited one podcast episode title that used a common slang term for oral sex, asking whether God should be thanked for this activity. He also described another episode title, “Penises Everywhere,” as “professional content that does not meet [Walsh University] standards.” The latter episode discusses stories from the Bible that involve penises.
“On the basis of public content that does not align with either Walsh University core values or our shared University mission, the decision was justly made to not sign a draft contract and had nothing to do with Mr. Franzese as a person.”
“It is hard to be a LGBTQ+ student at Walsh University,” said 2020 graduate Mickey McClanahan in an op-ed for the Repository. McClanahan stated that the university would not allow students to start an LGBTQ student organization, something that many other Catholic universities have done.
McClanahan was part of a group of students who attempted to start one. The news article stated:
“[A] group of students, along with some faculty advisors, took it upon themselves to create an organization where any student could feel welcome to come as exactly who they were.
“In 2016, ‘family dinners’ were started, and it was (and still is) the closest thing we have ever had to an LGBTQ+ support group or community on our campus. While trying to spread awareness of this organization, the administration did not allow us to call it a ‘gay-straight alliance’ or any name that referred to the LGBTQ+ community.
“They told us we were not allowed to motion to our student government on campus to become an ‘official club’ to receive campus funding and resources. Worst of all, we could only spread awareness of our plans and our ‘club’ by word of mouth — no emails, no flyers.”
“[A]ll students, especially those who identify as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, should be made aware that this school has no commitment to make the LGBTQ+ community feel represented, valued or even accepted.”
An email statement from the Walsh University faculty responding to the controversy expressed support for LGBTQ students. The statement, written by Dr. Melisa Broden, said:
“We offer our loving and compassionate accompaniment and support to our LGBTQ+ students and colleagues as they work to fulfill Christ’s mission of building the Kingdom of God and spend their lives in service to others. We see you. We support you. We pledge to establish a safe and supportive community for all students and colleagues, including those who identify as LGBTQ+.”
So was Franzese’s contract cancelled because he is gay or because of his podcast content? Those questions can’t be completely separated out. Franzese’s podcast is asking theological questions that arise from his life as a gay man. Those questions were deemed objectionable by the Walsh University administration. Whether that discomfort is about gayness or about sex in general doesn’t really matter: it will likely add to the perception by queer students at Walsh that they are not welcomed or accepted there.
—Mac Svolos, New Ways Ministry, April 12, 2021