Alumni and supporters of an Illinois Catholic school which fired, then re-hired a lesbian employee are raising funds for diversity efforts at the school, including demands for greater LGBTQ inclusion.
Benet Academy community members started a crowdfunding effort with the demand that funds raised be used exclusively by the Diversity Leadership Council at the Lisle, Illinois, school. The effort, titled “A Vision for Benet’s Future,” requests that more attention is given to marginalized communities. After calling for helping people in poverty, the statement attached to the crowdfunding page added three more points about LGBTQ inclusion:
” Focusing attention on the needs of LGBTQ individuals experiencing homelessness, most often forced out of their homes or running away due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. . .
“Expanding supports and mental health resources for current students, particularly LGBTQ youth, who are almost 3 times more likely to seriously consider attempting suicide and almost 5 times more likely to attempt suicide. . .
“Initializing educational opportunities for teachers, students and staff to better understand the experiences of historically marginalized groups, including LGBTQ individuals and people of color, in an effort to increase empathy and dismantle implicit bias, which so often leads to unequal student outcomes.”
The crowdfunding campaign has raised nearly $3,500, and has a goal of $10,000. Alternatively, LGBTQ-negative parents launched a petition asking Benet Academy to implement an “Oath of Fidelity to the Catholic Church.”
The pro-LGBTQ supporters’ statement recognizes why this moment is particularly significant for Benet Academy. At the beginning of this year, the Benedictine monks who founded the school severed ties to Academy’s governance and financial support. While the cause was not explained, it looked like the separation resulted from school officials’ decision last year to re-hire a lesbian coach, Amanda Kammes. Previously, the school had withdrawn its job offer to Kammes over her same-gender marriage, prompting protests from the school community.
Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, criticized the school for not being clearly about why the separation between it and the Benedictine community was occurring. He told the National Catholic Reporter:
“‘They alluded to the problems of the last few months. Well what were those problems? Was it the hiring of a married lesbian woman? Why are they afraid to say that if they believe that?’ . . .
“‘If that’s the issue and they believe it’s strong enough to sever the ties between the abbey and the school, they should at least be able to say that. . .I think they owe that to the parents, the students, the faculty and the administrators.'”
But some community members are hopeful now that the more conservative monks are no longer affiliated formally with the school. Justin Smusz, a gay 2017 alum, said to NCR:
“‘The Benet community is not dumb. We know why [the monks] are leaving, and I think a lot of people are OK with that. . .My perspective is that with [the monks’] involvement no longer continuing, I’m hoping that the new leadership is able to create the environment that gay students like myself, when I was there, can feel comfortable in.'”
While experiencing a tumultuous few months, the Benet Academy community is now presented with the opportunity for significant change to which Smusz refers. Administrators already righted the wrong of terminating Amanda Kammes. Now, they must build on alumni and supporters’ momentum to enact new programs and non-discrimination policies that ensure the school is a safe place for LGBTQ students and staff alike.
—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, February 23, 2022