When Wilhelmina Indermaur came out as queer and transgender, she found the Catholic Church to be a “safe place” for her. But that sense of belonging was shattered in June when a Catholic school forbade her employment because of her trans identity.
Indermaur was recently denied a role working as an in-class aide for a disabled child at Immaculata Catholic School in Durham, North Carolina, reported Indy Week. Indermaur had already been working as a nanny for the child, who will begin classes at Immaculata this fall, and had already completed much of the hiring process.
Indermaur seemed like the perfect candidate to be the child’s aide, the article explained:
“[N]ot only would she be familiar with [the child’s] needs, but she had experience as an educator — she was a preschool teacher for the three years before the pandemic — and she was deeply ingrained in the community of both Immaculata and its governing parish, Immaculate Conception.”
Indermaur had nannied other children in the Immaculata community, and was a regular Mass attendee at the parish for years. She was thrilled when the child’s parents offered her the role as in-class aide.
The hiring process seemed to be going smoothly until June, when the pastor of Immaculate Conception called an emergency meeting between the parish staff and the school administration. The pastor stated that because of Indermaur’s identity as a trans woman, she is unfit to work at Immaculata.
The decision seemed to contradict the parish’s public messaging about LGBTQ+ issues. The parish posted a welcoming message on social media for Pride month, and it is home to several social justice-focused groups.
But it is not the first time LGBTQ+ people’s own experiences have called the parish’s messaging into question. In 2019, a lesbian city councilor was disinvited from a speaking engagement at the school about Black History Month because of her support for marriage equality. After protests, the church later re-invited the city councilor.
Neither the parish nor the Diocese of Raleigh replied to reporters’ interview requests about this most recent incident.
Indermaur said that the decision was “devastating,” saying “I stayed in bed for a day and a half, and I didn’t eat for two days.” For Indermaur, Catholicism had long been an important part of her life. Indy Week reported:
“She loves the church’s ancient rituals, like reciting different prayers at different times of the day, and she loves the Catholic devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. She wears a silver medallion engraved with the venerated saint, and her Instagram bio boasts the Latin phrase totus tuus, which comes from a devotion called the Consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary and translates to ‘totally thine.’
“‘Having this maternal energy and this maternal side of what divinity can be is very appealing to me, especially as a trans woman,’ she says.”
Despite the often-strained relationship between the institutional church and LGBTQ+ people, Indermaur said she always felt accepted.
“I never felt like [the church] contradicted who I was. I never felt like I was not meant to be there,” she said.
Losing the chance to work at Immaculata has left her shaken. She said she doubts she will ever feel welcome there again, although she wants to continue to be a practicing Catholic.
“At first I had a kind of crisis of like, can I even be Catholic anymore? Can I support being a part of an institution that continues to do all these awful things?” Indermaur said. “But the spirituality is really important to me. And I feel like the church won’t change unless people inside of it are working to change it.”
She went on to say that all those who have been traumatized by religion deserved welcome.
“Our Christ would welcome Wilhelmina at the table,” another teacher’s aide at the school said. “The same-sex couple who are the parents of one of my students would be at that table. And the hate would not be welcome at the table.”
—Grace Doerfler (she/her), New Ways Ministry, July 9, 2022