In accordance with the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Archbishop Alter High School has decided not to renew the contract of a member of its teaching staff. In a recent statement, Archbishop Dennis Schnurr said that the teacher was fired for “life choices contrary to Catholic teaching.” Supporters of the teacher, including former students, claim that this teacher is a member of the LGBTQ community. Unfortunately, the termination is both legally and contractually permitted, as there is no law in the state of Ohio that forbids employment discrimination based on sexual identity. In a plea to reinstate the teacher, students have created a Change.org petition with more than 23,000 signatures.
The message the Archdiocese is sending goes directly against the examples set forth by Jesus himself. Jesus taught that all are welcome in the world; he stood in solidarity with those on the margins and walked among those who were cast out of society. So why, in the year 2020, is a beloved and, in the words of Archbishop Schnurr, “highly valued” teacher in this community being cast out for leading an authentic, honorable and purposeful life?
The students of Alter High School are hurting; they have a right to feel upset, angry and betrayed. Many students at this school are practicing Catholics and could be questioning their faith following the Diocese’s decision. Members of the Alter community are receiving a puzzling message: you can be who you want, as long as it fits our standards. Students and alumni who are part of the LGBTQ community are even more impacted. The school seems to accept students across all identities, but then provides a disclaimer in their job contracts, as if they do not deserve to live in the same community.
As an educator, I can confidently say that representation matters. Having a school staff that mirrors some of the experiences of your students is incredibly important. One of the benchmarks of having a positive and supportive learning environment is that each student has a person on the school staff that they feel safe going to. This may be a teacher, administrator, cafeteria worker, custodian or anyone else working in the school community. For many LGBTQ students this teacher might have been that person. A person to support them, a person to guide them and a person to make them feel safe. Alter High School needs to understand that they are sending a dangerous message about inclusion, acceptance and community. They have created an environment where some students do not feel welcomed and where some students feel they cannot grow into their true, authentic selves.
Fr. Greg Boyle, a world-renowned Jesuit priest states, “Inching ourselves closer to creating a community of kinship such that God might recognize it. Soon we imagine, with God, this circle of compassion. Then we imagine no one standing outside of that circle, moving ourselves closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased.” This connects to the same gospel that the Catholic Church stands by. Jesus is said to have invited everyone to break bread with him—not only the holy, but more so, the sinners. He stood with those on the margins: the poor, the sick, the criminals—and with that he showed that the margins themselves can, in fact, disappear.
So how do we make our margins disappear in this situation? How can we keep in mind both the victim and the victimizer? Let us find the compassion to bring both parties to the table to sit in kinship together—just as the gospel shows us.