A parent is asking a Columbus Catholic high school that recently fired a lesbian teacher to become a "safe harbor" for gay students who might feel afraid, alone or ashamed. Michele Gardner Brown, who sits on the school board at Bishop Watterson High School, said she knows both former and current students who are gay and offered her proposal at a Tuesday board meeting.
A parent is asking a Columbus Catholic high school that recently fired a lesbian teacher to become a “safe harbor” for gay students who might feel afraid, alone or ashamed.
Michele Gardner Brown, who sits on the school board at Bishop Watterson High School, said she knows both former and current students who are gay and offered her proposal at a Tuesday board meeting.
She said yesterday evening that she made a similar recommendation to school officials last year but has reintroduced it in response to the firing of physical-education teacher Carla Hale. Hale lost her job in March after listing the name of her same-sex partner in her mother’s obituary.
Brown suggests that the school form a gay and lesbian support group; create a safe space in the school for gay students; add library books about being gay and Catholic; and offer a retreat and Mass for students who are gay and their families and friends.
“For a young person ... it’s very difficult for them, I would believe, to shoulder that burden alone,” Brown said. “I don’t know if they feel they can trust people, and it’s heart-wrenching for me as a mother to see any child in unimaginable conflict.”
Brown has a daughter attending Watterson and three sons who are alumni.
Lucia McQuaide, superintendent of schools for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus, said she still needs to review Brown’s proposal.
She said that Tuesday’s board meeting largely dealt with the safety of students at the school and dispelling rumors. Watterson has received threats since Hale’s firing gained international attention.
Despite the backlash, McQuaide said, it’s been business as usual on the Watterson campus in Clintonville.
She said special sessions on chaste living will be offered to students and parents at Watterson before the end of the academic year, for “those that want to understand, or understand better, or relearn, or learn for the first time just what the teachings of the Catholic Church are.”
Issues of sexuality are addressed throughout the religious curriculum in all diocesan schools, McQuaide said. At the high-school level, educators follow an outline from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and have been planning to incorporate a “chaste living document” into the curriculum this coming year.
A number of Watterson students have joined the chorus in support of the teacher, and several gathered outside the Downtown diocesan offices last week to demonstrate on behalf of Hale.
Since April 15, more than 100,000 people have signed a change.org petition seeking Hale’s reinstatement. A separate petition posted nine days ago supports the diocese and asks the bishop to “stand up for religious liberty and the Gospel of Jesus Christ” and has gained about 500 signatures.
Along with a morality clause in the local Catholic teachers union agreement, McQuaide said, all teachers sign a contract that specifies a diocesan schools’ policy that binds personnel to be “ examples of moral behavior and professionalism” in keeping with “the tenets of the Catholic Church."
Hale’s attorney has argued that the morals clause and policies are overbroad and poorly worded and that Hale, a Methodist, never agreed to abide by Catholic Church tenets. Hale has said the same standard could easily be used to fire any number of school staff members who fail to follow church rules, such as unmarried straight couples living together or couples who use birth control.
McQuaide declined to provide numbers or specific examples of other employees fired for morals issues, but said some have left on their own after being confronted for failing to abide by the policy. When it comes to firing an employee, McQuaide said, “it’s the principal’s role to uphold those policies, it’s my role and it’s the bishop’s role, so the decision basically is made at all levels.”
Catholic teaching says homosexual acts close sex to the gift of life, are considered depraved and cannot be approved. It also says discrimination against gay people should be avoided and they must be accepted with compassion and sensitivity.
Brown said she’s concerned that Hale’s firing will force gay students into the closet, and she called her proposal a positive effort for a school that feels like family and has given her children wonderful experiences.
“Maybe it can become a very positive thing out of a very awful thing, a very sad thing,” she said.