Young, queer and Catholic: The damaging message firing LGBT staff sends to students

I’ll be straightforward with you. I was raised Catholic, and spent my entire pre-college education in Catholic schools. I even went to an all-girls Catholic high school, not unlike St. Mary’s Academy in Oregon, where just recently an openly gay counselor named Lauren Brown, had her offer of employment rescinded. The decision by the school caused intense backlash from students, alums, parents and donors. This reaction has prompted the school to try and reconnect with Brown for possible future employment, which is a.) a little too late since the position has already been filled, but also b.) a small sign of growth.

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Maybe this long standing battle of wills between the Catholic church and its LGBT parishioners can one day come to an end. An it’s a good thing, because this tension, this ingrained fear and inequality, is damaging to all, especially young, queer Catholics. While the world is a hell of a lot more tolerable now, and queer kids get to see themselves reflected in TV, movies and music in many ways, I can’t help but worry that students see their academic institutions not as places to grow and be themselves, but as bastions of intolerance and fear. 

Take Marian High School in Michigan, where last year they fired a beloved lesbian teacher for getting pregnant. (Marian was one of my high school’s rivals on the field.) I fiercely loved my Catholic all girls school, as it taught me so much about being a kind, worldly, ethical person. However, I went to high school in a time when coming out was just becoming embraced and if there were any queer teachers at my school, they lived under a very “don’t ask don’t tell”  philosophy. But while those days are stumbling, decaying dinosaurs for the rest of the world, it’s very much alive in the insular halls of parochial academia.

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When teacher Barb Webb and her partner decided to bring a child into the world, the very act of being gay and pregnant, was a fire-able offense. You can’t keep quiet about a growing baby bump, you see. Students might ask questions! What Marian likely didn’t anticipate were the questions students would have about why a popular teacher would lose her job for wanting to be a parent and being gay. There were protests for months after Webb’s dismissal but Marian had held firm on their policy. A policy that is showing their queer students that the world, this world behind these walls, does not see you as equal. In fact, you are something that needs to be swept under the proverbial rug. That’s harmful, and if the Catholic Church can’t see that, then there may never be reconciliation.

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I left the church because I felt I was less than for being a lesbian. I don’t want more kids growing up thinking their God and their Church only loves them if they keep themselves a secret. What can be done? According to Pew Research, 6 out of 10 Catholics support same-sex marriage. Pope Francis has certainly been opening up dialogues about LGBT issues that have never been addressed before, but even the leader of the church can’t erase hundreds of years of separation of Church and Gay. The difference will come from everyday Catholics, including young, queer ones, who keep standing up and keep asking questions. You are not less than, even if it sometimes feels like it.