A Teen Says Her Catholic High School Forced Her Into Counseling For Being Gay.

Her Parents Had No Idea.

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“They took it upon themselves to parent our daughter, to counsel her, to lecture her,” her mother said.

UPLAND, California — Magali Rodriguez said she didn’t kiss her girlfriend at school.

At Bishop Amat Memorial High School, the biggest Catholic school in the Los Angeles area, it wasn’t against the rules to be gay — Rodriguez at one point checked the student handbook. But she knew not everyone on campus would approve of their relationship, so she said they didn’t go in for the typical high school public displays of affection.

What she said she didn’t expect was for school staff to single her out for her sexuality: She said she was forced into disciplinary meetings and counseling, barred from sitting next to her girlfriend at lunch, and kept under close eye by staff members. If she didn’t follow these rules — which didn’t apply to straight students in relationships — school officials threatened to out her to her parents, she said.

Rodriguez, a high school senior, tried to stay positive and get through it, but after more than three years, she was at breaking point. She was crying every day before school, her grades suffered, and spending time on campus brought intense waves of anxiety. So she decided to speak up — first to her parents and now publicly.

“I really don’t want it to happen to anybody else,” she told BuzzFeed News.

When Rodriguez’s parents heard their daughter’s story, they pulled her out of the suburban LA school known locally for its academics and sports programs. But in spite of its impressive reputation, the way school staff treated the teen was wrong, her mother said.

“They took it upon themselves to parent our daughter, to counsel her, to lecture her,” Martha Tapia-Rodriguez said.

School officials and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles didn’t respond to specific questions, citing student privacy. But a spokesperson disputed the Rodriguezes account, saying it was not “entirely accurate.”

All students are held to the same standards outlined in the Parent/Student Handbook, a school statement said, and Bishop Amat does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, disability, medical condition, sex, or national and/or ethnic origin.

“Any student who is involved in a relationship may socialize appropriately on campus,” the statement said. “However, as stated in the Parent/Student handbook, engaging in excessive displays of affection on campus is not permitted.”

Rodriguez began coming out to friends in middle school, and by the time she started ninth grade, she was dating a sophomore girl. They were the only out couple in the 1,300-coed student body, and while Rodriguez said she knew the Catholic teachings about homosexuality, she initially trusted people would judge her based on who she was, not just her sexuality.

“I was surrounding myself with people that were really involved in their religion, but still accepting,” she said. “So I never thought there was anything bad about it.”

In the second semester of her first year, she said she and her girlfriend were called into separate meetings with their deans of discipline. At first, Rodriguez said she was confused; she’d never been in trouble at school before.

Her dean said there had been complaints about the relationship, it couldn’t happen at school, and it was wrong, Rodriguez said. The teen said she also received a set of rules: No sitting next to her girlfriend at lunch and no meeting up during breaks. The meetings with the dean of discipline would continue, as would sessions with the school psychologist, and staff would be keeping an eye on them. If she followed the rules, Rodriguez said she was told, the school wouldn’t tell her parents.

At that point, she was still figuring out how she wanted to come out to her family. She was scared, so she and her girlfriend agreed.

“We both walked out of that meeting just sobbing,” Rodriguez said.

A few months later, during summer school, the girls were waiting for a ride home when a staff member came up to them. She began berating them, Rodriguez said, telling them they were going to hell, and that she was working to get them expelled. The staff member only left them alone to avoid Rodriguez’s father, Rodriguez said.

The next two years, Rodriguez said she tried to treat her experiences at school as if they were normal. She and her girlfriend attempted to joke to each other about their situation, even as they cried every day before class and when they were summoned to disciplinary meetings. Other students who hadn’t come out noticed, opting to transfer schools or stay in the closet after hearing about what Rodriguez and her girlfriend dealt with, she said.

“We were really afraid on campus,” she said. “We didn’t hold hands, we hardly hugged or anything.”

And they were constantly being watched, Rodriguez said. She recalled a teacher staring them down during a class picnic, even as a straight couple made out nearby. Once, Rodriguez said she dared to move from across the table to sit next to her girlfriend at lunch. A teacher immediately came over to them, taking a position an inch or two away, she said.

“They just had the teachers staked out,” she said.

A friend of Rodriguez’s, Crystal Aguilar, told BuzzFeed News the effect these interactions had on Rodriguez was immense. The girls became friends in middle school, then attended different high schools.

“I [saw] her attitude towards school change drastically. It went from her being motivated to learn and be at school, to her dreading every day she’d go,” Aguilar said. “Her sadness because of it overtook her at times.”

Always proud of her ability to smile through difficult situations, Rodriguez said the daily stress had fully caught up to her when her senior year began in August. She and her girlfriend had broken up, and the older girl — who couldn’t be reached for comment — and other friends had graduated.

Rodriguez’s grades had dropped, and though a bookworm in the past, she was no longer excited to learn and said she felt uncomfortable interacting with teachers who were also keeping watch over her. She’d spend the school day sad and full of anxiety, then come home feeling drained.

“I thought to myself, I don’t know how much longer I can go,” Rodriguez said.

She knew her parents had also seen the change in her, so she penned a letter, revealing to them for the first time what she had been experiencing.

“I’m not OK,” Rodriguez said she wrote. “And I’m not OK being in this type of environment that’s supposed to be lifting me and encouraging me.”

The letter was shocking to her parents, who weren’t surprised she was gay but by how she said she was treated by the school.

“It sounded like a suicide letter,” her father, Nicolas Rodriguez, said. “It was a huge cry for help.”

The way gay and lesbian students are treated at Catholic schools varies across the US, said Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry. The LGBTQ Catholic group offers resources for teachers and administrators, as well as parents on the church’s positive teachings. Simply put, the church says being gay or lesbian isn’t considered a sin, though sexual activity between people of the same sex is, he said.

“Mostly, it says we have to accept people,” he said.

But high schools’ written policies often avoid the issue, and while surveys have shown most Catholics support marriage equality, critical voices can end up being the loudest in a church community, he said. Still, LGBTQ Catholics deserve the support of schools and parishes, he said.

“As a baptized Catholic, they belong to the church community,” DeBernardo said. “They have gifts they can offer to the church community, but unfortunately, not all church community members are going to recognize that.”

It’s reasonable for a Catholic institution to take a stand against sexual activity outside of marriage, he said. But that shouldn’t mean a different set of standards for LGBTQ students, such as who they can take the school dances.

“They should handle it the way they handle any student in a relationship,” DeBernardo said.

Rodriguez is now set to finish the year at another local high school. For the first time in years, she said she feels like she can breathe.

“I wouldn’t be proud if I got a diploma from Bishop,” she said. “What they showed me about what they stand for and their true values isn’t what they really live up to.”

Complete Article HERE!

The Catholic Church Is Breaking People’s Hearts

It fires gay workers, vilifies gay priests and alienates parishioners who can’t make any sense of this.

Shelly Fitzgerald was placed on administrative leave by the Catholic school where she worked because she is married to a woman.

By Frank Bruni

Pat Fitzgerald, 67, has long loved being a Catholic, and the part he loved maybe most of all, for the past quarter-century, was his role as a spiritual mentor at retreats for students at a church-affiliated high school in Indianapolis, where he lives.

But he has been told that he’s not wanted anymore. His crime? He publicly supported his daughter, a guidance counselor at the school, after its administrators moved to get rid of her because she’s married to a woman.

The school’s treatment of Shelly Fitzgerald, 45, was a big local story last summer that went national; she ended up on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” in September. It was one of many examples of Catholic institutions deciding almost whimsically to exile longtime employees — not priests or nuns but coaches, teachers, counselors — who had long been known to be gay but were suddenly regarded as liabilities.

Maybe they had quietly married their partners, formalizing those relationships and inadvertently drawing attention to themselves. Maybe some homophobic parent or congregant had belatedly learned about them and lodged a complaint. That’s what happened to Shelly Fitzgerald, and her 14 years of fine work at Roncalli High School no longer mattered. Only her 2015 marriage to her longtime partner did. She was told that she could stay on if she dissolved the union. She said no thanks and was kicked off school grounds in August.

The aftershocks still complicate the lives — and faith — of people around her: her students, their parents, her dad. On Facebook last month she posted a letter from him to the Roncalli community in which he explained that he’d just been disinvited from future retreats but thanked everyone for being such supportive friends over the years.

“Today my heart is broken,” he wrote, adding that the retreats he’d participated in — more than 40 in all — were “the most beautiful and holy settings I have ever witnessed.” He alluded only vaguely to his daughter’s case. “To people on both sides of this ongoing issue,” he wrote, “I hope you can find peace.”

But there’s no peace for the Catholic Church here. It’s too mired in its own hypocrisy. The tension between its official teaching and unofficial practice — between the ignorance of the past and the illumination of the present — grows tauter all the time.

Most Catholics support same-sex marriage, in defiance of the church’s formal position, and many parishes fully welcome L.G.B.T. people. Yet there are places, and times, when the hammer comes down.

Church leaders know full well that the priesthood would be decimated if closeted gay men were exposed and expelled. Yet the church as a matter of policy bars men with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” and considers gay people “objectively disordered.”

Catholics are supposed to show compassion. Yet Shelly and her dad were shown anything but.

She has been on administrative leave since August, and last month her lawyer, David Page, filed a charge of discrimination against the school and the Archdiocese of Indianapolis with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. It has up to 180 days to respond.

On Tuesday morning he showed me paperwork for a second charge of discrimination that he said he would be filing imminently; it cites what happened to her father as an unlawful act of retaliation meant to dissuade Shelly from pressing her case.

Pat Fitzgerald, uncomfortable with media attention, declined to speak with me, preferring to let his daughter do the talking. “His struggle comes from caring about Roncalli and being in conflict with what they’ve done to me,” Shelly told me. In October he attended a protest against the church’s treatment of L.G.B.T. people. His sign said, “Please treat my daughter Shelly kindly.”

There is, by many accounts, profound anger and hurt at Roncalli. As it happens, Shelly was one of two directors of counseling there; the other, Lynn Starkey, 62, is in a same-sex civil union and in November filed her own charge of discrimination with the E.E.O.C., claiming a “hostile work environment” in the aftermath of Shelly’s departure. For now she remains on the job.

Many students started an L.G.B.T. advocacy group, Shelly’s Voice, that also attracted parents and other adults in the community. A related Facebook page, Time to Be a Rebel, has more than 4,500 members.

But one parent told me that students who question Shelly’s dismissal fear repercussions. “Seniors are being told that if they speak out, they take the chance of not being able to graduate,” the parent, who spoke with me on condition of anonymity, said.
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According to posts on the Facebook page, a small cluster of Roncalli students were invited last month to a lunch with Archbishop Charles C. Thompson of Indianapolis, only to have him stress that homosexuality is a disorder and its expression sinful. One student called it an ambush.

For comment on all of this, I contacted the Roncalli principal, who referred me to a spokesman for the archdiocese. The spokesman sent me a statement that said that Pat Fitzgerald’s exclusion from student retreats reflected the “continuing attention surrounding his daughter’s suspension” and “his own participation in public protests over Catholic Church teaching.” He was still welcome at Masses, the statement said.

In regard to Shelly’s suspension, a past statement from the archdiocese reiterated what the Catholic Church has said in similar cases: Employees of Catholic schools are expected to live in compliance with church teaching. But is that legally enforceable?

Shelly’s E.E.O.C. complaint tests where federal civil rights law covers sexual orientation, a matter on which courts in different areas of the country have disagreed. Also, the Catholic Church has attempted to claim a “ministerial exception” from nondiscrimination laws that conflict with religious tenets, but there’s continued dispute about whether this applies to workers, like Shelly, who aren’t in the clergy.

Shelly pointed out that the Catholic Church isn’t generally going after teachers who flout its rules by using birth control or divorcing or having sexual relations outside marriage. “They’re going after L.G.B.T. people,” she said. “They’re going to die on this hill.”

And they’re going to hurt people — like Shawn Aldrich, who attended Roncalli, just as his parents and his wife and her parents did. He has two children there now. What has happened to Shelly astounds him.

“She was phenomenal at her job,” Aldrich told me. “So why are we dismissing her?” He knows what church leaders say about homosexuality but noted, “It’s our church, too.” Besides, he said, “All of us are made in God’s image.”

He and his wife plan to end their family tradition. They won’t send their third child, now in seventh grade, to Roncalli. “And that breaks our hearts,” he said. “That absolutely breaks our hearts.”

Complete Article HERE!

Homophobia in the hallways: LGBTQ people at risk in Catholic schools

Catholic pronouncements about LGBTQ people can be summarized as, “It’s OK to be gay – Just don’t act on it,” a position some Catholics reject.

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Recently, a Calgary woman filed two human rights complaints with the Alberta Human Rights Commission. The employee, Barb Hamilton, says she was pushed out the Calgary Catholic School District (CCSD) because of her sexuality and was refused employment on the grounds of marital status, religious belief and sexual orientation.

Hamilton says she knew of 10 LGBTQ students in the school where she was principal who had hurt themselves, including by cutting themselves or attempting suicide because of homophobia at home or school. She says she went to the district for help but nothing changed.

Many Canadians may believe that LGBTQ people are protected from discrimination. But my research into religiously inspired homophobia and transphobia in Canadian Catholic schools since 2004 shows there are other LGBTQ-identified teachers who suffer similar fates.

I personally experienced this risk when I taught high school English for CCSD.

It might seem strange that someone like me, a publicly “out” lesbian, sought employment with a Catholic school. But I was raised in a Catholic family that counts clergy among its members and I regarded myself as culturally Catholic. Having a Catholic background also made it easier for me to find a teaching position at a time when they were hard to get.

In the years that I taught for CCSD, I experienced homophobia daily. I knew I could no longer work for CCSD when a student where I was teaching died by suicide after suffering months of homophobic bullying because he was gay.

I left teaching to research homophobia and transphobia in Canadian Catholic schools and also to begin to question and understand how these phobias are institutionalized. In other words, who or what systems are responsible for creating and implementing homophobic and transphobic religious curriculum and administrative policies?

Hotbeds for homophobia?

Using Catholic doctrine to fire LGBTQ teachers and to discriminate against queer students in Catholic schools violates Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the equality rights provision. Shouldn’t publicly funded Catholic schools respect the law?

Publicly funded Catholic schools currently have constitutional status in the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario. These separate schools are operated by civil authorities and are accountable to provincial governments. Religious bodies do not have a legal interest in them, and as such, Canadian Catholic separate schools are not private or parochial schools as is common in other countries.

When teachers are not able to freely express their LGBTQ identities and relationships, queer students lose important role models.

Of course, the Charter also ensures freedom of conscience and religion. However, when the expression of particular religious beliefs calls for the suppression of another’s equality rights, freedoms are curtailed rather than safeguarded.

This recurring discrimination against sexual and gender minority groups could be due to the central contradiction within Catholic doctrine itself: the church’s teaching best summarized as “It’s OK to be gay, just don’t act on it,” — a position some Catholics reject.

An influential 2004 Ontario curricular and policy document, “Pastoral Guidelines to Assist Students of Same-Sex Orientation”, presents a variety of guidelines, personal stories and sections of the Catechism of the Catholic Church pertaining to homosexual attraction to convey a contradictory position. While homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered,” people experiencing homosexual attraction are called to chastity and “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity” and therefore are in need of “pastoral care.”

The pastoral guidelines document includes a statement on building safe communities and a 1986 letter to Canadian Bishops from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (a Vatican office). The letter elaborates on the official Church teachings, stating the “inclination of the homosexual person” is a “strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil.” Many LGBTQ people refer to this document as the “Halloween Letter” because it is so scary and was issued October 1 (1986). The Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario shares the resource, with this letter, on its website.

Where schools promote such contradictory messages associating respect and depravity with LGBTQ people, they have made Alberta and Ontario Catholic schools potential hotbeds for homophobia — places where dedicated teachers fear for their jobs, and where LGBTQ youth are denied true acceptance and as a consequence are at risk of bullying and depression among other things.

Impact on students

My recent book Homophobia in the Hallways: Heterosexism and Transphobia in Catholic Schools explores causes and effects of the long-standing disconnect between Canadian Catholic schools and the Canadian Charter of Human Rights vis-à-vis sexual and gender minority groups.

Charter rights regularly clash with Catholic doctrine about sexuality in schools as this doctrine is selectively interpreted and applied regarding how employees embody a “Catholic lifestyle,” as suggested in Catholic lifestyle teacher contracts.

I sought to document how such homophobic policies and views are impacting teachers and students and and to uncover what is actually happening.

Through interviews with 20 LGBTQ students and teachers in some Alberta and Ontario Catholic schools, and through media accounts, I found that publicly funded Catholic schools in Canada respond to non-heterosexual and non-binary gender students and teachers and in contradictory and inconsistent ways.

All of the research participants experienced some form of homophobia or transphobia in their Catholic schools. None described a Catholic school environment that accepted and welcomed sexual and gender diversity.

I documented the firing of lesbian and gay teachers because they married their same-sex partners; the firing of lesbian and gay teachers because they wanted to have children with their same-sex partners; the firing of transgender teachers for transitioning from one gender to another.

Something as simple as discussing holiday plans can reveal that a teacher who is a lesbian has a same-sex partner. If this detail is revealed to leaders, this teacher can be at risk of being deemed to be living contrary to Catholic teaching and therefore subject to punitive action.

The teachers are given very little, if any, warning and find themselves in meetings without the support of a union representative or lawyer.

I also documented how schools seek to prohibit students from attending their high school proms with their same-sex dates, bar students from appearing in gender-variant clothing for official school photographs or functions like the prom; and deny students the right to establish Gay–Straight Alliances.

I noted a similarity of experiences among research participants in the distant provinces of Alberta and Ontario, in terms of how they were subject to heteronormative repression where schools are legally accountable to provinces but look to Bishops for pastoral leadership.

Oppression is a problem not only for LGBTQ people and our allies, but for all of us concerned about human dignity, human rights, love for our neighbours and social justice.

Complete Article HERE!