You may have heard about the case: Carla Hale, P.E. teacher at Watterson High School was, quite simply, fired for being a lesbian. An anonymous parent wrote to the diocese to complain after reading in Hale’s mother’s obituary that she has a female partner. After returning from bereavement, she was fired.
There are so many distasteful details in this story: the incredible level of cowardice from one single anonymous parent, the fact that this came from an obituary, and obviously, the sheer discrimination based solely on sexual orientation.
Her mother’s obituary? Come on. An anonymous letter? Please. Nineteen years of dedicated service to teaching and to the school? Nineteen years. Zero complaints. Rather, hundreds of students inspired. Fired on Holy Thursday?
It’s upsetting to a lot of people for a lot of very clear reasons. And I’m mad as hell, too. After all, that’s my alma mater you’re talking about here.
I have often said that out of my educations –- high school, bachelor’s, and master’s -- it was Watterson High School that had the most impact. It is an amazing place. It's where I learned values like fairness, love, compassion and tolerance. It’s where I learned about social justice, for Christ’s sake!
It was an utter shock to learn of the nature of Hale’s firing, which makes my alma mater look like some kind of backwater, ignorant cesspool.
The vast majority of Watterson community supports Hale. Her dismissal, a shining example of discrimination, can be traced to one person: Bishop Frederick Campbell of the Diocese of Columbus. He is the one who decided one anonymous letter could and would effectively fire someone, rob them of their livelihood.
As of yet, there have been no signs of apology or turnaround which tells me this: a single letter with no signature means more to Campbell than the 16,000 letters with actual signatures from people with integrity enough to sign their names.
A few years ago, I learned that my freshman-year English teacher, Theresa DeFrancis, a remarkable woman and teacher who was Carla Hale’s colleague, left Watterson to move to Massachusetts and start over where she could marry her partner and live freely.
This is Theresa’s story and statement:
“For more than 20 years, I operated out of fear… I stayed closeted out of fear. I left a job I loved out of fear. I feared that if I didn’t quit my job I—like Carla—would be fired from it. I didn’t want that to happen to me; I didn’t want that to happen to my partner, now wife. Although I loved my job, my students, their families, many of my colleagues, that love wasn’t enough for me to stay. Fear drove me out of the school and out of the state. It was safer—less scary—to leave than to stay where I loved and wonder who was going to out me, when would the rumors have to be addressed, how would I be fired. It was less scary to move to another state without a job and start over as a grad student than to remain in a fearful situation.
Unlike Carla, I chose to leave, but that leaving was impelled by my fear of how ignorance, hatred, intolerance, bigotry, discrimination were going to alter my life.
I am in a job I love; I am with the woman I love; I am in a new city and state that I love. But I loved teaching high school students, and fear made me give that up.
I still teach; I’m a professor of English Education. I teach future high school English teachers... I want them to fight administrations and institutions that allow, encourage, promote, instill what happened to me, what happened to Carla, what happened/happens to other LGBT students, faculty, parents, friends, family.
I am no longer afraid. I write this for Carla and for all the Carlas. It’s time for love to be the impelling emotion."
Like so many alumni, teachers, students, and the community at large, we’re doing everything we can to keep Ms. Hale’s story alive, and fight for her re-instatement as a teacher. We’re doing all the things we’re supposed to: petition, letters, meetings, mobilization, and media.
We’re doing other things like praying for justice and the grace with which to handle ourselves, because I, for one, have been very tempted to go buy a pretty box and ribbon, and inside it place a big rock and send it to the Diocese of Columbus with the note, “I heard you already cast the first stone, so here is one to replace it. Love, me.”
I’m not sure of a lot in this world. But one thing I am sure of is that, upon Carla Hale’s return from bereavement leave, Jesus would not have been waiting at the gym door saying, “Your mom is dead. Now we know you’re a dyke so get your shit and get out of here.”
I am both frustrated and furious about this situation, as are thousands or more. But I’m also disturbed by the anti-Catholic rhetoric spewing from people in response. What a shame if this discrimination of Carla Hale only causes more discrimination against the men and women of the Catholic faith. There has been an outpouring of support for her not only in the Columbus and LGBT communities, but in the Catholic community as well. According to a Pew report, a full two thirds of American Catholics accept homosexuality.
The hard truth is that federal and state law in Ohio does not protect LGBT people from discrimination in the workplace. In most parts of this country it is perfectly legal to terminate somebody on the basis of their sexual orientation.
According to the Human Rights campaign, there is no federal law that consistently protects LGBT individuals from employment discrimination; it remains legal in 29 states to discriminate based on sexual orientation, and in 34 states to do so based on gender identity or expression.
The one saving grace that Ms. Hale might have right now –- and may go to court to enforce -– is that Columbus, Ohio is a city with an anti-discrimination ordinance in place. The mayor of Columbus has publicly come out to endorse Ms. Hale’s rights. According to the ACLU, 29 Ohio cities and counties now have anti-discrimination ordinances. Eleven of these fully protect individuals from discrimination in employment and housing based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Then, there is the matter of the “morality clause” Ms. Hale signed, as is all but customary at Catholic, Christian, and other private schools. The phrase itself is a slippery slope -- anytime one can be fired, imprisoned, or executed on the basis of such a “morality” scale one must question the conditions. Perhaps the most worrisome part of a morality clause is the vagueness of its nature. Almost anything can be twisted or maneuvered to in some way seem to go against it.
Let’s get to work to ensure federal protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation modeled on or as part of the American Civil Rights Act.
Want to help? You can do so by signing the petition and sharing Carla's story.