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The fight is far from over

Bianca Almada | Wednesday, September 25, 2013

This past summer, my hometown high school became involved in a messy local scandal involving the termination of a long-time faculty member. More specifically, one of my favorite male teachers was fired on the account that he married his same-sex partner after the legalization of gay marriage in my home state of California on June 28.

I attended an all-girls, private, Catholic high school, not unlike many Notre Dame students. It is owned and organized by a group of lively Benedictine nuns, and it is independent of any church diocese. This fact, along with the fact that the nuns themselves are considered quite progressive, made the decision even more shocking to the student body, alumni, parents and community members alike.

The school administration was aware of the teacher’s homosexuality for years. He did not discuss his personal life in class or within the school community. When I had the privilege of meeting his partner at a non-school-related event, he was introduced as his roommate.

It was not until same-sex marriage was legalized in California and until the teacher proceeded with a same-sex marriage that the administration found the situation problematic. Even more problematic to the administration, the teacher was featured in a local newspaper story covering the historic July 1 same-sex marriages in California, as the teacher was among the first same-sex couples in the county to marry.     

According to a public statement, the school administration said that the teacher was fired not for being homosexual, but for violating his contract with the school. Apparently, all of the teachers at the high school are required to sign ethics contracts, in which they pledge that they will not exhibit behaviors that are contrary to Catholic teachings, which would portray a negative image of the school and set a bad example for its students. Since the Church is against same-sex marriage and not homosexuality itself, the teacher technically did not commit a violation until he was married. School representatives also said that he was fired for making a “public spectacle” of his anti-Catholic behavior, as he was featured in a news story for his historic act.

The male teacher had been a member of the school faculty for 17 years. He was the English department chair, the award-winning dance team founder and coach, the yearbook moderator, the prom committee advisor and the Honors English teacher. He had a true passion for the school and for young women’s education, and he was beloved by his students. The school community displayed overwhelming support for him when his marriage became public, and they demonstrated outrage at his dismissal from the school. A petition with over 1,500 signatures was collected and a peace march was organized in his honor, but the school ultimately stuck with its original decision.

I loved my high school, and I had a wonderful experience as a student there. I still love my high school, but I do not by any means respect their decision with regards to this teacher. No one should lose his or her livelihood because of sexual orientation or because of personal lifestyle choices, especially if that person is exceptional at their job. No one should be forced to fearfully hide his or her identity, especially among Catholics who are meant to be loving and accepting. Unfortunately, the teacher could not successfully pursue legal action in the matter, as he did technically violate his contract.

This is real life. We like to think that we live in a very progressive world – one in which racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. are things of the past. This country has made tremendous strides in all of these respects, but the fight for equality is far from over. In this reality, “ethics contracts,” such as the one that the teachers at my alma mater are required to sign, are still legally allowed. Gays in multiple states are not allowed to marry the people they love, and they are often the targets of hate speech, abuse and prejudice; and the gay community is only one example of a group suffering injustice.

The real world is not always a wonderful place, but it is our responsibility to help make it a better one. I signed the petition. I wrote a letter to the school. And now, I am sharing this teacher’s story. I stand with him, and I encourage everyone to stand for justice.

Bianca Almada is a sophomore residing in Cavanaugh Hall. She is studying English, Spanish and Journalism. She can be contacted at balmada@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.