A popular and longtime guest speaker at a Belmont Catholic school has been asked not to return this year, angering many in the school's community, after a religious website criticized his support for gay rights.
For over 20 years, LGBT activist Gregg Cassin has paid an annual visit to the Women in Relationships class for juniors at Notre Dame High School. Recently, however, school administrators canceled his scheduled appearance after an online post scrutinized his role as a speaker and educator.
“We were trying seriously to do HIV education with young people and also to address issues of self-esteem and self-acceptance,” Cassin said of his planned visit to the school.
Cassin said he was informed by a Notre Dame teacher that Head of School Maryann Osmond had asked him not to come back this year.
The snub was apparently in response to a series of articles published in late March on the website California Catholic Daily. The stories accused several Peninsula parochial schools of “gay totalitarianism” and seemed to take issue with Cassin's support of same-sex marriage.
“I saw it as controversial,” Osmond said of the stories. “I was being told that it was getting a lot of attention and I thought the best way to proceed was to diffuse things and resume Gregg's relationship next year.”
Osmond and the school faced immediate backlash for the decision.
More than 2,300 alumni and members of the community joined a Facebook group created by an alum, Jennifer Doskow-Perea, in the week following the announcement to voice their support for Cassin and to speak out against intolerance on the part of Notre Dame officials. Many also used the platform to fondly recall Cassin's lessons on personal growth.
“The headmaster had no clue what fire was in these women,” said Cassin. “The community has said that they want to have a discussion.”
“There should be a statement of inclusion of all LGBT people in the Notre Dame community,” he added.
In a post Friday afternoon, Doskow-Perea made a similar request of Osmond.
“Today, it's not about having Gregg speak with the 20 students whose class was cancelled,” she wrote. “We need to know WHY the decision was made and exactly what your stance is around LGBT equality within the school that you lead.”
Osmond said she has reached out to students, parents and alumni in an effort to address concerns over her decision. She added that the school is open to the idea of a public forum.
“My intent was to let a controversy that had been stirred up by an online publication die down,” Osmond said. “I believe it [her decision] sent out the wrong message.”
Osmond acknowledged Cassin's impact on students and the school over the decades he has been a speaker there and said that “I want him to continue to speak at Notre Dame.”