For several years now, we have seen a troubling trend in Catholic places of employment. Bishops are overstepping to meddle in employees' personal lives. Firing competent, beloved teachers for same-sex marriages, requiring whole staffs to agree to statements calling contraception evil, and forbidding discussion of women's equality in the church are now being included in morality clauses that administrators, teachers, and staff must sign.
New contracts, like the most recent one in San Francisco, now govern whom one can marry, use of birth control and other reproductive choices, and in the most egregious of cases, what events one can attend and whom one can and cannot associate with. Attending your nephew's wedding to his husband, or posting a congratulatory message on Facebook, could now cost you your job.
Perhaps the most disturbing part is the hierarchy's claim that this is for the good of children. What our children need are good teachers and safe, affirming environments in which to learn and grow. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender role models and open, accepting communities are essential not only to the safety of our children, but to their growth and overall well-being. As research indicates, kids who are LGB or questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity are up to four times as likely to commit suicide as their straight peers. Being in a community that rejects them increases that risk astronomically.
What are Catholic school students to think when they see a beloved teacher fired for getting married? Or hear she lost her job for getting pregnant using alternative methods?
Some argue that the teacher should have stayed in the closet, or pursued his or her call to teaching in another setting. What are our children to learn from such arguments? What are our children to make of such an example? More importantly, what is a student who is questioning his or her sexual or gender identity to do when confronted with the high costs of coming out? After all, they've seen the scars this leaves behind.
In every diocese where these contracts have been announced, parents, students and alumni have been outraged. They fear not only the example of discrimination it enshrines, but the fact that it will inhibit their schools' ability to attract and retain the best teachers and keep those teachers from doing their best work.
We know that when people live in fear and work under the conditions of “don't ask, don't tell,” cautiously shielding their private lives from co-workers and watching their every step even on weekends, they are unable to reach their full potential. Our students deserve educators who are free to focus on their work of cultivating intelligent, creative young minds.
When it comes to employment, should not the focus be on professional competency? If a teacher can teach, shouldn't he or she be applauded for this dedication and quality as an educator? Sifting through one's private life in order to gauge doctrinal orthodoxy as a measure of job performance is disturbing and dangerous. Is this what our Catholic faith has come to? Is this the precedent we wish to set?
The majority of Catholics in the pews will continue to lead with our conscience and make our own decisions about what is right and wrong. We will lift up instead of tear down. Speak up instead of kick out. Love instead of hate.
Our teachers deserve better. Our children deserve better. Our faith demands better. It is time we took a stand. I hope you will join us in doing so.
Christine Haider-Winnett is the coordinator for Equally Blessed, a coalition of four Catholic organizations committed to LGBT equality. She is pursuing a masters in divinity from the Pacific School of Religion and a certificate in women's studies in religion from the Graduate Theological Union. She lives in Berkeley.