An Ethics Lesson

A reader shares a story similar to the Seattle vice-principal who was fired from his Catholic high school for marrying his husband:

Although I’ve been advocating change in the Catholic Church towards the LGBT community for decades now, the news that Pope Francis seems to be open to civil unions has left me sad. Let me explain why.

In May 2006, two weeks before final exams, I was abruptly fired from my position as an ethics teacher at a major Catholic high school in a Southwestern state for being gay. The termination was performed in a way that was a public shaming before my students and the rest of the faculty. I had been at the institution for six good years – ones in which I distinguished myself by creating numerous new courses and campus organizations while being an active published scholar (I hold a Ph.D) – when the school principal learned I was gay.

Because I had been working without pause of any kind and needed to develop a love life (I was single), my best friend said it was time for me to settle down and take care of myself. He suggested that I create a profile on MySpace (Facebook was then in its infancy), and in a meek, very G-rated way, I mentioned on it that I was interested in having a relationship. Since the principal had recently not only permitted, but endorsed, such teacher infractions of the morality clause such as marrying after having been divorced and pregnancy by means of in vitro fertilization, I naturally felt that having a boyfriend in my own private life would be allowed as well. But as it turned out I was dead wrong.

After calling me into his office with the vice principals in tow, I was immediately discharged. One of the vice-principals and the football coach were instructed to personally escort me as I gathered and carried my classroom materials to my jeep. When I pressed the headmaster as to the reason of my firing, all he would say is, “You know why, you know why.” No amount of pleading could induce him (or any of the school administrators) to speak further on the matter. Moreover I could not appeal this termination to a review board or the bishop. By this time I was openly weeping and stammering “Why?” As all of this was going on, students stood around wondering, some of them crying. The last student who saw me that fateful afternoon asked, “What’s going to happen to you?”

(Incidentally that particular student was one of two or three kids at the school starting to come out of the closet. The following year the principal physically segregated them away from the heterosexual students by making them take them lunch in the campus ministry room.)

There are no words for how shattered I was, and still am. Almost at once I lost my ability to sleep. I was so anxious that I was only got two or hours of sleep a week. No exaggeration. Meanwhile, the students rallied behind me (for which I am deeply grateful), but the attorneys I consulted told me that there was nothing legally I could do. Soon the story made the local, then the national, then the international media. A powerful member of the school’s Board of Directors went out of her way to approach me in order to offer me a job in her large organization. Yet as soon as she found out I couldn’t sue the diocese, she quietly dropped her invitation by keeping herself “unavailable” or “in meetings” whenever I tried to follow up. I continued to endure debilitating chronic insomnia. Then, in time, something worse happened: my immune system broken down.

On Halloween morning 2008, I woke up to what seemed the worst flu of my life. I later discovered it was Epstein-Barr. Just getting out of bed was all I could I do, much less having to go about life. The fatigue was indescribable. That illness, alas, had a domino effect: my previous two-year “fight or flight” condition caused me to have a terrible hormone imbalance, but even that was still nothing. This was because I developed acute burning in my body while simultaneously feeling my skin starting to go numb. I learned a new word: neuropathy. Other mysterious symptoms (such as crippling gastrointestinal pain) lead me first to over 20 doctors and specialists, and afterwards to the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale. Along the way I had 9 MRIs, 2 Cat Scans, and 1 spinal tap. After many years, my diagnosis was finally in: extreme anxiety.

Through it all I have amassed tens of thousands of dollars of medical bills, and will almost certainly declare bankruptcy. As an adjunct professor, I am making only $12 an hour even though I am teaching the maximum load. I’ve long stopped making student loans payments. To get through life I do Mindfulness Meditation, but am also on 3 anti-anxiety/anti-depression medications. And I still have that initial symptom, insomnia. Though I have never once experimented with drugs (not even marijuana), I am contemplating trying ayahausca to see if I am able to put my life back together.

Pope Francis’ musings about permitting gays and lesbians to have a life which includes personal love and shared commitment have, alas, come too late to help me.