This past week I was invited back to my high school to speak at their Career Fair. Getting the chance to talk about my organization is a great opportunity and hopefully it will be a great chance to build a long-lasting and sustainable partnership.
I should be excited but instead I’m filled with dread and experiencing flashbacks from my adolescence. Most of my stress dreams from the past several years involve me having to go back to high school to take classes and being completely lost.
Like a lot of people, high school was a difficult time for me. I wasn’t out to myself yet but I knew that there was something ‘different’ about me. This made me a target for teasing and general meanness. For an all-girls Catholic school there were some progressive teachers, but we still had groups come in to say that Gay people didn’t exist because God didn’t make mistakes. And I won’t even get into the terrible abstinence only sex education I got. There was a lot of stress at school and at home – ten years ago I was dealing with self-harm, ignoring my depression for several years, and living with a recovering addict in the family.
Going back in its self is scary. Going back and being out is terrifying. I’m not going to be waving rainbow flags as I go through the school, but I can’t honestly go back and talk about my non-profit experiences without putting it in a queer context.
How I operate in the United States and abroad is greatly influenced by my sexuality, but honestly just the thought of being completely open around a bunch of nuns is giving me massive anxiety.
However, I know how oppressive that school can be if you think you are the only strange or different person pressured to follow a set of rules that just doesn’t fit who you are. It’ll be worth it if there is just one queer girl who knows that someone before her survived, and then thrived after leaving high school behind.
There are so many queer narratives that are blatantly ignored in Catholic high schools (and schools in general). Hopefully my presence and my stories can at least spark the smallest of positive conversations.
Who is a good person? How do we learn what makes up a good person?
As I was writing last week’s blog, I couldn’t help but think about my own Catholic education. I attended Catholic school for 12 years. Now while I’m not a practicing Catholic, there were lessons like “do unto others as you would have done to you…” that have shaped my judgement and ethos. But looking back, all of the role models that were presented to me (i.e. Mother Teresa, St. Francis, etc) were from several hundred years ago and/or very very Catholic.
Which makes sense, I’m aware. Going to a Catholic school would tip the scale in that direction.
But thinking through this, I am finally understanding why I have had a hard time reconciling my lesbian identity with my humanitarian one. I never learned about Harvey Milk or Bayard Rustin. Understanding Stonewall was through own research whilst in college. (I know this history is lacking across the board… but I can only speak to my experience).
My Catholic school experience tended to lean towards gay invisibility instead of prejudice. If no one talked about gays, then gays didn’t have to exist or be dealt with. I know that this policy is definitely a lot better than blatant, constant bullying and homophobic remarks; I wonder what if my the idea of who was good was expanded to LGBT* people?
Would acknowledging gay individuals who reflect Catholic teachings would be detrimental to the church? Why is it so difficult for some people to think that LGBT* and humanitarian identities can coincide?
I know that this isn’t just a Catholic school problem. There are 77 countries in the world that criminalize homosexuality. How can LGBT* feel empowered to do good in their micro and macro communities if there are told that who they are is criminal? How can someone see themselves as good-doer if one of their main identities is ostracized by their government and society?
When coming to terms with my own sexuality, there were times when I tapped into my one latent institutionalized homophobia, doubting that I could make a difference or be a good person because I am attracted to girls. Since I am a lesbian, does that mean even if I do good, being gay cancels it all out?
Obviously no. (Most of my Catholic guilt has been eliminated, thank the universe). But there are many LGBT* people who are told that aren’t good people, and don’t have to support to breakaway from their homophobic surroundings.
Wouldn’t it be great to live in a world where a queer kid could say they wanted to be the next Harvey Milk, Bayard Rustin, Sally Ride, or any of the amazing *LGBT that have shape history?
Wouldn’t it be better to just teach children that being a good person can mean many things, and that they sexuality doesn’t have to influence their moral compass, but it is a part of them that is good?
Last week a teacher was fired from Holy Ghost Prep Catholic High School after maintaining a marriage license with his partner in New Jersey. Griffen had worked at the school for 12 years, teaching Spanish and French. In this time he had brought his partner to events, and had also had administrators over to their house as guests.
The administration stated that he broke his contract by obtaining the marriage license…. but they’ve known that he’s been gay for over 12 years? Now, it’s a Catholic school right? What should I really expect, especially a Catholic school run by a priest?
My mother voiced the need for Griffen to sue the school into submission. In theory yes, that would be fantastic. Luckily the tide has turned and our rights can be won in the court of law. But…in the great state of Pennsylvania ‘fire at will’ is the legal policy that rules the state. (I’m not going to go into private school issues…. that’s a whole other topic that I’ll try to tackle next week).
Obviously PA needs to get their shit together and get on the marriage equality and anti-discrimination bus. But the thing that I keep coming back to is that Griffen has taught their for 12 years….. 12 years…..
12 years of being who he is…. and THEN getting fired. When is it going to be completely safe to be 100% out 100% of the time? Will there ever be a time where true work safety and security can exist for LGBT+ folks? Will a sweeping nationwide anti-discrimination policy secure peace of mind in the workplace , or is the fear of a loop-hole always going to make us afraid of being out?
I know that Catholic / private institutions will always have some right to hire / fire outside the realms of decency, but there is still a glimmer of hope that I hold onto; I hope that one day I could work with a Catholic run organization (shelter, hospital, school etc.) and not have my organization be kicked to the curb if I’m outed to them.
Maybe its the few people in my 12 years of attending Catholic school (more on that next week) but I would love to believe that this case in Bensalem, PA will be one of the last of its kind. I hope that the growing push toward true social justice inside these school walls will one day change the administration and hierarchy of the church towards an age of tolerance, acceptance, equality.