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An Appeal to My Former Catholic High School Concerning Handling of LGBTQ Students

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Editor's note: Erin Macke began teaching at her alma mater, all all-girl Catholic high school in Chicago in 2009. In 2011, the school refuesed to renew her teaching contract after learning she had counseled an LGBT student who expressed suicidal actions, and that Erin, herself, is a lesbian. This is an abridged version of the letter that she, herself a lesbian, sent to the school administration following the incident.

Sr. Lois,

When I graduated in 2001, I left these halls with a strong sense of self, unwavering confidence, a conviction to charity, and the belief that I was accepted and valued in this community. I felt securely rooted in the teachings and values fostered within these walls. If one were to ask, I would concede that this institution has uniquely shaped the woman I am today. The riotous irony that I am now not a good fit for the establishment that I credit, in part, for my spiritual and intellectual development beckons the question, what is this really about? Because I've been explicitly told this is not a reflection of my teaching, the only logical conclusion is that it reflects your attitude towards my personal life.

According to a 2010 survey by Kosciw's Group, "...nine out of 10 LGBT students are bullied in school, and they are four times more likely than heterosexuals to attempt suicide." This startling fact is, unfortunately, supported with countless documented incidents and a recent flux of suicide related to gay bullying. In 2010, nearly a dozen of these tragedies occurred in rapid succession. Adding to this disturbing trend, innumerable children suffer silently, afraid to report the harassment. Yet, what has been done to prevent this problem here? To date: nothing.

Christianity teaches us to obey the Golden Rule. John 13:34 reads, "A new command I give to you: love one another." Yet, this institution, a school which boasts pillars of character, has made it a point to outright exclude the LGBT community on the basis that they do not fit into Catholic teachings. Even the faculty led Diversity Council believed an LGBT group would be appropriately received. But fear that the school, as it had in the past, would gain the reputation as a "lesbian school" prevented such improvements. Ignorance and blind denial will not solve this problem. Sincere and sensitive consideration needs to be given to the issue at hand: there is not a single resource for students struggling with the ideas of sexual identity. Furthermore, empathetic and proactive adults are left as offerings on the altar of litigation and politics. What example are we setting for students when such atrocities are condoned?

The situations that arose in April 2010 and 2011 were the flint to my extermination. Yet, I find no remorse in my spirit as an offering of condolence. In my heart, my behavior was justified in that it was in the best interest of the student. Her physical and emotional well-being surpassed my need for professional safety and personal anonymity. I find the shortsightedness of this administration unconscionable and my dismissal to be a cowardly attempt to sweep a larger issue under the rug. My greatest disappointment, however, lies in the management of voiceless students. As a contributing alumnus, I challenge you to take action and make changes in the handling of LGBT and bullying issues. The lack of available accommodating resources at a school that has the need is intolerable. The unfortunate deaths of these youths must serve as warnings for all involved parties. Make this a community that behaves in the most Christian of manners by accepting all children of God and creating an environment safe from judgment, ridicule, and violence. Let this institution, and all persons in it, embody the true teachings of Catherine McAuley, who said, "Our charity must be in our hearts and from our hearts." It was with charity and compassion in my heart that I reached out to a student in need. If this is my penance, I righteously accept it.

This year has been a learning experience for me, both personally and professionally. It has been a year of many highs, interlaced with a few nauseating lows. There's no point in reliving the negativity of a select few; better to rejoice in the appreciative nature of the majority. My main takeaway revolves around the ideas of fear and vulnerability. Fear is a noun -- a person, place, or thing. It's a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger or pain, whether the threat is real or imagined. It prevents us from telling someone how we feel, trusting the unknown, or reaching out to people in need. We are afraid that the actions we might take will cause us pain, embarrassment, or judgment, so we don't take them. Instead, we stand very still, moving cautiously in familiar directions. If done habitually, we become ghosts of our potential selves. Vulnerability is my greatest fear and yet in instances when I'd least like to be vulnerable, I find it to be my greatest ally. This year, I learned to trust that, in most cases, people will do the right thing.

More importantly, had I not trusted, I would have forfeited the opportunity to allow people to do the right thing; essentially, perpetuating and justifying my fear. T.S. Eliot wrote, "footfalls echo in the memory-down the passage which we did not take- towards the door we never opened." I am contented in knowing I chose to open the door, in the face of fear, risking vulnerability, and was met with understanding, compassion, and love from most. Although my dismissal has been hard to bear, it is my hope that, in the not too distant future, I will think of my time here with fondness, rather than resentment. As a woman of faith, I know that forgiveness is as much a gift to the innocent as it is the guilty.

Gandhi said, "Be the change you wish to see in the world." The required changes must begin with you, the leader and decision maker of this school. You have the ability to seize this moment and atone for mistakes made in the past in hopes of preventing tragedy in the future. I pray that God will give you the strength to take the first steps toward change, and that fear will not lead you down a path of lamentations.


Erin Macke

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