God, Gays, and Good Grades (g)

15 Apr

In a perfect world, otherwise rational people would not fear homosexuals.

When I was planning out what I would write about for this A-Z series, I had planned to address gay marriage with letter G.  My plan was to speak in general terms about allowing gays and lesbians to marry, and how a committed loving relationship is no different when it’s between a man and woman or a man and a man.

But sadly, the universe dropped a specific example on my doorstep.

Recently, I became aware of a petition on change.org seeking to “end employment discrimination against Mr. Eledge and future faculty” of a local high school.

The petition introduces us to Matthew Eledge, an English teacher and speech coach for five years at Omaha’s Skutt Catholic High School.  He is said to be an excellent teacher and a top flight speech coach, with his teams winning multiple conference, district, and state championships.

From the petition text:

“Mr. Eledge is being fired from Skutt Catholic for being in a gay relationship.

In December of 2014, Matt and his partner, Elliot Dougherty, made the decision to get engaged. He went to the administration to let them know, and they told him he would not be invited to teach next year. Furthermore, if he told students, he would be fired immediately.

A living example of what it means to be a SkyHawk, Mr. Eledge has spent hundreds of hours striving to make sure that the students at Skutt have an incredible high school experience. He soars above the rest in accolades, talent, and character for Skutt Catholic. After months of contemplation, Mr. Eledge discussed the idea of postponing the wedding so he could come back to Skutt Catholic. He was then informed that he must end his relationship with Elliot.

A core belief at Skutt Catholic is to inspire “moral and ethical leadership by not only educating, but also requiring students to provide service to, embrace diversity within, and seek justice for their communities and the marginalized in our society”. As parents, former teachers, alumni, and individuals who support the Skutt Catholic community: we demand the administration embrace diversity and stand up for justice by not discriminating against a teacher that has inspired hundreds of students and future leaders in the community.”

I’ve never met Matthew Eledge or his partner.  But I do know what it is like to be a student learning from a teacher and coach that you look up to.  A person you respect, learn from, and whom pushes you to be a better person.  I was blessed to attend a high school with several excellent teachers on staff.*  I’ve been out of high school for over 20 years, and I can easily name a half dozen such educators who had such an impact on my life.

*The quality of the teachers I had at Gretna High School is one of the main reasons I believe so many of my high school classmates and friends became teachers.  Many of them are teaching in the same district we graduated from, which I think is amazing.

One of those teachers who had a positive impact on me was Matthew’s father, Kirk Eledge.  Like his son, Kirk Eledge is an educator, coach, and mentor.  My Coach Eledge was physical education instructor and the head coach for my high school’s football team*.

*If you’re looking for anecdotal evidence that homosexuality is not a choice or a “life style”, I would submit that being the openly gay son of a high school football coach in red state Nebraska is not something one “chooses” to be. 

I was, by every account, a mediocre to bad football player.  I knew what I should do on the field, but I could rarely convince my nonathletic body to do it, especially at game speed.  I’m guessing Coach Eledge knew early on that I would not amount to much more than a career backup, but that never stopped him for coaching me, supporting me, and encouraging me to improve.  He treated me, a career bench-warmer who just wanted to be apart of a team, with dignity and respect – the same way he treated the star players.  My guess is the students Matthew Eledge worked with at Skutt would say that same things.

*   *   *

Ignoring outdated stereotypes about speech and drama kids, it is an absolute certainty that Matthew Eledge has had a gay or lesbian student in his classroom at some point in his five years at Skutt.  What message does Eledge’s firing send to these students:  Be ashamed of who you are?  Come out at school and risk persecution?  There is no place for a homosexual at Skutt?  Follow the Church’s teachings or else?

Aside from being counter to a Skutt core belief (the petition cites inspiring “moral and ethical leadership by not only educating, but also requiring students to provide service to, embrace diversity within, and seek justice for their communities and the marginalized in our society”), there are numerous published studies showing that gay teens are up to seven times more likely to attempt suicide.  I cannot fathom how or why any educator who would willingly put teens at risk by creating a culture of intolerance.

*   *   *

I don’t want this to come across as an attack on Catholicism, or on those who are loyal to the teachings of the Catholic Church.  I respect your faith.  I can understand, in principle, how having an opening gay teacher on your faculty could send the wrong message to your families, alumni, and donors.  I respectfully disagree.  I read an ABC News article stating that Catholic educators in the Omaha Archdiocese have lost their jobs for being “single, pregnant teachers and those who’ve divorced and remarried outside the Catholic church”.  I disagree with those firings too.  Know that I’d feel the same way if Skutt was a Catholic, Lutheran, Christian, non-denominational, or public school.

I read a blog post where the author makes the case that if Matthew Eledge is being fired for “openly violating Catholic doctrine”, then we should take a closer look at the Skutt administration to see where they stray from biblical teachings.  No disrespect to that writer, but I don’t want to cherry-pick bible verses (especially those from Deuteronomy or Leviticus) as a justification for getting rid of those who chose to fire Matthew Eledge.  In my opinion, that solves nothing.

In my previous job, I worked with (and in) Catholic and faith-based schools across the country.  I sat with nuns and priests who serve God daily by educating our youth.  While I cannot claim to know their stance on this issue, I can assure you that they taught love and respect in their schools – not fear and denial.

That is why I struggle to understand why Matthew Eledge is being fired.

Is the school concerned about going against the teachings of the Church?  Is the decision coming from school administration or the Archdiocese of Omaha?  Are they afraid that retaining an openly gay teacher will trigger a backlash from concerned parents and alumni?  Do they fear that students will “catch the gay” by being exposed to Mr. Eledge or *gasp* the man he is in a committed and loving relationship with?  Or is Skutt seeking to avoid alienating their donor base, which likely contains older, conservative folks – the type of people who may choose to avoid organizations that willingly support gays and lesbians?

All I know is that good teachers are hard to find.  The hours suck, the pay is horrible (especially at most parochial schools), and they have to deal with a lot more crap from students and parents than they ever did before.  So when you find an educator that is passionate about what they do and is very successful in doing it, I think you should allow them to enrich the lives of students.

In a perfect world we would #LetMatthewTeach

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(Author’s note:  Wondering why there is a random letter in parentheses in the title of this post?  Not sure how this post corresponds to the daily letter in the April A to Z Challenge?  Like clicking on links?  These questions are all answered here.)

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