Another Catholic school teacher has been fired from a job he loved because he married his same-sex partner. Except this person isn’t afraid to dole out the b-word when talking about the church he grew up in.
Lonnie Billard (below), 68, was an English and drama teacher at Charlotte Catholic High School for 13 years and a follower of the Catholic faith for his entire life. He and his boyfriend, Rich Donham, have been together for over a decade. Billard says he had always introduced Donham to colleagues as his partner, and there had never been a problem.
“We do all the things that couples do,” said Billard, including attend Catholic mass and school functions as a couple. “Parents knew him. Teachers knew him. The administration knew him.”
Things changed over the winter break, when Billard announced on Facebook that he and Donham would be married in May. During the holidays, he got a phone call from the Catholic diocese that oversees his school informing him that he was no longer welcome to teach.
Instead of finding a more accepting group of Catholics to associate with, Billard is leaving the faith entirely.
“I am not going to give my time, my talent, or my treasure to a bigoted organization,” he said in a phone call this week. For the first time, he and his fiancé attended an Episcopalian service this past Sunday instead.
Billard is not the first and won’t be the last teacher fired from a Catholic institution for getting “gay-married.” In fact, church officials commenting on this case and others have said that it’s not necessarily being gay that gets people fired, but being gay, married, and public about it.
Speaking for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte, David Hains insisted Billard was not fired simply for being homosexual but for violating Catholic teachings so publicly. “His gayness is not in opposition to the teachings of the Catholic Church,” Hains said, citing a doctrine that says gay people “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.” He said Billard veered too far by “going on Facebook, entering into a same-sex relationship, and saying it in a very public way that he does not agree with the teachings of the Catholic Church.”
Promoting same-sex marriage plans amounts to a “public dissing of church teaching that he agreed not to do” as part of his employment agreement, said Hains. Keeping him on staff “would be legitimating that relationship. The church would be saying it’s okay, and it’s not.”
Billard was named Teacher of the Year three years ago and has posted plenty about his relationship on Facebook, calling Donham “my sweetie,” “my love” or “my man” and sharing stories about their grandkids. He says the church’s decision was hypocritical and a poor reflection of his understanding of his former faith, which he says he doesn’t “feel very welcome” participating in anymore.
Church teachings also condemn divorce and marrying outside the faith, Billard pointed out, but said the school employs straight people who are divorced or married to non-Catholics. “If you are going to enforce one thing, you darn well better enforce the entire thing,” said Billard.
Billard says that since he was let go, hundreds of students and many teachers and parents have reached out to him to voice their support for him and their staunch disagreement with the diocese’s decision. And when it comes to speaking out about how he’s been wronged, he’s not holding back, either.
“The things that the church says that they believe are really not true,” he reflected. “It is not about compassion anymore. It is not about understanding. It is not about being Christ-like. When you get to the very core of the belief it says these things but it practices another. I can’t go to church and erase that from my mind.”
Billard’s outspoken, unapologetic response to this entire incident is a refreshing contrast to the cowardice shown by his former employer. A church that excludes some “sinners” and not others is bigoted — Billard said it himself.
(Image via WCNC)