Kristen Nelson graduated from West Catholic High School in 2008 and she’s been coaching softball there for the past five years. There are no blemishes on her résumé and the bond she has with her students is incredibly strong. But she resigned a few days ago because administrators told her she’d be fired if she got married to her partner Maria.
“It is with a heavy heart that I am writing you this letter,” Nelson wrote on Facebook. “In recent weeks, a parent concern regarding my personal life and relationship has started an unpleasant conversation within the Roman Catholic Diocese of Grand Rapids. Throughout the course of those conversations, it was made known to me that my future plans to marry my significant other, Maria, were ‘concerning’ to them. It has been made clear to me through conversations I have had with the leadership at West Catholic, that both they and the Diocese ‘teach a single view of marriage’ and that if I were to continue with my and Maria’s decisions to get married, I would not be able to continue coaching at West Catholic High School.”
In a post that has since been deleted — but which I had taken screenshots of because, you know, Catholic Church — the school’s administration attempted to explain their faith-based bigotry:
… It does not mean that we are judging Kristen. It does not mean she is not a welcome and beloved member of our community. She is. The public act of same-sex marriage, not her same-sex attraction, is the issue. It is not only people who experience same-sex attraction who are called to live chastely, but all of us. No one is excluded from the call of Christ. All of us want what is best for Kristen. The teachings of the Church are written for happiness. Unfortunately, society today offers false hope in secular ideas of happiness.
… This issue is about love and wanting what is best, not necessarily in the immediate moment, but for a lifetime.
Incidentally, the school published a revised version of that post after deleting the original. (Did I take screenshots of the new post? You betcha.) It’s worth noting that the line “All of us want what is best for Kristen” isn’t in the new version.
While there’s plenty of understandable sympathy for Nelson, I’ll be the first to admit the school has every right to fire her for getting married to a same-sex partner. Private Catholic schools are allowed to fire staffers who don’t adhere to their religious rules.
That kind of bigotry is what you sign up for when you work for those schools. It’s the sort of bigotry every single parent agreed was acceptable when they sent their kids there. It’s the same bigotry every Catholic agrees is acceptable when they walk into and give money to a Catholic Church, because the Church believes “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”
If students and parents are upset by the school’s decision to follow Catholic doctrine and effectively force out a beloved coach, there’s an effective way to respond:
Transfer to a school that doesn’t discriminate against LGBTQ people who get married.
Force the school to decide whether enforcing faith-based hate is more important than educating students. I think they’ll choose hate every time, but at least make them feel bad about it.
Nelson told me last night that she’s going to take some time off to focus on wedding planning (the big day is in late 2019), but she’s eager to coach again soon.
I asked her if the potential firing came as a shock, and she explained that she’d spent her life in Catholic institutions and, especially in college, they always seemed open and tolerant. She even had an openly gay professor. (Of course, it’s possible that the Catholic college supported gay people without ever supporting same-sex relationships.) That’s why she had some hope that things would be different in her situation.
She wasn’t completely surprised by what happened to her, but she wanted to go public with her story to show others in the community that “they may not agree with everything the diocese is doing.”
That’s no small thing.
If someone like her, who has always had affection for the Church, is treated like a pariah because of who she loves, why should other Catholics continue supporting the anti-LGBTQ institution?
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Andrew for the link)