Lesbian Catholic School Teacher Fired in Ohio

by Jason St. Amand

National News Editor

Friday April 19, 2013

A Catholic high school teacher from Ohio was fired after an anonymous person sent the teacher's employers a copy of her mother's obituary, which mentions the teacher has a same-sex partner.

As reported in the Columbus Dispatch, Carla Hale, 57, says she was fired from Watterson High School in the Columbus neighborhood of Clintonville a few weeks after her mother's death. Local NPR station WOSU reoported that Hale was in "total shock" when she learned she was being let go. She said it was, "like your legs had just been cut out from under you."

Bishop Watterson Principal Marian Hutson signed Hale's termination letter, which was given to the teacher on March 28. "I turned to the principal and I said, 'Are we talking like immediately? Am I supposed to leave the building?' And she just, she said, 'Yes.'"

Hale had been a health and physical education teacher at Watterson for 19 years. "To use my mom's obituary, her death, to write this letter," she told WOSU. "Honestly, we wouldn't be in this situation if it wasn't for her death, nor if my partner's name was Chris."

Hale's students, alumni and other supporters quickly responded to the incident and took action once they found out what had happened. The Dispatch notes that, on Monday, a group created a petition on Change.org to urge the school administration's to reinstate her. As of this writing, the petition has nearly 14,000 signatures. "The school claims its mission is to teach its students about love, acceptance and tolerance, and yet it did none of this in the way it treated Ms. Hale," the petition reads.

Hale, a practicing Methodist, said she felt humbled by the support from students, alumni and others who have heard about the incident. "It's amazing that they've come together and rallied around this situation," she told the newspaper. "I'm in awe of them."

Some students said they knew or suspected that Hale was gay but added she did not bring up her personal life, nor did she discuss gay issues with them. Lindsey Perkins, a 2001 Watterson graduate, called Hale a "wonderful teacher and amazing role model."

"It's just a very poignant time for something like this to happen, and hopefully for people to start realizing that we need to practice acceptance and humility to all people," she said.

Peter Clark, a 2011 Watterson graduate, echoed Perkins' remarks and said the school's decision was "a disgusting play of hypocrisy by the education system that I was once so proud of."

The Dispatch points out that a contract between the Columbus diocese and the Central Ohio Association of Catholic Educators states that teachers can be fired for "immorality" or "serious unethical conduct." Hale has filed a grievance under the terms of the contract and hopes to get her job back.

The teacher's attorney, Tom Tootle, says they are looking into her legal options. "If the school doesn't do the right thing it's certainly conceivable that we could file a complaint with the community relations commission," Tootle told WOSU.

Hale has also seen the support from FreedomOhio, an LGBT rights group. "But for the fact that she is in a committed relationship and it's in her mother's obit, no one would know," Ian James, the organization's co-founder, told the Dispatch. "It seems so inherently wrong and callous to say, 'In addition to losing your mother, you lose your career.'"

An incident mirroring Hale's accorded in 2010 when Lisa Howe, a lesbian soccer coach, was fired from Belmont University in Nashville. Initially, it was reported Howe left on her own accord but news sources revealed that she was pressured into leaving after it was announced the coach and her female partner had decided to become parents.