Catholic School Fires Lesbian Teacher, but the Students Are Fighting Back

It’s one of the truisms of Catholic schools: The students are often more compassionate and wise than the adults who are supposed to lead them.

The latest piece of evidence: Bishop Watterson High School in Columbus Ohio recently fired Physical Education department chair Carla Hale. What did she do that was so perverse, so awful, so deplorable?

Carla Hale

Well, in an obituary for her mother, Carla was listed as a survivor along with her partner Julie.

That’s it.

That irked one parent — who apparently reads obituaries with an anal-retentive bent — who complained to the school. And school officials fired her a couple of weeks after that.

High school senior Jackson Garrity began a petition to reinstate her as a teacher. It won’t change the administrations’ mind, but it’ll sure as hell energize the students and community members against this form of bigotry-wrapped-in-the-name-of-God.

Discrimination is something that people have fought for generations. The most prominent form of discrimination in today’s society is discrimination on the basis of sexuality. Carla Hale, a beloved teacher at Bishop Watterson High School, was fired because of her sexuality. She was a teacher who cared for her students and treated each one with respect. The school, however, did not reciprocate that respect in its treatment of her. Discrimination and injustice is something that we all have a duty to fight in today’s society. It’s unfair that someone who cared so much about her students and her job should lose them on the basis of something she cannot even control. 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. That is why we all have to stand up together and let it be known that this decision is unacceptable. If we do not fight this issue now, it will happen again, and that is not something we can allow. When we allow injustice to go unnoticed and unpunished, we all are hurt. We have an obligation to Ms. Hale and ourselves to make sure the school hears us and decides to overturn its decision.

Yes to all of that. The petition has nearly 5,000 signatures as I write this, and many are from current and former students (and Hale’s daughter) who can’t believe their school would treat a faculty member with such disrespect. Personally, I’m not surprised — the Church tends to be quicker to fire a loving lesbian teacher than a pedophile priest — but you would hope the backlash teaches the administrators a lesson: The kids aren’t going along with Church-guided bigotry. These kids are going to graduate from that school and leave the Catholic Church for good because of shit like this — and we’re all going to be better off when that happens. (I’ve reached out to Garrity for comment about the petition and its effect and I’ll update this post if I hear back from him.)

I also love the fact that the Catholic archdiocese of Columbus refuses to comment — because that means all the soundbytes are coming from students who are on Hale’s side:

The school is referring all questions regarding Hale’s termination to the archdiocese of Columbus.

The archdiocese claims it’s a personnel matter and refuses to comment.

“I can understand their opinion on homosexuality when it comes to that issue, but we’re seeing a woman reprimanded for this but you don’t see any reprimand when a teacher gets divorced which the Catholic Church is against. You don’t see them asking in their private life use birth control or one of those heightened matters” says Mike Liggett, one of Hale’s supporters. Liggett is a Watterson alumni who is now a student at The Ohio State University.

“She was a woman of great integrity I only had her for one year at Watterson but was involved with her in other activities, she had the most integrity of staff that worked there, she treated students justly and fairly,” he said.

Just. Fair. Compassionate. None of those words will ever be associated with the Catholic Church for the students who knew Ms. Hale. They’ll have a different word on their minds: Hypocrites.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • ElizabethS

    Oh Ohio, why can’t we protect people from bigotry?

  • MD

    “— the Church tends to be quicker to fire a loving lesbian teacher than a pedophile priest”
    Sadly true.

    • JA

      If they even fore the pedo at all. Most likely he’ll just be moved to a new district and told to keep quiet.

  • fsm

    If this was any other business, the only question we would be asking is ‘how many zeroes on the settlement check?

    • chicago dyke

      actually, that’s not always true. homosexuals can be fired for no good reason in many states and municipalities. that’s why we need ENDA, the federal legislation which will grant protection to gays, just as other endangered classes of this country enjoy such protection.

      adding, but you’re right that if they’d done this to her for being white or disabled, yes, she’d be getting a fat check soon.

      • Jonas

        Columbus is slightly more progressive than many other parts of the state and has classified sexual orientation and gender identity as protected along with the typical protections afforded to race, creed, religion, etc. (Code of Ordinances – Section 2331.03 (A)). The difficulty comes in proving the true cause of her dismissal.

        And, I may be incorrect, but I don’t believe religiously-affiliated schools or hospitals are exempt from anti-discrimination laws like fully-religious organizations are (e.g. churches). Especially if the school receives ANY public funding, which I’m sure they do.

        • abb3w

          While religious schools are slightly less protected under the law than churches themselves, you seem likely incorrect, as the “ministerial exemption” covers at least some parochial school employees — though it was dealing with the federal ADA, Hosanna-Tabor v EEOC is likely relevant. Incorporation of church-state separation principles via the 14th means the states are likely similarly constrained. Contrariwise, PhysEd teacher may not have been a sufficiently religious role to qualify for ministerial exemption (ibid).

          There’s probably some interesting possibilities for student protests; phys-ed sit-ins, and the like. Could be uncomfortable for the students; parochial schools are allowed to use corporal punishment. Of course, too much of that and parents may start pulling their kids from the school….

          • Marco Luxe

            I’d like to watch a breach of contract suit against the diocese. It would be most educational [and entertaining] to watch the Catholic church argue the terms of the contract — “immoral” and “seriously unethical” conduct — for an obituary that lists survivors, among others, as “Charles (Alexis) Roe”, “Carla (Julie) Hale” and “Tiffany (Nate) Parsons”. All this in light of recent convictions of the RCC arising from its protection of known pedophiles . Such a suit could be the basis of a farcical opera of biblical proportions! Who is running the RCC, the Marx Brothers?

            • Houndentenor

              Under what law would they sue. It’s perfectly legal in Ohio to fire someone for being gay. there is no federal law against it either.

              • Spuddie

                Title VII of the Civil Rights Act as interpreted by the EEOC disagrees with you about the Federal law. But it a fairly recent ruling.

                • Houndentenor

                  That’s good to hear, but there is no specific state or federal nondiscrimination law covering gay people. We missed the window in 2009-2010 to add gay people to ENDA and now have to wait until we have large enough Democratic majorities in both houses as well as a Democrat in the oval office to have any chance for passing a law that most people think we should have.

                • Spuddie

                  The decision was in 2012. So it is far too recent to have a significant effect yet.

        • Houndentenor

          There is no law in Ohio that makes it illegal to fire someone for being gay.

    • Houndentenor

      In most states it’s perfectly legal to fire someone for being gay. there is no federal nondiscrimination law so it depends on the state. In addition, this school is probably set up with church affiliation which usually gets them around nondiscrimination policies. This isn’t the first time something like this has happened. There’s probably not a lot she can do but look for another job.

  • FelyxLeiter

    My (public school) elementary gym teacher was a lesbian WAY before it was okay to identify as one (and before most of us knew what “being gay” was). One of my most vivid memories of elementary school was when she heard a kid call another kid “gay” as an insult. She brought thunder and lightning down on the perpetrator in the most straightforward and perspective-shifting way–I don’t remember her exact wording, but it was to the effect of, “Why would you say that to insult someone? Gay doesn’t make someone bad. Being a boy or a girl or black or white or fat or skinny doesn’t make someone bad. Shame on you.” It rocked my world at the time. It was in the lunchroom, so everyone heard it. And it was amazing to see a teacher use her authority to really teach a valuable lesson, even though in retrospect she was putting her job on the line.

    She ended up becoming the district’s assistant superintendent for over a decade. Bravo.

    • FelyxLeiter

      Anyone shutting amazing educators like this out of the system over prejudiced, dogmatic bigotry are the losers.

      Actually, their children are. Shameful.

  • Artor

    I like the implication of this line, “…she had the most integrity of staff that worked there…” reading the subtext, I got, “…everyone else there is a dishonest & unreliable hack.”

    • Sam

      I went to this high school, and I just want to say that there are a lot of excellent teachers there. I know for a fact that many of the teachers are as upset about this firing as you or me. Ms. Hale does, indeed, have a lot of integrity, but many other staff members do as well (although there are definitely some “hacks”). This move is more about the school district (the Diocese of Columbus) not accepting a lesbian teacher, not the entire school being bigoted and terrible.

  • C Peterson

    Every incident like this makes the pool of Catholics (or future Catholics) just a little bit smaller, and a little more toxic. While the occasional lunatic actually chooses to become a Catholic, the flow is much stronger in the other direction.

  • Aoife O’Riordan

    I just want to point out that this woman wasn’t just fired from her job. She was fired from her job because her orientation was apparent from her MOTHER’S OBITUARY. She has just lost her mother. She school she works for- her employers who have worked with her for years- found this out.

    And their reaction?

    To fire her.

    When she was grieving her mother.

    I don’t see how you do that. I don’t see how you see that someone you’ve worked alongside for years has lost a close family member, and your reaction is not to contact them to offer words of comfort, but to make sure they lose the job they love as well.

    Compassionate, my arse.

    • rhodent

      Oh, it’s easy enough to do. I mean, she’s a lesbian. It’s not like she’s a human being or anything…

      • Aoife O’Riordan

        I guess that homophobes already think that LGBTQ people can’t feel love. It’s not too far a leap to think we can’t feel grief, either.

        • kevin white

          I’m not out to the community, per se, but the handful of gay people in my town are treated like they’re the puppy killers of northeast Arkansas. It’s bad enough, that when one of my other gay friends’ mother died, people kept on telling him that “Well, at least she doesn’t have to deal with her failure of a son”, or “Why are you crying? It’s not like you loved her.” It’s shit like that that make christianity seem like true evil.

    • FelyxLeiter

      Seriously. That’s beyond reprehensible.

  • chad

    I went to this high school and although I do not agree with their actions, I wouldn’t go as far as to say every single kid at this school will leave the church completely. A lot of people may not agree with what the catholic church teaches but that does not make them atheists. Atheism is a disbelief that nothing else exists after this world and that nothing significant created the world around us. It was all an accident. A lot of people would like to believe in something, but that does not necessarily mean they’ll believe in an institution such as the Catholic Church. Anyway, Ms. Hale was an awesome teacher and I hope everything works out in her favor. I don’t think they’ll rehire her, but maybe someone else will. The school’s attendance rate will drop significantly over the next couple of years. Other Catholic Schools such as St. Charles and Hartley focus on a different perspective when teaching their students. St. Charles obviously focuses on academics and connections with higher up individuals. Hartley focuses on athletics, winning multiple state championships in the passed couple years, which is something Watterson used to do. With the rate of boys attending this school already declining due to a lesser athletic and academic advantage, I don’t think there will be a Bishop Watterson in 50 years.

    • rhodent

      In your comment you seem to be confounding “leaving the church” and “becoming an atheist”. At no point does Hemant say this incident is going to turn the students into atheists. Furthermore, your definition of atheism is incorrect as atheism a) is a lack of active belief and not necessarily an active disbelief and b) doesn’t say anything about what may or may not exist “after this world”.

  • busterggi

    The RCC is one of those groups that keep claiming to “hate the sin but love the sinner”? Apparently they haven’t read their own public statements.

  • Lisa Graas

    So, when are the atheist schools going to be hiring Catholic teachers who live as faithful Catholics? No, wait. There are no “atheist schools.”

    • RobMcCune

      What? Are you saying that because catholics have schools (in a society with universal free public education btw) and atheists don’t, then atheists have no right to criticize these unnecessary institutions. Your first sentence is just bizzare, there is no parity between the freedom to live as one chooses and the lack of it.

      • Spuddie

        Don’t expect a religious based bigot to try to make sense of her argument. It amounted to no more than a glorified “neener neener neener, Catholics discriminate because they can!”

    • FelyxLeiter

      Exactly. There are no “atheist schools.” So what the hell is your point?

      • Spuddie

        There are non-denominational private schools. But they are not necessarily atheist.

    • James Robbins

      The atheist schools are called “pubic schools,” which according to Pat Robertson and Rick Santorum, are run by Satan.

      • Lisa Graas

        Not exactly, but thanks for trying.

        • radiofreerome

          Two points for not making juvenile fun of his spelling mistake, Ms. Graas.

          • Spuddie

            Ouch! I missed that one. Now my eyes are drawn to it.

    • Carmelita Spats

      Faithful Catholic? Such as? Do you turn in a monthly menstrual chart to your local 60-year-old maladjusted virgin (priest) with an affidavit that you have NEVER used chemical contraception since it “kills” babies (as your cult teaches)? Do you publicly offer your vulva to Jesus so that he can grace your nether parts with a massive pile of mewling crotch droppings? Perhaps you print your ovulation chart on the back of the parish newsletter for everyone to applaud? Do you play with vaginal mucus as per the Creyton/Billings/Rhythm Method? Are you featured in a cute motivational bulletin board along with every “faithful Catholic female of child-bearing age” in your parish swearing that they are open to carrying a rapist’s semen demon and thanking the rapist for the chance at being “blessed” with his seed? Hell, have you adopted special needs children? Even one? Once you understand how invasive my questions are, you’ll see why it is incredibly HYPOCRITICAL to single out someone’s lifestyle choice when you don’t even measure up to your cult’s ridiculous standards. Go swallow a mouthful of Savior.

      • Lisa Graas

        I love when people write things like this so that I can show it to my teenagers and prove to them that the left hates them.

        • Spuddie

          Because there is nothing hateful about demolishing someone’s career on the basis of some personal aspect of their lives. Riiight.

          “The left” doesn’t hate your teenagers. Nobody was talking to them. Its all directed at you Ms. Graas. Personally. Many people take issue with apologists for bigotry like yourself.

    • Anna

      If there were atheist schools, I doubt very much that they would discriminate against teachers based on what they believe or do privately. As long as they do the job they were hired to do, their personal beliefs are irrelevant. It’s Christians who tend to be all about punishing people for their supposed “sins.”

    • radiofreerome

      As an agnostic and ex-Catholic, I have Catholic friends that I love. It’s their membership in a hateful institution that I believe is wrong. You really have to learn to separate the person from the action.

    • Chris Warren

      Public schools? They hire from, and respect (in principle) those of all faiths, and none. Their official stance should be necessarily secular.

    • Guest


  • Kalos

    Certain standards of personal conduct are deemed necessary and contracted as a prerequisite for employment in most religious organizations. Violating a employment contract is reasonable grounds for dismissal.

    • PhiloKGB

      No, it’s *legally valid* grounds for dismissal.

    • baal

      And all terms in employment contracts are necessarily binding, valid or enforceable? Courts are mixed on the question of whether or not clauses that are not related to the performance of a job are enforceable in employment contracts. (ex: you can only be a construction worker if you sort out your green M&Ms and bury them in your back yard; the later has nothing to do with the former and is likely not-enforceable (or useable in a wrongful termination defense).

    • Spuddie

      The terms would be legally unenforceable if conduct included sexual orientation. “Standards of personal conduct” is a uselessly vague term to really mean at the whims and caprices of those in management.

  • Hobjob

    Is it legal to fire someone in Ohio for being gay?

    I live in UK so am unclear about US / State law.

    • Anna

      According to Wikipedia:

      Discrimination based on sexual orientation, but not gender identity, is prohibited within state employment by an executive order issued by Governor John Kasich on January 21, 2011. There are no statewide protections in Ohio for sexual orientation and gender identity outside of state employment. Twenty-nine Ohio cities and counties have anti-discrimination ordinances prohibiting discrimination of the basis of sexual orientation.

      However, private religious organizations don’t have to follow certain anti-discrimination laws. Even if Ohio had protections, they would be exempt. As far as I know, Catholic schools can refuse to hire or fire teachers (or refuse admittance to or expel students) based on their religion and sexual orientation. Not sure about race.

      • baal

        The scope of what’s a private religious org is subject to some dispute. I haven’t reviewed the case law for the relevant jurisdiction so it might be a settled issue or it might not.

        • Anna

          I’m not entirely sure either, but I’ve never heard of a religious school being penalized for kicking out teachers or students based on sexual orientation. There’s criticism when it happens, but I’m not aware of any legal challenges.

  • James Robbins

    A lesbian gym teacher? No way!

    • kevin white

      I know, right? Can’t believe it.

  • a c

    Homophobic Roman Catholic Church- isn’t that a REDUNDANCY?

  • paulinVA

    So, a person fraudulently signs a contract every year, because they have no intention of following it, and is surprised when it is found out they have been committing fraud?

    No matter what you think about the whole gay or Catholic question, this is pretty straightforward.