Charlotte Diocese Under Fire for Terminating Gay Teacher

by HRC Staff

WASHINGTON -  The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation, the educational arm of the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, today condemned another Catholic school firing of an LGBT employee as evidence of the church’s continuing efforts to keep workers in the closet.

Charlotte-area teacher Lonnie Billiard was fired from Charlotte Catholic High School after announcing on his personal Facebook page last fall that he planned to marry his partner. Billiard had been a teacher at the school for 15 years, and continued working there as a long-term substitute after he retired in 2012.

Billiard’s firing was reported this week by the North Carolina LGBT community nespaper QNotes, which noted that the Diocese of Charlotte in 2012 fired music teacher Steav Congdon after he married his same-sex partner.

“Firings like this send a message to LGBT people – and LGBT Catholics in particular – that there is no place in the church for us,” said Lisbeth Meléndez Rivera, HRC Foundation’s Director of Latino/a and Catholic Initiatives. “And think of what LGBT students at his school must hear when something like this happens. The Diocese is sending these children and their student allies a message that they are less-than, that they are second-class Catholics and citizens.”

A statement released last week by the Diocese of Charlotte said this: “All employees of the diocese agree upon their employment to follow the diocese's ethics policy and a personnel policy that requires them to conduct themselves in a manner consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

Ethics policies like this one have become popular in more conservative diocese as a way of compelling employees in church-affiliated schools, shelters, and other charities to comply with Catholic teachings regardless of their own personal beliefs. While such policies are legal, they ultimately discriminate against hardworking LGBT people, and do not reflect the progressive shifts that have been occurring among American Catholics on LGBT rights. A 2014 poll showed that 54 percent of US Catholics supported marriage equality.

The diocese’s actions seem to contradict Pope Francis’ more pastoral approach to LGBT people in the church. “Decisions like this reflect a tone-deafness among American Catholic clergy,” said Meléndez Rivera. “While Pope Francis asks. 'Who am I to judge?' and speaks of the gifts LGBT people can bring to the Church, this Diocese has appointed itself judge and jury. The Diocese of Charlotte should be following the Pope’s example and become the home we know the Church can be to all.”

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.


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