LGBT Catholics Celebrate Decision of Portland, Oregon, Catholic School to Protect Openly Gay Employees


DignityUSA, the nation’s foremost organization of LGBT Catholics, celebrates the decision of the Board and administration of St. Mary’s Academy to add sexual orientation to their employment non-discrimination policy, and to welcome LGBT people, even if married or considering marriage, to their staff. The decision follows a community outcry after the Catholic school withdrew a job offer to Lauren Brown when she raised questions about what would happen if she decided to marry her female partner.

“This is an important moment for Catholics concerned about justice and equality,” said Marianne Duddy-Burke, DignityUSA’s Executive Director. “That St. Mary’s Academy had the courage to look at their action in the light of their values, reverse it, and take steps to ensure that their future policies are rooted in respect and inclusion is a wonderful model.

“St. Mary’s decision to adopt personnel policies that protect openly gay employees is actually rooted in Catholic practice from the 1970’s,” continued Duddy-Burke. “It is easy to forget that Catholic institutions were among the first to offer employment protection to lesbian and gay people. The dignity of work and freedom from workplace discrimination are long-time Catholic values, based on Catholic social justice teachings.”

In a letter of affirmation sent to school officials, DignityUSA also noted the importance of Catholics protesting actions that violate their understanding of the faith. Noting the “public witness” of St. Mary’s students, parents, and alumnae, Duddy-Burke wrote, “Without your public witness, a change in policy would not have happened. You have demonstrated that by speaking from faithful conviction, Catholics lead our Church to become a place of profound welcome!”

Duddy-Burke concluded, “While Ms. Brown will not get the job, as it was subsequently offered to someone else, the school’s willingness to offer reconciliation is an important acknowledgment that firing or refusing to hire someone for being LGBT causes harm, to the employees in question, to their families, and to the community. We hope other Catholic institutions will learn from this, and act in ways more consistent with our faith.”

A copy of the letter sent by DignityUSA to officials at St. Mary’s Academy follows.

August 27, 2015

Ms. Christian Friedhoff, President
Ms. Kelli Clark, Principal
St. Mary’s Academy
1615 SW 5th Avenue
Portland, OR 97201

To the Board and Administrators, of St. Mary's Academy in Portland, Oregon,

Your shared decision to add--effective immediately--sexual orientation to your equal opportunity employment policy is a step towards greater justice for the entire Catholic community. As LGBT and ally Catholics who have been witnessing over 45 years for full dignity in the Church and society, DignityUSA is grateful to you for this courageous and far-sighted decision.

Not only will this protection benefit the students, faculty, staff and community of St. Mary's Academy, but it serves the whole Church. You witness to all of us that it is a sign of strength, not weakness, to reverse exclusionary policies and practices. You witness to the Gospel of reconciliation, inclusion, and welcome. You witness to the fact that the Holy Spirit can and does speak through the people of God.

We are certain you realize that there are thousands of Lauren Brown's serving in the global Roman Catholic Church; LGBT workers are called by God to serve in every capacity, on every level of Catholic institutional life. Your decision stands as a beacon of hope to these dedicated church workers that it is not a foregone conclusion that LGBT workers, including those who are or are about to married, are to be banished from their service to God's people.

We honor the students, parents and alumnae of St. Mary's for your quick and impassioned response to the administration's initial decision to revoke Ms. Brown's contract. Without your public witness, a change in policy would not have happened. You have demonstrated that by speaking from faithful conviction, Catholics lead our Church to become a place of profound welcome!

The witness of St. Mary's leaders and community members is a light to us all. May Catholic institutions across the nation take notice, and take to heart that our LGBT employees and volunteers are not to be shoved aside, but embraced.

In hope,

Marianne Duddy-Burke
Executive Director

DignityUSA is the nation’s foremost organization of LGBT and allied Catholics. It believes all Catholic sacraments should be open to all people, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or relational status.