A Catholic high school which counselor was placed on leave because she was in a same-sex marriage has announced that it will start a program for students who ‘identify with the LGBTI community.’
Roncalli High School’s new LGBTI focussed program, called Encourage, have said the is designed to promote ‘a positive environment and safe space for students who experience same-sex attractions and those questioning their sexual identity,’
Roncalli, a Catholic school in Indianapolis, made headlines earlier this year after placing guidance counselor Shelley Fitzgerald on paid leave, claiming that she had breached the rules of her contract by being in a same-sex marriage.
The high school experienced international media attention, with numerous students and members of the local community voicing support for their former counselor.
The announcement of the school’s LGBTI support program was welcomed by supporters of Fitzgerald.
Erin Rooney, a junior at Roncalli who said Fitzgerald had been her counselor, said: ‘I think it is very important to support these people especially at a time when they are not feeling very supported in this environment.
‘I was a little concerned at first that it was going to be a form of conversion therapy but again I think if it is managed correctly that is should be OK,’ Fox59 reported Rooney saying.
Students in solidarity with counselor
Fitzgerald was placed on paid leave in August this year after Roncalli school officials discovered she had been married to a woman since 2014.
She had been in a relationship with her partner – with whom she has one child – for 22 years and had worked in Roncalli High School for the past 15-years.
Following the actions of the school, Fitzgerald began telling her story to the media, including an appearance on The Ellen Show.
‘They told me if it stayed kind of quiet and it didn’t get into the media and I didn’t let anybody know what was going on that I could potentially keep my job for the rest of the year but then they wouldn’t renew my contract the following year,’ Fitzgerald told the chat show host.
She also claimed that she was told to either dissolve her marriage or resign from her position at the school.
Fitzgerald’s case sparked an outpouring of support from numerous students in the school, who laid flowers and T-shirts with personal messages outside the school in a show of solidarity with their former counselor. Students also contacted the Indianapolis Archbishop to reevaluate school policy on same-sex marriages.
Despite the backlash from their students and attention in the media, Roncalli stood by their decision, claiming Fitzgerald was in breach of her contract.
Representatives of the school said that all Roncalli employees have signed a contract whereby they agreed to uphold the values of the Catholic Church, including that marriage remain ‘between a man and a woman’.
However, the new LGBTI focussed program being organized by Roncalli shows a new approach by the school.
The announcement of the program in the weekly school newsletter states that the ‘Catechism of the Catholic Church states that people with same-sex attractions “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.’
It says that the program will involve monthly group meetings, with activities which will include ‘service projects, team building, brain-breaks, guest speakers, and affirmation activities.’