COLUMBUS, Ohio - After a hard fought four-month campaign, the Columbus, Ohio, Catholic Diocese has been forced to reach agreement with a discharged 19-year teacher, Carla Hale. The diocese fired Hale for being gay, after she returned to work from burying her mother, because her mother's obituary stated that she "was survived by Carla and her partner."
The undisclosed settlement is believed to include substantial back pay and an official clearing of Hale's record.
"We are happy to announce a settlement to this long dispute," said Hale's attorney, Tom Tottle.
"Carla has been overwhelmed by the massive outpouring of support she received, especially from the students and alumni of Watterson, who have been so important in her life. Carla is just happy that she'll be getting back to the classroom, which is where she always wanted to be," he said.
"She appreciates the support given her by HaleStorm Ohio, Pride@Work and the AFL-CIO without whose help this settlement would not have been possible."
Hale is planning to work as a substitute teacher in the Columbus area and is expected to receive numerous job offers, now that her long fight with the diocese is over.
HaleStorm Ohio is the grassroots support group of Bishop Watterson High School students, alumni, parents and community volunteers that sprang to the teacher's aid when the diocese announced her discharge. The group organized a petition drive that garnered hundreds of thousands of signatures demanding Hale's reinstatement.
Since her firing, HaleStorm Ohio regularly held large rallies outside the diocese in Columbus, as well as getting out posters, buttons and flyers in her support. HaleStorm also held a huge fund raising party in support of Carla's reinstatement. The growing movement had become a real thorn in the diocese' side, as HaleStorm groups showed up wherever diocese spokesmen appeared. It became a crisis when donors began to withhold funds and angry parents of Watterson students disrupted the annual diocese fundraising dinner.
Amanda Finelli, chair of HaleStorm Ohio, said that she had always viewed this struggle "through a long range lens."
"We are just overjoyed that Carla will again be able to make a living and raise her family, but I've always seen this as just part of an overall struggle for justice. We still need to push the church to change its policy of discriminating against LGBT teachers. Our struggle is part of the fight of all of us to make this a better, more just world."
The fight to support Hale hit a crisis point of its own in June, when the in-house Catholic "company union" that was supposed to represent her announced they would not do so. This inspired the Central Ohio AFL-CIO labor federation, Union Retiree Federation and Pride@Work to come to Carla and HaleStorm Ohio's support.
In an unprecedented development, for the first time, organized labor officially entered a float in the massive Columbus Pride Parade, estimated this year at over 300,000 participants. As well, led by Pride@Work, the AFL-CIO partnered with HaleStorm at the huge Columbus Gay Rights Festival.
President of Ohio Pride@Work Glen Skeen, a Communications Workers of America officer who helped organize the solidarity effort, said the labor effort really made a positive impression on everyone.
"I can't tell you how important it was for people who have been marginalized, who were left out of society, to see unions and the community standing up for them. The response has been overwhelming!" he said.
"This is an important victory," Skeen said, "really a victory not just for LGBT folks, but everyone fighting for justice. The importance of the new open alliance between organized labor and the LGBT community cannot be overstated. We stand shoulder to shoulder, as well, with all the people celebrating the 50th anniversary of the great civil rights march and continuing the fight for justice. This is just one step on the road to justice for all people!"
Photo: Via HaleStorm