COLUMBUS, Ohio - Carla Hale, beloved 19-year teacher at Bishop Watterson High School here, was fired by the Catholic Diocese in March for "violating the morality clause."
More than 100 students, Watterson alumni, and community and labor supporters packed the meeting room of the local Unitarian Church last Saturday to support Hale.
Hale had just returned to work after her mother's funeral in March. Instead of offering condolences like the ones she received from students, staff and other teachers, the administration of the Catholic school called her in and fired her. They said the diocese had received an anonymous letter pointing out that her mother's obituary stated that she was survived by Carla "and her partner."
"That is really a disgusting double-standard," said Bill Clarson, who was just leaving the meeting at the Unitarian Church with his wife Jane. "When you see how they've treated the priests who had molested children, for them to fire a wonderful teacher who'd done nothing wrong is just plain wrong!"
"We believe in morality, that God says we should treat everyone with respect and kindness," Jane added. "I just can't believe Jesus would have greeted this fine teacher with a pink slip after she'd just buried her mother."
The meeting was called to organize an ongoing support campaign, which participants called #halestorm, to push for Carla Hale's reinstatement.
"Since this injustice, the entire Bishop Watterson community, as well as the community outside the church, has rallied to her defense," said meeting chairperson Amanda Finelli. "We were taught the values of humanity, decency and treating other people with dignity when we attended Watterson. Ms. Hale's firing goes against every decent value we learned there!"
"If we can show the diocese how wrong they are, and actually change their policies for the better, that would really be something worthwhile," she said.
Students, alumni and friends reported on recent actions taken to protest the firing. These include an online petition, which now has over 100,000 signatures, a Facebook page. Spontaneous rallies and pickets have been organized, including dozens of Watterson students picketing the Columbus Catholic diocese office on Friday. Buttons with the Bishop Watterson logo and an equality sign transposed on it were distributed. There was discussion of printing T-shirts and posters to protest the firing. Speakers talked of the need to widen the struggle and reach out to other communities. Committees were set up on research, outreach, actions and media relations.
Watterson senior Zach Simmons said students wanted to "return something" to Hale. "She taught us about love, acceptance and tolerance," he said. "She'd do anything for us. We just want to return the favor and stand up for her."
All spoke about the almost total public support they are receiving.
Across the street from the diocese office, windows carried the message, "We Love Carla Hale!"
"We were out there all day with signs, buttons, asking everyone to support Ms. Hale's reinstatement," said Watterson senior Grant Stover. "But we're out there for everyone, everyone deserves equal rights! We will not be satisfied if she is rehired ... they can do this again to someone else."
That sentiment was echoed by Glen Skeen, Communications Workers of America union officer and president of Pride@Work, a constituency group of the AFL-CIO supporting rights of LGBT workers.
"Carla Hale's firing is a violation of worker's rights, every worker's rights, not just LGBT workers," Skeen said. "Discrimination against her is also against all of us and we intend to stand with you, against this outrage."
Hale has filed a grievance through her union, the Central Ohio Association of Catholic Educators, as well as a lawsuit and a complaint with the city's Community Relations Commission.
"This is a clear violation of Ms. Hale's rights as a citizen and as a teacher," said Tom Tootle, her attorney. "We've filed a lawsuit, the city has moved to enforce its anti-discrimination ordinance, and she's filed a grievance through her union for reinstatement. While nobody really wins in a situation like this, we are very confident and Carla has three different paths on which she can prevail."
"We will be here as long as it takes to get justice," Finelli said as the meeting ended. She noted that the diocese had instituted a gag order for teachers, closed off their web site from any communication, and was trying to intimidate teachers and supporters of Hale. "It won't work," she said, "it'll just make us stronger."
Sunday morning, dozens of people showed up at St. Andrews Cathedral here, handing out cards supporting Hale to those arriving for services.
That evening, John Petrucci, a parent of a Watterson student, was forcefully removed from an annual diocese fund-raising dinner when he rose to call on Bishop Frederick Campbell to "take responsibility for Carla Hale's dismissal."
"He won't stand up and say, 'It was my call,' so all the pressure is on the kids," Petrucci said. "I want it off those young folks and on the ones that actually made that decision."
After being removed forcibly, Petrucci sought medical care at an emergency room and filed a police report.
This week the city moved to enforce its anti-discrimination ordinance, filing a complaint against the Catholic Diocese.
Columbus has a very strong anti-discrimination ordinance, passed two years ago after a tough struggle. It contains specific language outlawing discrimination because of sexual orientation, as well as race, age or sex.
Photo: Carla Hale "I Support Carla Hale" Facebook page