Lonnie Billiard taught theater and English at Charlotte Catholic High School for more than a decade. After retiring in 2012, he has remained part of the community as a substitute teacher.
Those ties ended, however, after Billiard revealed his plans to marry Rich Donham, his partner of 12 years. On Dec. 30, Billiard said he received a call from the school's assistant principal saying he was no longer welcome to be a substitute teacher.
"I'm 68. Nobody is going to shove me back in that damn closet," Billiard told McClatchy, which reported on the firing. He also said that his sexual orientation was well-known by other staff members at the school.
David Hains, a spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte, told McClatchy that Billiard's Facebook post violated the agreement that he and all other employees sign stating that they will not act publicly in ways that are against the church's positions.
“We don’t even ask people to uphold church teachings. Our policy says they can’t oppose church teachings,” Hains said, adding it would be like "the guy working for Coca-Cola to walk around with a Pepsi in his hand.”
Billiard also told QNotes, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender publication in North Carolina, that he's concerned about the impact his firing will have on LGBT students.
“It sends the message that they don’t matter,” Billard said. “One of the counselors there actually had a kid come into their office after this announcement and asked, ‘Am I going to be expelled because I’m gay?’ It sends such a destructive and hurtful message to kids, instead of validating them for their beauty and validating them for the love they bring. It tells them they don’t count.”
Billiard maintains that the diocese made the decision to fire him. The diocese said school officials were the ones who chose to terminate his position.
In 2012, according to QNotes, the diocese also fired a gay music director after he married his partner.
Lisbeth Meléndez Rivera, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation's director of Latino/a and Catholic Initiatives, criticized Billiard's firing, noting that the pope has taken a less severe approach to LGBT rights.
"The diocese's actions seem to contradict Pope Francis' more pastoral approach to LGBT people in the church," she said in a statement. "Decisions like this reflect a tone-deafness among American Catholic clergy. 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."
There currently is no federal law prohibiting workplace discrimination against individuals on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Such legislation, known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, passed the Senate in 2013 but never made it to the House floor for a vote. Charlotte Catholic High School would not have been affected by ENDA, however, since there was an exemption for religious schools.
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