Positive Role Model – CROSSIN(G)ENRES

Catholic high school students fight for a fired gay teacher

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Veronica directed her cameraman. “When we go live, focus on me first. After my intro, pull back to pan the crowd and then focus back on Stephanie and me.”

He gave her a thumbs up and said, “We’re live in thirty-seconds.”

Veronica looked over at Stephanie, who was standing next to her and said, “Just relax. You’ve got this.”

“Thanks.” Stephanie thought, I do have this, as she scanned the faces of students and parents surrounding her, pleased she’d been able to get the protest going in three short hours. Anger and disappointment fueled her determination to fight the injustice unleashed earlier that morning. Even so, she looked poised and confident beyond her years.

“We’re live in 5…4…3…” The cameraman signaled the remaining seconds with his fingers.

Veronica looked straight into the camera. “This is Veronica Mills reporting live from St. Michael’s Academy. I’m here with students and parents who have come together for an unplanned gathering to protest today’s firing of a beloved teacher apparently because he is gay. With me is Stephanie Thompson, a senior here at St. Michael’s.”

Veronica turned to face the student. “Well, Stephanie, you and your classmates are having quite a first day of school. You reached out to us earlier this morning. What can you tell us?”

The cameraman focused in on Stephanie’s stoic face as she nodded. “As I walked into school this morning, I saw Mr. Cooper leaving the office in tears. He’s our advanced English Literature teacher here and the best teacher I have ever had. He’s won teacher of the year for the past six years.”

She paused and smiled as the crowd cheered. “I stopped Mr. Cooper to ask him what was wrong, and he told me he had just been fired because he was gay and got married to a man over the summer. He was too upset to say anything else. I marched right into Principal Cunningham’s office to ask why he was fired.” She looked over to see Cunningham standing nervously at the top of the steps that led into the school lobby. The cameraman pulled back to show him then returned focus to Stephanie and Veronica.

“What did Mr. Cunningham tell you?”

“He said a couple of parents reached out to Archbishop Romano to demand Mr. Cooper be fired because of photos posted on Instagram showing him and his husband at their recent wedding. One showed them kissing.”

She shrugged her shoulders and continued, “As newlyweds do. The archbishop forced Principal Cunningham to fire an outstanding teacher this morning because of his sexual orientation and that he exercised his legal right to marry. I told Principal Cunningham the decision was wrong, and I wasn’t going to stand for it. He told me there was nothing he could do. I walked out and called KXIN.”

She looked out at the crowd, “As you can see, we’re not just going to sit back and allow this to happen without a discussion.”

Stephanie glared directly into the camera. “And, Archbishop Romano, I have a message for you. All we want, all we need is for our teachers to be intelligent, engaging, and …” She turned from the camera and shouted into the crowd. Positive role models!” The group began chanting, “Positive role model!”

Stephanie motioned to the crowd to quiet down as she continued. “Mr. Cooper is all of these things, and so much more.” She raised her voice. “Let me be clear. This practicing Catholic is not stepping back into that school until he’s re-employed here.” She looked away from the camera and out toward the crowd, pumped her fist over her head, and began shouting, “Positive Role Model.” The crowd immediately joined in.

Veronica plugged one of her ears and shouted into her microphone over the voices rising up from the group, “Stephanie, what do you think of the Catholic Church today?”

Her eyes welled as she searched for the right words. “I couldn’t be more ashamed of my religion than I am at this moment.”

“Thank you, Stephanie.”

Turning back toward the camera with the focus only on her, Veronica said, “What I’ve learned so far is that Archbishop Romano made it clear to the principal that the school would lose its Catholic identity and no longer be considered a part of the archdiocese if it didn’t immediately fire Mr. Cooper. The school receives significant funding from the archdiocese and would be at risk of closing without it.”

“One other thing. I reviewed the school’s robust non-discrimination policy for its employees on the school’s website. It expressly protects employees from discrimination based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and marital status. While this all sounds good on paper, it remains unclear how Mr. Cooper was protected by that policy today. We’ve reached out to Archbishop Romano for comment and haven’t received word back yet. We will keep trying.”

“Stacey, we will be here the rest of the day and will have an update on this situation during the five-o’clock broadcast. For KXIN noon news, this is Veronica Mills.”

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