Earlier this year St Mary’s Academy, a Roman Catholic high school for young women in Portland OR, offered a job as an academic counselor to Lauren Brown. A few months later the school rescinded the offer. The school withdrew the offer of employment because Lauren told the school that she was a lesbian. When the job offer was withdrawn, the school offered Lauren a year’s salary if she agreed not to sue the school and to not discuss the matter publicly. She refused the offer.
When word spread that the job offer had been withdrawn, the current student body, parents, supporters and alumnae were incensed. The discrimination flew in the face of just about everything that St Mary’s Academy had stood for through the years. This was a school which at one time used the tagline “free to be me” to attract future students. It was reported in the press that earlier in the week students and alumnae gathered at one student’s home to paint gay pride t-shirts that they intended to wear the first day of classes.
The community learned that the job offer was withdrawn when the academy released an email from the president, Christina Friedhoff, explaining the decision that had been taken and asking for prayer. The rationale for the decision was attributed to St Mary’s Academy being a Roman Catholic school. Social media exploded, especially among former students who today identify as gay. A letter to the St Mary’s administration from 1999 graduate Claire Willet went viral on Facebook. She lambasted them for the damage that they were doing to current students who identify as gay. Additionally, a married couple, Mary & Tim Boyle, supporters and donors to the scool, publicly expressed their disappointment that St Mary’s would discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation and marriage equality. Mary Boyle is a 1967 graduate of St Mary’s and her husband is the CEO of Columbia Sportswear.
Many feel that the school’s decision to rescind the position to Ms Brown was influenced by Portland’s Roman Catholic Archbishop, the Most Revd Alexander Sample. The archbishop upholds traditional Roman Catholic doctrine with regard to human sexuality and marriage. At one point it was suggested that Lauren Brown had a long term partner to whom she was engaged. Her attorney states that neither is true. Aside from identifying as a lesbian, Ms brown currently is not in violation of Catholic doctrine.
Barely 24 hours after the president of St Mary’s Academy had emitted her email announcing the school’s former action of withdrawing Lauren Brown’s offer of employment based on her admitted homosexuality, the Board of the school had reversed course and has now announced an official nondiscrimination policy with regard to sexual orientation and marital status. “St. Mary’s is a diverse community that welcomes and includes gay and lesbian students, faculty, alumnae, parents and friends, including those that are married. We are proud of our work preparing the next generation of women leaders for service and leadership. We are still deeply committed to our Catholic identity,” wrote the president in another email.
At this point the Academy could not offer the job to Ms Brown because the school has given the position to someone else. However, the academy has stated that it will reach out to Lauren Brown in an attempt at reconciliation. The Archdiocese of Portland office of communications has said that the Archbishop is disappointed in the St Mary’s Board’s reversal and its unanimous adoption of an equal opportunity employment policy and will continue a conversation with those school officials.
Main image from St Mary’s Academy website.
Image of Lauren Brown is a screenshot from a video at katu.com.
Pride t-shirt image is a screenshot from a video at oregonlive.com.
Information for this story was gathered from Huffpost Religion, KATU and Oregon Live.