The Roman Catholic high school that Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg attended has a policy against hiring educators in same-sex relationships, HuffPost has learned. This means even Buttigieg, the nation’s first openly gay White House contender, would not be able to get a job at his alma mater on the basis of his sexuality.
“The Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend (in Indiana) requires our educators to adhere to Catholic teachings on the respect for the dignity of all persons and on marriage as the union of one man and one woman,” diocese spokeswoman Jennifer Simerman said in an e-mail.
According to diocese policy, entering into a same-sex relationship or marriage is “incompatible with the mission of the Catholic school educator,” Simerman wrote.
The diocese oversees Saint Joseph High School, where Buttigieg started as a student at age 14. He went on to Harvard University, served in the Navy (deploying at one point to Afghanistan) and first won election as South Bend’s mayor in 2011.
Buttigieg publicly came out as gay in 2015 and married his partner, Chasten Buttigieg, last year.
Illustration: Damon Dahlen/HuffPost; Photos: Getty
Saint Joseph’s policy highlights stark contradictions between the nation’s laws and widespread cultural attitudes toward LGBTQ people. Buttigieg could ascend to the nation’s highest office, yet current laws would allow his alma mater to legally discriminate against him based on his sexuality.
While he remains a longshot in the race for his party’s nomination, Buttigieg’s candidacy already has exceeded expectations for a politician who lacked a national profile, attracting impressive fundraising support and garnering the backing of some big-name celebrities. Several polls have shown he is among the Democrats who could defeat President Donald Trump in next year’s general election.
“It perfectly underscores the very difficult situation of LGBTQ people in our country right now,” said Eliza Byard, executive director of GLSEN, an organization that advocates for LGBTQ students. “We are part of the national community to the extent there is an out presidential candidate who is himself married,” but legally enshrined discrimination still limit his employment options.
Buttigieg’s campaign declined to comment on St. Joseph High School’s hiring policy.
Dollars For Discrimination
It is unclear if anyone has been explicitly barred from employment or fired because of their marital status at Fort Wayne-South Bend diocese schools. In 2011, a woman who worked at one of the diocese’s schools was fired after pursuing in vitro fertilization treatments, which leadership said was contradictory to Catholic teaching on procreation.
The Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese also disapproves of transgender and gender non-conforming students.
“Educators are expected to encourage all students to accept their own bodies with their biological sex as God created them,” Simerman said in her email.
Still, Simerman maintained that the diocese is accepting of gay people, despite its policies. The issue is not with people who experience “same-sex inclinations,” who deserve sensitivity and compassion, she said. Rather, “the issue is about persons who enter into ‘same-sex marriages’ or same-sex relationships.”
Buttigieg appears to have maintained a relationship with Saint Joseph High School over the years. He spoke to one of the school’s economics classes in 2015, per the school’s website.
Although Saint Joseph’s is a private school, it receives millions in public dollars each year as a participant in Indiana’s school voucher program. This program gives low- and middle-income students publicly funded scholarships to attend private schools.
During the 2018-2019 school year, the school received over $1.6 million in public dollars. Over the past three school years, it has received over $4.5 million, per a report from the Indiana Department of Education.
Saint Joseph’s and the diocese’s dozens of other schools are hardly alone in their discriminatory policies. Cathedral High School, part of the Indianapolis archdiocese, recently came under fire for terminating an educator in a same-sex marriage.
Cathedral High School received over $1.1 million in public funding through the state’s voucher program in 2018-2019.
Such discrimination in voucher programs is common around the country. A previous HuffPost investigation found that nationwide, at least 14% of religious schools that participate in school voucher programs explicitly discriminate against LGBTQ students and staff.
Pockets Of Prejudice
Indiana has not adopted statewide non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people. However, under Buttigieg, South Bend adopted its own ordinance that includes such protections. The ordinance, though, includes exceptions for religious institutions.
The Indiana school voucher program does not include protections from discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation.
“We live in a country where in some states it’s perfectly legal to discriminate against LGBTQ people,” Byard said. “Religiously based schools like [Buttigieg’s] high school have the legal right to refuse to hire people who are LGBTQ.”
H.R. Jung, who runs the LGBTQ Center in South Bend, says the city is generally accepting of LGBTQ people, though pockets of prejudice persist.
“If the Catholic Church is going to double down on these things it’s going to be more difficult for people to be out in their workplace, in their own town, and in their own home. It’s a mixed bag,” Jung said.
But he added that he believed Buttigieg, has helped accelerate progress.
“I think having Mayor Pete be open and out and married emboldened a lot of the members of the community to feel like they can be who they are, a little louder and more openly than they have previously been,” Jung said.