Lawmaker proposing anti-discrimination bill after guidance counselor’s suspension

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.- An Indiana lawmaker says schools that take state voucher money must not be allowed to discriminate against gay and lesbian employees, and he’s got plans for legislation to make that happen.

Democrat Dan Forestal’s (D-Indianapolis) proposal is in response to the recent suspension of Roncalli High School counselor Shelly Fitzgerald, after archdiocese leaders found out she is married to a woman.

Roncalli is a private, Catholic school. Forestal doesn’t want Fitzgerald’s situation to happen again.

“The law wouldn’t say that a private institution…the state’s not coming in to tell them how to operate,” said Forestal. “What we’re saying is if you choose to operate in a discriminatory manner, then you will no longer be rewarded with public dollars.”

Fitzgerald, a Roncalli High School counselor, is on paid leave after school leaders found out she married a woman in 2014, going against Indianapolis Archdiocese policies and Catholic beliefs, as well as Fitzgerald’s employment contract.

“What I’m trying to do here is encourage the Archdiocese of Indianapolis to do the right thing here,” said Forestal.

Forestal, a Roncalli graduate himself, says his bill would block Indiana schools from taking state voucher money if they discriminate against employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

“That would be a very innovative idea,” said Steve Sanders, an associate professor at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law, “to my knowledge, there are no other states right now that have built in protections for sexual orientation or gender identity into their voucher programs.”

Sanders specializes in LGBTQ legal issues. He says the proposal would be stronger if it’s protections went further to include race, ethnicity or handicaps, for example.

“It would help insulate the law from future legal challenges,” said Sanders, “and also would just be better public policy to also build in some of the other common categories of non-discrimination.”

The Supreme Court has ruled that just because a private institution gets some public money, doesn’t mean it falls under Constitutional control.

Forestal says state law should reflect voter values.

“We have to invest our tax dollars where our values lead us,” he said.

Fitzgerald’s attorney did send out a statement saying he met with the archdiocese’s attorney to begin discussions about a potential resolution.

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