INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.– Shelly Fitzgerald, the Roncalli guidance counselor who is on administrative leave after her same-sex marriage was discovered by the school, announced with her legal team Thursday that they would be taking legal action within the next 30 days.
A charge of discrimination will be filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Fitzgerald’s legal team is expanding as they work to put the paperwork together.
“We are seeking policy changes in moving forward with the litigation, not personal gain,” said attorney David Page.
Fitzgerald is in a legal battle with the school and Archdiocese of Indianapolis, who says the issue is not about her sexual orientation, but rather about how the church defines marriage. The school placed her on leave after finding out about her same-sex marriage. She has worked at Roncalli for the past 15 years and been in a relationship with her wife for more than 20.
The school says her marriage is a violation of her contract. She currently remains on paid administrative leave.
“Recently, I was thrust into the spotlight as a result of adverse reaction that has been taken against me by my employers– the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and Roncalli High School,” she said.
She explained that she struggled with her sexuality while growing up, and finally concluded that she was still a “child of God.” Her path eventually led her back to Roncalli, and she loved working as a counselor.
“My employment position was so much more than a job to me, and then it fell apart,” she said. “A little bit more than a week into the current school year, I was called to meet with Dr. Joe Hollowell, Roncalli’s president, and Roncalli Principal Chuck Weisenbach. There was a problem. Someone had turned in my marriage license to them, and in short I was going to be let go.”
Fitzgerald said the options she was given were to dissolve her marriage, resign, or quietly ride out the rest of the school year knowing her contract wouldn’t be renewed, but risking early termination if the situation was made public.
“Without hesitation, I informed both gentlemen that I had no intention of resigning, and I certainly wasn’t going to dissolve my marriage. I had no intention of walking away quietly and letting people believe that I chose to walk away from a job and community that I love so much.”
She said it was clear they weren’t going to change their decision.
After the story started getting attention, she said she was overwhelmed with support. Two days after the meeting, she learned she’d been put on paid administrative leave and banned from the school’s campus.
Fitzgerald declared her mission statement and outlined her goals, saying she felt the need to be a voice for advocacy.
“My mission is simply to convince the Catholic Church and Catholic High Schools across the US to implement posititve and permananent policy changes that affirm the LGBT+ community and acknowledge the rights bestowed upon that community by the rule of law. I am not here to change the teachings of the Catholic Church. I do not wish to rewrite the Bible. I simply hope to emulate the brave gay men and women who were pioneers in this cause before me, people like Ellen DeGeneres, Harvey Milk and even my aunt – Mary Fitzgerald.
“I want to use my voice to speak out for all members of the LGBT+ community who did not have the ability or resources to fight discrimination in the past. I want to use my voice to speak out for all of those people who are living in fear, hoping every day that their choice to love another will not get them fired or persecuted. I want to use my voice for change. I want to use my voice for good, for love, for acceptance and understanding.”
She’s calling for the following changes in policy:
- Change the contracts which prevent LGBT employees of the Archdiocese;
- Extend the benefits to spouses of LGBT employees in a same-sex marriage;
- Offer employment to LGBT employees of the Archdiocese fired under the old contract; and
- Allow for the formation of a Gay-Straight Alliance in all Catholic high schools.
“We all need to be more loving, more accepting and welcoming to everyone, just as Jesus did and just as He calls us to do,” she said.
She also announced support for Shelly’s Voice Advocacy Group from DignityUSA, New Ways Ministry and Indiana Youth Group.
Indiana Senator-elect J.D. Ford, the state’s first openly gay lawmaker, was also there to support her.
Fitzgerald’s advocacy group is holding a “launch party” on Dec. 4. Learn more here.