Barbara Webb had been a chemistry teacher and volleyball coach at Marian High School in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., for nearly a decade -- until last month, when Webb says administrators at the all-girl's Catholic school learned Webb and her wife were expecting their first child.
Webb, 33, married her partner, Kristen Lasecki, nearly six years ago, according to the Detroit Free Press. Webb says that she learned of her pregnancy in June, informed her employers in July, and was fired by mid-August. The termination letter Webb received did not include an official reason for her dismissal, but she told the Free Press that conversations with administrators leading up to her firing made clear that her "nontraditional" pregnancy was the cause.
"If you publicly had some type of actions that were contradictory to Catholic teachings, then there would be an issue," Webb told Detroit's WJBK-TV. "If you did and it was private, there seemed to be no issue."
Of course, a pregnancy is tough to keep strictly private, especially as the expectant mother's belly began to grow. Although she initially tried to work out a plan for maternity leave that would avoid publicly announcing the pregnancy, Webb says administrators gave her an ultimatum: she could either resign immediately or be fired. According to a post on Webb's Facebook wall from August 27, if she agreed to resign, the school offered to continue her health care benefits through May -- as long as she signed a nondisclosure agreement surrounding her dismissal.
"Well, you're damn right I wasn't going to sign something that said I willing[ly] was leaving," she wrote on August 27. "And their $4k of health insurance wasn't enough to buy my silence."
Webb acknowledged that the employment contract she signed did include a "morality clause," an increasingly common caveat used by parochial schools that allows the institution to reprimand faculty and staff who don't adhere publicly to the faith's teachings.
Although Webb is discouraged by her dismissal, her Facebook page notes that she is also grateful for the outpouring of support after her story broke. Marian students, parents, and alumni have not only spoken to media in Webb's defense, noting that she was well-liked and professional, but have also launched a Facebook page titled "I stand with Barb Webb" with more than 2,200 members. Members of that group and other supporters have organized a demonstration to support Webb, scheduled to begin Sunday, September 7 at 8:30 a.m. near the entrance to the Marian campus. Find more information about the planned peaceful protest at this Facebook event page.
Catholic institutions dismissing LGBT faculty after those staffers expand their families -- through marriage or pregnancy -- is becoming a troubling trend, notes the Human Rights Campaign.
"There is a sad and troubling narrative of increasing discrimination by Catholic institutions against LGBT Americans, including and especially those who legally marry or come out," said Lisbeth Melendez Rivera, director of Latino/a and Catholic Initiatives at the HRC Foundation in a press release. "These discriminatory actions extend from Oakland to Kansas City to Cincinnati, from Chicago to Atlanta, and are occurring with alarming frequency."
Watch WJBK's report on Webb's situation below.
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