Firing Of Gay Teacher In Glendora Sparks Protest - Los Angeles News | FOX 11 LA KTTV

Religion, Sex and Politics: Firing Of Gay Teacher In Glendora Sparks Protest

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Glendora, CA -

From Gigi Graciette:

What's that old saying about not talking about religion, politics or sex at the dinner table? Not unless you want to have a disagreement, that is.

But the three seemingly came together in Glendora today at, of all places, a Catholic high school. St. Lucy's Priory High School in Glendora is a well-respected, all girl Catholic school that has been around since 1964 and is run by Benedictine Sisters.

The school unwillingly made national headlines recently when it fired one of its teachers, Ken Bencomo, after he got married…to a man. So far, St. Lucy's has not disputed that they knew Ken is gay and has been gay for the 17 years he taught there.

And the fact that  "Mr. B" (as students call him) has been in a relationship with "Mr. P",  the man he married, for ten years; the man he says he'd introduced as his partner to administrators at many school events didn't seem to be an issue.

What ended the 17 year relationship between school and teacher is that Bencomo's "I do's" on July 12th got some local publicity. Proposition 8 had just been overturned and photos of the ceremony were published in the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin.

As the school said in a written statement today:

 "While St. Lucy Priory High School does not discriminate against teachers or other school employees based on their private lifestyle choices, public displays of behavior that are directly contrary to church teachings are inconsistent with these values."

In other words, it was the PDA that got Bencomo fired.

The public display of affection and "behavior", as in the groom kissing the groom at their wedding. It is a Roman Catholic school after all and gay marriage goes against church teachings. The decision didn't sit well with many students, past and present, and today they protested outside the school.

Meanwhile, 50,000 plus people protested online; signing a petition (http://www.change.org/petitions/st-lucy-s-priory-high-school-give-ken-bencomo-his-job-back ) asking the nuns to reinstate Bencomo.

In a second written statement issued today, the nuns did not mention Bencomo at all, instead thanking the protestors for "voicing their opinions in a spirited and peaceful manner".

The story surely does not end here. Mr. B has a lawyer and may turn to the courts to remedy this situation.

But agree or disagree with the protesting student's point of view – that Mr. B should not have been fired -- the young ladies I interviewed today, all Seniors, were very well-spoken, concise and passionate about their ideas, which reminded me of another young lady: St. Lucy.

As the nuns note on their website, the school's namesake "was known for her strength, courage, vision, kindness and humor."

(FOX 11 / AP) Former students of St. Lucy's Priory High School will gather in front of the school Thursday in protest of the recent firing of gay Catholic school teacher Ken Bencomo.

It was a picture of one of life's happiest moments that Catholic high school teacher Ken Bencomo said cost him his job.

The veteran English instructor married his longtime beau five days after the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for gay marriages to resume in California. Coverage of the happy couple in the local newspaper, however, appears not to have sat well with the all-girls Catholic school in the Los Angeles suburb of Glendora where he taught for 17 years.

"They told him because of the marriage and that it was publicized and it was against church teachings they had to fire him," Bencomo's lawyer, Patrick McGarrigle, said on Friday.

St. Lucy's Priory High School, located about 20 miles northeast of Los Angeles, declined to comment on the case but said the school provides an education based on Catholic tradition.

"While the school does not discriminate against teachers or other school employees based on their private lifestyle choices, public displays of behavior that are directly contrary to church teachings are inconsistent with these values," St. Lucy's said in a statement.

The firing has stoked an outpouring of support for Bencomo and Christopher Persky, who were among the first gay couples to line up at the San Bernardino County Assessor-Recorder's Office to get married after the Supreme Court's decision.

The court ruled that the sponsors of voter-approved Proposition 8 lacked authority to appeal a federal trial judge's decision that the ban on same-sex marriage violated the constitutional rights of gay and lesbian Californians.

Some of Bencomo's former students are planning a peaceful protest for next week. A petition circulating online in support of Bencomo, who headed the school's English department and served as a yearbook adviser and dance coach, had more than 12,000 signatures Friday.

Former student Brittany Littleton said she doesn't understand the school's position since St Lucy's doesn't require teachers or students to be Catholic and many openly gay students, and students with gay parents, attend.

"I couldn't believe they would do that. He's a beloved member of the family there, adored by all his students, and it's just wrong," said Littleton, who is 23.

The clash between teachers' lifestyles and the tenets of Catholic schools is hardly new. Earlier this year, a lesbian teacher said she was fired by an Ohio Catholic school after her mother's published obituary included the name of her partner. And another Ohio Catholic school teacher sued and won after she was fired for becoming pregnant through artificial insemination.

Under federal law, church-based schools can make hiring decisions for religious reasons, said David Ball, co-chair of the American Bar Association's religious organizations subcommittee. But courts are still grappling with which kinds of instances are covered by this exemption to anti-discrimination laws.

"This is his private life, out of work so that's the gray area," Ball said. "When can religious employers say they have religious reasons for firing somebody when it's got nothing to do with their job performance? (when) it's their identity, not their actions?"

Bencomo, who in the past attended school fundraisers and events with his partner, hasn't filed a lawsuit, saying he would rather settle the matter without one. Bencomo could not be immediately reached.

Earlier this week, Pope Francis made headlines when saying "who am I to judge?" when it comes to the sexual orientations of priests, so long as they are searching for God and have good will. While Francis hasn't changed anything about Catholic teaching, experts say his remarks constitute a significant change in tone.

Frederick Parrella, a professor of religious studies at Santa Clara University, said it isn't uncommon to see different Catholic dioceses display different attitudes toward gay marriage.

"The primary principle is they don't like things made public and the fact that this was probably public, and made the papers and a big splash is what happened," Parrella said. "Had this gentleman gotten married in a private civil ceremony, there would be no problem I'm sure."

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