UPDATE: I have included a bit at the bottom in the wake of a new interview Matt did with Buzzfeed.
I don’t have kids. I know that seems like a weird place to start this, but it’s important you know that.
For the last 9 years, my wife and I have coached the University of Nebraska at Omaha speech team. Actually, we just got back from the national tournament, where we broke back into the top 5 and won another individual national championship despite being smaller than literally every other team around us. We should be celebrating right now. We should be so happy about our kids who worked impossibly hard for a full year and achieved success beyond their wildest dreams. But we can’t. Because one of our family is hurting.
Like I said, I don’t have kids. Also, I have about 2 dozen kids.
Every member who has passed through our speech team, no matter how long they were there, is family to me. I would protect them, defend them, fight for them against any challenge without a moment’s hesitation. All of them. Even ones I haven’t spoken to in years. Hell, just think of Dom from The Fast and the Furious series: “I don’t have friends. I have family.” I feel you, Toretto. I wish you were here to jump-punch some fools for me.
I’ve known Matt Eledge since he looked like this:
From the first day I met him, I knew Matt to be one of the most loving people on this earth. I watched him grow from an awkward 19 year old into a man I deeply admire. On our team, he frequently spoke about injustice to the LGBTQ community. His senior year, he got second in the nation with a dramatic interpretation about the systemic intolerance of gay men in Jamaica. He was an eloquent advocate and a passionate performer. He made me proud. Not because of his competitive success, but because he chose to use his voice on behalf of others.
When he graduated, Matt became a speech coach. I don’t really know how to explain what that feels like for us. I guess it’s something like when a child goes into the family business because they truly want to or an athlete’s child displays a talent for the same position? All I know is that he was our first graduate to accept a full-time position coaching speech.
And he was good. Oh man was he good. Almost immediately, Skutt began climbing in the rankings. ln no time at all, he was racking up State Championships like it was nothing. The count stands at 4 consecutive now. Again, I’m kind of stuck with how to explain what this feels like, to watch someone you helped learn a skill use that skill to such unbelievable success. But that’s not what moved me most. We’ve been lucky enough to have some of Matt’s high school graduates come on to our team. If I was able to come up with an analogy for those other feelings, I’m totally at a loss here for what that feels like. He basically taught them for years and sent them to us so we could teach them. We’ve, I don’t know, kind of quasi-co-parented kids together? Not accurate as a metaphor, but I hope you get it in general.
Skutt is going to fire Matt because he’s gay.
Now, they are going to argue (and have argued) that they’re not actually firing him but “not renewing his contract.” Whatever. A teacher who is beloved by his students and their parents who has won 4 consecutive state titles as a coach won’t be back teaching there next year. That’s being fired, even if you want to massage the language into oblivion. You can call a duck a squirrel, but if that thing quacks, we know what it is.
Honestly, my first thought wasn’t sadness for Matt. It was for his kids. Good Lord, the trauma that those students must be feeling. To have a mentor, leader, and champion taken from them during such a formative time? It’s downright evil. They are in so much pain right now, I can’t possibly explain it. The Archdiocese of Omaha and Skutt Catholic have chosen to break from Matt because he was honest with them. Let that sink in. When he decided to tell the administration that he was planning to marry his long-term partner, they turned against him, citing the Catholic dogma.
As they explained, had Matt stayed silent (don’t ask, don’t tell if you will), it would have been okay. Lying and denying who you are would be acceptable to the church, but not admitting that you were born different. The Church swears this isn’t because Matt is GAY, but that ANY breech of Catholic dogma would be grounds for termination. The Chancellor of the Omaha Archdiocese then said one of the most disgusting combinations of words I’ve ever heard any human say.
There have been single, pregnant teachers and those who’ve divorced and remarried outside the Catholic church who have lost their jobs.
Their defense…their BEST defense…is “no really, we fire single moms too.”
I’d have taken Matt’s side and helped him no matter what. But this? This goes beyond Matt. This speaks to a fundamental, powerful problem systemic in all of organized religion right now. Their outdated, archaic, and downright evil way of thinking must change. And if they won’t do so because they see what is right, they must be forced to do so by those who see this intolerance for what it is.
Matt tells me that his peers at Skutt are largely supportive. I’ve seen the news stories with parents and admired his kids. As a speech coach, the single greatest accomplishment you can have is knowing that you’ve taught students to find and use their voice for the greater good. Matt’s students organized a petition that has become a movement. 50,000 signatures on one post for a teacher in the middle of the country at a small Catholic school. It’d be hilarious if it wasn’t so tragic: Matt is such a good educator and coach that his students were able to mount a national campaign against an injustice. That’s as good as it gets as a speech coach, y’all. And Matt did it by the age of 28.
Okay, so here’s the point where you come in. I am aware that Skutt has the “legal right” to not renew Matt’s contract. That’s not the debate here. Even if the current legislation in front of the unicameral of Nebraska passes, Skutt would be exempt on religious basis. There’s a huge discussion we need to have on why those groups get huge tax breaks from the state and then get to ignore state laws, but let’s table that for now. Skutt can, and likely will, fail to bring back Matt, their most successful speech coach ever. We just don’t have to let them off easy for it.
There is a difference between a legal right and a moral one. You can legally call a newborn baby the N-word. You are the worst human ever if you do. Whether or not Skutt CAN let Matt go is wholly irrelevant to whether they SHOULD. And they shouldn’t. So now is where we go to work.
Skutt and the Archdiocese of Omaha are trying to wait this controversy out. We can’t let them. We must continue to put pressure on them. We must continue to cripple their fundraising efforts, give them the worst PR imaginable, and try to show them the error of their ways. This isn’t just for Matt, who I love. This isn’t just for his students, who are hurting. This is for every LGBTQ kid at that school walking the halls thinking “if they can come for a person like Matt, what chance do I have.”
The Church’s position is that they are “not renewing Matt’s contract” because he is openly violating Catholic doctrine. Using that line of thinking, they would have to fire EVERYONE who violates ANY Catholic dogma. Remember, they are not saying that they consider being gay “worse” than other infractions, but that ANY infraction merits the termination of a contract based on that violation. I don’t want to smear good people’s names, as Matt works with wonderful teachers and educators. That said, I do want you to document as peacefully and sensitively as possible, the scores of infractions that the administrators of Skutt and faculty there commit daily with no repercussions.
I’ll go first.
This is Skutt President John McMahon.
He said the following:
If a staff member cannot commit to Catholic church teachings and doctrines, he or she cannot continue to be on staff at Skutt Catholic.
Remember, he didn’t say “it’s okay to ignore some teachings and doctrines, not others.” He said if you can’t commit to them, you’re gone.
I would like to officially call for the resignation of John McMahon, president of Skutt Catholic.
- Deuteronomy 22:11 states that he cannot wear linen and wool at the same time, as he is in the above photograph.
- Leviticus 19:27 reads “You shall not round off the side-growth of your heads nor harm the edges of your beard.” His goatee is in clear violation.
- He has instructed employees to work on the Sabbath, violating one of the 10 Commandments.
That is just the beginning. I am willing to continue to show ways in which President McMahon has violated Catholic doctrine as long as it takes. If Matt ISN’T being fired specifically because he is gay, but because he violated his contract by not upholding the teachings of the church, McMahon must resign.
Matt is an amazing educator, a loving person, and one of the bravest people I know for going through this like he is with as much decency and dignity as he is displaying. I know if it were me, I’d have unleashed a torrent of obscenities against all parties trying to ruin my life. Instead, Matt has done what he’s always done: Put his students first.
I beg you to join me in fighting for Matt. Sign the petition if you haven’t. Write letters to the editors of the Omaha World Herald. Call Skutt. Call the Archdiocese. Call parents. Take to social media and use the hashtag #LetMatthewTeach. Spread knowledge of the church’s hypocrisy by allowing McMahon and others to defy Catholic dogma while holding Matt to a different standard.
Later this week, we’ll be organizing some physical protests. On Monday, Matt’s former students are taking printed copies of the signatures on the petition to the Archdiocese. Those signatures when printed weigh more than 20 pounds. Spread the word. Hold them accountable. Support the protesters. Protest yourself.
And if nothing else, tell Matt you’re proud of him. It does matter when he hears it. The last few times I’ve spoken to him, he’s stressed that the support from others is what is helping him get through this.
I don’t have kids. And yet, I have a lot of kids. Matt is one of them. Help me. Help me fight for him. Help me tell the people who won’t let him continue to inspire and lead young people that we won’t stand for this.
UPDATE: In a Buzzfeed article that just went live, Matt publicly spoke about an element of this he had previously kept private. Out of respect, I hadn’t included it here or elsewhere. Here’s the relevant passage:
Eledge said in practice he operated on a so-called “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. He never spoke openly spoke about his sexuality at work, even after he began dating his partner, Elliot, a few years ago.
But in 2014, Elliot’s mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. Eledge said that although he and Elliot had talked about marriage before, they decided to go ahead with it so that she could be at the ceremony.
Over the last week, I have heard countless folks ask why he, more or less, didn’t keep his mouth shut. I have watched on this very post as comments have been made about Matt’s choice to go public. Matt and Eliot have been together for years. They love each other very much. And Eliot’s mom is dying. For a minute, if you can, I need you to set aside legal arguments and concerns. I need you to just be a human being for a second. Matt was forced to choose between doing right by someone he loves and risking the loss of a career he’s worked so hard on. He chose love.
I don’t consider myself a biblical scholar. But I know a little bit. And I know that there is a phrase often uttered by Christians: “God is love.” Should this man lose his job because of this? Is this right? Not legal, but right? If I didn’t know Matt, I’d be merely upset at the injustice. But I love Matt, and I’ve seen the love his kids have for him. So I’m not upset, I’m heartbroken.
The fight isn’t over. That Buzzfeed article hit today. Raise your voice. Spread the word. Protests will be happening soon. The Archdiocese and Skutt are waiting us out. We’re not stopping.