#LetMatthewTeach

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:

Matt

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.

11150510_10152847075485945_8789487108688835460_n

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.

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41 thoughts on “#LetMatthewTeach

  1. “__________ is okay because God told us to” is the most dangerous proposition in the history of the world.

    -Insert “killing infidels” or “treating women as second class citizens” or “discriminating against gays”…the list goes on and on. Secular society is what steps in and says these religious behaviors aren’t okay anymore; religions are always many steps behind and have to adapt to not appear as crazy in the modern world.

  2. What a well written article and so on point! I can’t be Catholic anymore. It’s sickening. The level of denial and bigotry and flat out A holiness. I’m done. The beauty of this entire situation is watching the students take hold of this as their civil rights movement. I have faith in humanity when I listen to these kids (OF CATHOLIC SCHOOLS EVEN!!) rally against this hypocrisy. The Catholics are catering to a dying breed of haters. We are showing them how love is.

  3. God bless you Matt! These are actions of man not god! We will be your voice your armor! Fight on! Jesus is right beside you! He loves everyone!!!! Remember life’s compliments not insults..

  4. So, there is one issue and one issue only with your proposed method of attack: none of those things are actually against Catholic doctrine. A lot of the “old law” was revised for Catholic doctrine. If you want to be accurate in calling people out, call out violations of the Cathecism of the Catholic Church, which should be a quick google away. And if you REALLY wanna hit them below the belt pun intended, try to get them on premarital sex violations of doctrine. I guarantee at least 50% of the administration has done it. That being said, it might make the debate nasty. But:

    As a Catholic: being gay is not a sin. Nor is it counter to doctrine. Having gay relations is the only sin about homosexuality on the books. So they are firing this man for assumed homosexual sexual behavior. So going after premarital stuff is going punch for punch with administration IMO

    • TDS, your reply made some great points that most commenters seem to be ignoring. I would only add that it was the declaration of planning to “marry” his partner that may have led to the conclusion that he was ok with same gender sexy am relations rather than a general assumption that he was participating in them.

      • I have loved this argument. So, you’re suggesting that the Catholic church is totally cool with gay people, provided they don’t say or do anything that actually identifies them as gay. That’s not tolerance, that’s ignorance. To have heard the administration come out and say “hey, like, if we don’t know, we don’t KNOW, you know?” is just insulting. Matt has been gay the whole time he’s been teaching there. He’s the same person they hired, same person they’ve praised, same person whose contract they’ve renewed multiple times. It’s insulting to suggest if he had just done a better job hiding who he was, he’d still have a job.

  5. It really is a shame to fire such a great teacher for something so trivial…however what do you expect from a private religious school. Notice that my statement wasn’t a question.

    Not at all surprised. Perhaps he can get another job where he will continue to do wonders.

  6. If you want Skutt to change (which I do), find the biggest donors to the school, besides the Archdiocese, and put some pressure on them. And if you can, get donors to the Archdiocese to apply pressure at that level.

    The Archdiocese has dealt with and ignored much worse PR items than this. But the Church has shown again and again that money talks.

  7. LOL

    You get on a blog and you have a “skin” in the game while I don’t. I paid for kids to go to Skutt. You write about it on a blog. Wow. Assume you’ve put your neck on the line at UNO to hire him, yes?

    It’s your blog, you can make your speeches. I should have expected the default kneejerk responses (“wrong side of history”) vs. a reasoned discussion. Sorry I dared disrupt your echo chamber.

    Get back to your three jobs and your self-anointed “truth and justice” crusade.

    Thanks.

    • “You have a dear friend you’ve known for a decade who feels hurt? I WRITE CHECKS!” – A thing you just said. It’s not a kneejerk reaction to tell you you’re on the wrong side of history. You are. You’re the guy saying “legally, the restaurant didn’t HAVE to serve Negroes. And I buy a lot of lunches there, so I have a say.” You’re a parody of yourself. And the best part, for real the very best part, is knowing that you’re going to be able in your life time to see how truly wrong you were. Bye, Felica.

      • Not only am I in awe of your logic and reasoning, but for a straight man to use “Bye, Felicia,” you have just won yourself a new blog subscriber! 🙂

    • Having a discussion does not mean that you have the right to simply be nasty and mean. I would guess that you are a Republican; I mean, the hate literally exudes from your words. Ryansyrek, it is only by blogs such as yours that the hypocrisy of the church will be made public. We here in Cincinnati have an equally hate-filled and bigoted Archdiocese so we battle the same ignorance; great teachers being “no longer renewed” and the only ones who really suffer are the students. I tell everyone about the situation in Omaha as we have the same with a hate-filled Purcell Marian HS in Cincy. Keep up the good fight and let the blow-hards like RAM live their miserable lives.

  8. So, let’s get this straight, so to speak:

    The Church claims to be an arbiter of morality in the first place, yet consistently lags behind on the most basic of moral issues, favoring a tradition of ignorance, judgment and discrimination until its hand is forced. By whom is its hand forced? By a public who clearly has a keener sense of morality than the Church.

    This being the case, what, exactly, is the Church contributing to the overall state of morality, and why do parents spend 8 or 9K for an education that is supposed to reinforce moral values, when the children and parents obviously understand those values better themselves already? The church changes its positions only when it becomes clear that if it does not change, its followers are going to realize its obsolescence. And when it does, they come back and praise the church for its strength and moral leadership.

    I know of no other institution where “leading” means “lagging behind until you run the risk of being left behind altogether.”

  9. I remember in July, 2013 when Pope Francis said, ““If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” This is the POPE! If he of all people has this sort of respect for members of the gay and lesbian community, why should this Catholic high school be having hizzy fits because Matthew chose to be honest and not live a lie? They seem to be saying, “well, if he’d just kept his mouth shut, he’d have a job”. What’s wrong with that sentence? A great deal! The school is asking Matthew to lie; a sin.

    I have great respect for Pope Francis. He “gets” it. Skutt President John McMahon not only doesn’t get it, but he’s hiding behind the coattails of the Catholic Church because he knows he can. He’s a joke.

  10. Your letter is flat out amazing. A tremendous amount of work and thought went into writing it. Thank you for doing this. I think a letter like yours stands a much better chance of bringing about change than not. I’m impressed and thankful.

  11. Pingback: mid-week round-up | Finding delight.

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