LGBTQ author alleges discrimination after Catholic school cancels appearance

By : Tiffany Razzano
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ST. PETERSBURG | Gale Massey, who released her novel “The Girl from Blind River” last summer, says that the Cathedral School of St. Jude in St. Petersburg canceled her scheduled appearance because she is a lesbian.

In January, a St. Jude student emailed Massey about her book for a project. “I was delighted,” she says. “When someone has read your book and reaches out, it’s wonderful.”The student’s teacher, Marilyn Montroy, thanked Massey for her assistance in a Jan. 23 email and invited her to speak to students Jan. 30 during Catholic Schools Week. “We would love to have you here,” Montroy wrote. “The girls would be surprised and thrilled to meet you.”

Massey agreed to the appearance but Montroy rescinded the invitation the following day. In a Jan. 24 email, Montroy wrote, “Seems like we have packed a few too many extra activities in our schedule.”

This didn’t sit well with Massey or her publicist, Erin Mitchell. Both felt the appearance had been cancelled because Massey is a lesbian. Earlier that day, Lambda Literary had published a roundtable interview with three southern queer authors, including Massey.

Mitchell contacted Bishop Gregory L. Parkes of the Diocese of St. Petersburg about her concerns. “This novel … concerns themes of the challenges of poverty, difficult family circumstances and redemption,” she wrote. “It is a story worthy of discussion. Gale has engaged in these conversations at other local schools, receiving excellent feedback from teachers, administrators and, importantly, students.”

At Parkes’ urging, the superintendent of Catholic schools and centers for the diocese, Christopher Pastura, emailed Mitchell to say that “day-to-day instructional matters in our Catholic schools are handled at the local level.”

“As a matter of policy, we require all schools to carefully vet every person that comes in to speak to our students,” he continued. “We do this to ensure that speakers align with Catholic teaching and have appropriate background screening.”

That same day, St. Jude Principal Jesse Gaudette emailed Mitchell to set up a Feb. 6 meeting. During this meeting, Mitchell says that Gaudette confirmed that the school canceled Massey’s appearance because she is a lesbian.

In a Feb. 27 email to Watermark, Mitchell wrote that Gaudette “said that had they checked [online] before inviting her (they did not), [Massey] would not have been invited. He also said that personally, he felt bad about this decision, but given the circumstances … he had to cancel.”

Mitchell notes that Gaudette hasn’t read Massey’s book. “Does he understand that Gale’s book is about the reality of poverty in modern America? It’s not a manual for how to grow up and be gay,” she says.

“I just wanted to surprise the kids with something nice,” Massey adds. “How silly is it to think that having a gay woman speak to students is somehow threatening?”

Several parents whose children attend St. Jude indicated that they would have welcomed Massey’s appearance—including Scott Stevens. He was aware that Massey’s visit had been canceled because she is a lesbian and says that he doesn’t agree with the decision.

“Just because [our family] belongs here doesn’t mean we don’t like anyone for reasons like this,” he says. Still, he adds, “It is what it is. All I know is it’s a Catholic school and Catholic schools have their beliefs.”

Mitchell and Massey say they hoped that dialogue with the school and the diocese would lead to St. Jude rescheduling Massey’s appearance.

“That’s all I wanted,” Massey shares. “I’ve had experiences talking to students and I think they get a lot out of it. They deserve to see somebody growing up in their same town having accomplished something. They deserve having the opportunity to talk to someone who achieved something big. If I could still make it happen, I would.”

As of press time, Gaudette, Montroy, Pastura and Teresa Lantigua Peterson, executive director of communications for the diocese, did not respond to Watermark’s multiple requests for comment.

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