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Fired lesbian teacher fights to get job at Catholic high school back

A gym teacher at a Catholic school in Ohio claims she was fired after 19 years on the job because her mother's obituary, published in a local newspaper, revealed that she has a lesbian partner. NBC's Stephanie Gosk reports.

A diocese in Ohio is under siege — receiving numerous threatening calls as well as heated online criticism — and a veteran teacher is out of a job because of publicly revealing a lesbian relationship in violation of the Catholic school’s morality code.

But the firing has raised a fervent debate over tolerance both online and in the Columbus, Ohio, community where the incident took place.

Physical education teacher Carla Hale, 57, was fired in March after her name appeared in her mother's obituary, which also noted Hale's longtime lesbian partner.

Hale was summoned to a meeting with school administrators after she returned from her mother’s funeral.

At the meeting, she received a copy of her mother’s obituary that she and her brother had written. In addition, administrators gave Hale an anonymous letter from a parent calling the presence of a lesbian teacher at the school disgrace.

Hale was subsequently dismissed from Bishop Watterson Catholic High School after 19 years of service, with the school citing a morality provision in the contract between teachers and the diocese.

In the days since, the dismissal has received widespread attention on social media. A petition calling for her reinstatement on the Change.org website had received more than 55,000 signatures as of Wednesday evening.

The school district even asked for a police investigation after it received threatening calls, the Columbus Post Dispatch reported. The school’s Facebook page was removed as were employee email addresses from the school’s website.

Hale also filed a grievance to seek reinstatement but that was denied this week, she said. In a news briefing on Wednesday she said she would file an appeal with the central Ohio board of Catholic educators, NBC station WCMH reported. She also said she would file a discrimination complaint with the Columbus community relations department.

“I've committed my 19-year professional career to one thing,” she said. “ensuring that our next generation achieves its full potential. I love my job, I don't want money, I don't want fame, I simply want to return to Bishop Watterson.”

In a statement released last week, the diocese said personnel matters are confidential, but said school employees when hired agree to a church moral code. 

 “Personnel who choose to publicly espouse relationships or principles that are contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church cannot, ultimately, remain in the employ of the Church,” the statement said.