Teacher at New York City Catholic School Says He Was Fired After Marrying His Longtime Partner
Matthew LaBanca told Inside Edition Digital he refused to agree not to speak out
A gay music teacher loved by many of his students and members of the community says he was fired from a Queens Catholic school six weeks after he married his longtime partner, according to a published report.
Matthew LaBanca, known as Mr. Matt or Mr. LaBanca by his elementary-aged students, told Inside Edition Digital that he lost his job at St. Joseph Catholic Academy in Astoria, and his job as music director at Corpus Christi Church after someone saw something online about his Aug. 1 wedding and reported it to Brooklyn Diocese officials.
“From that point on, the diocese wanted to know specifically, 'Are you married? And was the marriage registered anywhere?' And, it was,” LaBanca said. “And, my understanding is that was a real sticking point for their decision to terminate me.”
He said a Diocesan committee of high-ranking officials met for almost six weeks to discuss the fate of his employment, and on On Oct. 13 he learned of his firing.
“I was approached by a deacon in the Diocese of Brooklyn, largely considered to be Bishop DiMarzio's right-hand man. He told me that in the 10 years that he's been doing this, that this was the most difficult thing that he ever had to do. He actually broke up and welled up with tears,” LaBanca said.
He added: “The fact that it took them six weeks to liberate the nature of whether I was allowed or not allowed to stay tells me that internally within the diocese, that there's room for change here. And that's really my hope because these are two disparate communities, the LGBTQ community who for generations has felt ostracized as a whole based on decisions made by the church.”
LaBanca, who had been teaching at St. Joseph Catholic Academy since 2015, and had been the music director for nearly 16 years at Corpus Christ Church, said his sexuality had never been an issue before he wed his longtime love.
“There were teachers that knew that I was gay, but it was never on the plate of my employment. It was never really an issue. So as far as I knew, I didn't advertise it. I wasn't in the closet about it, but I didn't advertise it or make overt statements because I understand that for some people they have a difficult time seeing past what their catechism or their culture, or their parochial mindset has taught them to think. So I was always respectful,” he said.
His August wedding was held in Connecticut, which used to have civil union laws, he said, but that is no longer is an option, adding that the laws of the United States have changed.
“The only option that I was afforded in the State of Connecticut, was to be married, to have the legal right to. If he was in the hospital, and I needed to go visit him, to have the legal right to file married jointly on our taxes, and all the numerous benefits. Those are just a few,” he said. “I made that case to the diocese because we weren't seeking to change anything sacramentally in the diocese, or in the church.
LaBanca told Inside Edition Digital that in a letter he had written to the Diocesan committee that was deciding his fate, he specifically used quotes from Pope Francis. “The Pope said this, ‘What we need is a civil union law. That way, people who are lesbian, gay, LGBTQ are legally protected. We need civil unions.’”
After the firing, LaBanca said the diocese had asked him to sign a confidentiality agreement in order to receive the severance pay. The agreement, he said, “was a lot of ways to tell me to not talk about this.” It also included three months' worth of his salary, and some health benefits, in exchange for his silence.
“When I asked 'What are you going to tell my students, who I love, and they love? What are you going to tell my choir at the church, who are like family to me? I've known some of them for over 15 years,' they said, 'All we could say is that Mr. LaBanca, or Matthew is no longer with us.'"
LaBanca told Inside Edition Digital that he chose not to sign it.
"I can't sign this because I love my job too much, because I love the people too much, and they deserve to know. And I think that now, I know that this has happened to a lot of people in the past for various issues, but especially for the LGBTQ same-sex marriage issue.”
He added: “There was no price that could be placed on my personal integrity, on my voice. And shining a light on this discriminatory act,” LaBanca said.
"The severance package that I was offered had a very, very large confidentiality clause in it. It had a very large non-disparagement clause, a non-interference clause, and a reemployment clause that said, and I'm reading it now, "You agree that you will not apply for reemployment with us or any parish, Catholic academy, or related entity of the diocese of Brooklyn." So that was a part of it, as well."
LaBanca also told Inside Edition Digital that he was told in a number of meetings that people on the committee had been rooting for him. They said, ”Matthew, you are loved. This has nothing to do with your job performance, not in the slightest,” LaBanca said.
“They told me that they wanted to be humane. That was their word. And so if I wanted to go get a job in the archdiocese of New York, which is Manhattan area, or if I wanted to go get a job in Rockville Centre, east of me on Long Island, then I would be free to do so. They would not stand in my way,” he said.
LaBanca’s response to that was “if I’m allowed to do it there, then why am I not allowed to procure work where I live?,” he said. “This wasn't just one church or one school. I'm now forbidden to work because of my marriage in the entire county of Queens and in the entire county of Brooklyn. So it sets such a limitation and sets such an unusual standard to me, because if I was allowed to work somewhere else, then why wouldn't I be allowed to work right where I live?”
LaBanca, who is also a Broadway actor, said teaching his students has been “a dream,” and described it as having been his “life’s calling.”
“I love teaching. And at the risk of not sounding humble, the way I love my students, I think that I was loved in return,” LaBanca said.
Since his story went public, LaBanca said that he has been getting a tremendous amount of support and has been hearing from people, who are sharing their heartbreaking stories with him.
Last week, LaBanca created a YouTube video, “What happened to Mr. LaBanca?” In the video, LaBanca explains the details of his termination. The video has already garnered more than 22,000 views. He has also created a petition at www.SupportMatthew.com that has more than 5,100 signatures.
“I know currently as things stand, the Catholic church doesn't bless same-sex marriages, although there are other Christian churches, the Episcopal church being one, Lutheran church, United Church of Christ, and the reformed Jewish faith also. There are multiple faiths, deep-rooted faiths, that have found their way on this issue,” he said. “And I hope, and I know, that many other people hope that there could be some sort of communion, some sort of reconciliation, to move forward on this issue so that you don't have to choose between being Catholic and between being the way that God made you because gay people don't choose to be gay. Just the way that straight people don't choose to be straight. It's how you are.”
LaBanca said he is now writing a play about this story, and will continue to share his story in hopes that what happened to him doesn’t happen to anyone else.
“To be fired in a job based on sexual orientation is wrong,” he said.
Inside Edition Digital reached out to the St. Catholic Joseph Academy but they did not respond to our request for comment.
Officials from the school and church where LaBanca worked confirmed that his termination was not because he was not good at his job and sent a statement to USA Today.
“Based on the expectations that all Catholic school and academy personnel, and ministers of the Church, comply with Church teachings, as they share in the responsibility of ministering the faith to students. In his case, it has been determined that he can no longer fulfill his obligations as a minister of the faith at either the school or the parish,” the statement reads.
The statement continues to say that “despite changes to New York State law in 2011 legalizing same-sex marriage, Church law is clear.”
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