Fired for being gay, educator finds help from Catholic school

After Casey Hayes was fired by Whiteland H.S. for being gay, he found his next opportunity at a surprising place.
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FRANKLIN, Ind. (WTHR) - Casey Hayes hasn't met Shelly Fitzgerald, but he feels a certain connection to her.

"I've had lots of calls. Lots of calls. It's a shame," he said about her.

Fitzgerald is the Roncalli High School guidance counselor suspended because she's married to a woman, a violation of her contract.

Hayes had a similar situation at a public school more than 20 years ago. But in his case, it was a Catholic school that gave him a second chance.

He said in 1997, after serving as band director at Whiteland High School, he was forced to resign after school officials learned he was gay. It came as he was dealing with a difficult break-up.

"The teacher's union said they could do nothing for me because we're not a protected class," Hayes said. "I thought, 'What am I going to do?' I had no job, I had nothing."

But that that very same day, Hayes said he got a call from Brother Joe Umile, then president of Bishop Chatard, offering him the music director's job.

"And I said I was just released because I'm a gay man. I seriously doubt you want a gay man in that position...and he said, 'What happens between you and another human being in your personal life is between you and God and he is the only person you answer to on this earth. And I feel what you bring to the job will be the best thing for our kids and isn't that what matters, the kids'," Hayes recalled Brother Joe saying.

Even so, Hayes didn't want to sign the contract, which said employees couldn't support or practice anything contrary to church teaching.

But Brother Joe said, 'Trust me, I know what it says.' So, I had to get past the hypocrisy," Hayes said. "Yet here was this person who was so Christ-like right in front of you and I signed on the line."

Hayes wound up at Bishop Chatard for six years before leaving to get his doctorate in New York. He said his sexual orientation was widely known and never an issue.

"I had many students come out because they knew I was out and felt I was a safe person in school to come out to," he said. "I was part of a family and so was my partner and we went to everything together."

Hayes is now chair of the music department at Franklin College and an advocate for LGBT issues. He said while he had a great experience at Bishop Chatard, "what happens with each individual church and school in my opinion depends on who's at the helm, what we acknowledge and what we will overlook."

Eyewitness News reached out to Bishop Chatard, while the school declined comment, a spokesperson did note that Brother Joe had since passed away.

A spokesman for the archdiocese said the issue for the church isn't about being gay. It's about gay marriage and gay unions being counter to church doctrine.

While Hayes disagrees with that teaching, he said it was a Catholic brother who believed him and ultimately came to his rescue, when he most needed it.