A Personal Cautionary Tale

The following is a letter I wrote on September 13, 2013. Though I am publishing it on October 16, 2015, you will notice that it has been back-posted to the original date of composition.

I’m sharing this letter now because it concerns events that happened over two years ago, and I am no longer in a situation where the publicity of the information would compromise my family’s wellbeing. I also share it as it’s something of a cautionary tale for Christians in what we might call the “Obergefell Era.” Your mileage may vary.

The backstory: after I graduated from Hillsdale College in May of 2010, I moved to Alexandria, VA, where I worked for three years teaching Latin, history, and religion at Immanuel Lutheran School. In the spring of 2013, I took a job as assistant principal of a private (secular) school back in my hometown of Corvallis, OR. I wrote about this move in this post: “Armadillos, an Assistant Principal, and Rod Dreher”


"Belshazzar's Feast," Rembrandt, c. 1636-8, oil on canvas, National Gallery, London

“Belshazzar’s Feast,” Rembrandt, c. 1636-8, oil on canvas, National Gallery, London

Dear family and friends,

It seemed best to me to write a letter to you all to inform you of some unfortunate news, rather than exhausting myself by sharing it on a case-by-case basis.

At about noon today (PST, USA; Friday, September 13, 2013), I was summarily fired from the job I had been at (assistant principal of an esteemed private school in Corvallis, Oregon) for about six weeks. The reasons for my termination are still unclear to me. It was a surprise— more than a surprise, actually. Everything had been not only OK at work, but pretty great, actually, up to the very minute of my termination. I may never actually know what it was that did me in. But, as a wise philosopher once said (actually, probably not), it is what it is.

The unclear reasons, such as they were stated, have something to do with the following: my lack of Oregon state administrative licensure, a lack of “initiative” on my part, and some serious concerns raised about my character. While my current lack of licensure is no fault in itself— and, moreover, was known by my supervisor and the school’s board of trustees at the time I was hired— a perceived lackadaisicalness on my part in obtaining said licensure was mentioned to me today during my last and final meeting with my supervisor. I was also told that my tendency to wait for new assignments rather than jumping in and volunteering for things, etc., constituted a lack of initiative. Finally, I was told that serious concerns about my “conservative” opinions had been circulated among the parent body, which means that they reached the board of trustees, as well.

Public school personnel in Oregon must be licensed. While my former employer is an independent school, for the purposes of maintaining a certain level of state accreditation, the rules are effectively the same, with the exception being that a private school has the option of allowing its staff and faculty to obtain licensure concurrently with their employment. In a public school, an employee must have obtained licensure prior to employment (as far as I know). Anyway, when I was hired, I told my supervisor that while I had professional teaching experience, I did not have state licensure. No big deal. I was told that I had three years to get it. As long as I was moving steadily towards that goal, my supervisor assured me, we were golden. And I was, up until today.

Prior to today, I had not once had a negative interaction with my supervisor or the board of trustees (of which I was an ex officio member, along with the Principal). I had only been thanked and commended for the quality of my work, assured that I had been a standout candidate for the spot, that licensure was but a needed formality, etc., etc. While I have never been a fan of slogging through bureaucratic pathways, I was fine with doing what must be done and feeding the beast. Up until today, I was in communication with the TSPC (which is the only thing of its kind that will come up in a Google search, so I won’t explain it) pursuant to this goal.

Given my newness to the school and the position I was in, I took a pretty docile and unassuming posture in my post as Assistant Principal, listening more than I spoke at meetings and asking questions rather than guessing when something was unclear. As I mentioned above, my preference for working on given assignments rather than inventing tasks and projects was born not from a lack of initiative, but from a desire to keep a low profile and not bite off more than I could chew, be a show-off, etc., especially since I tend towards the latter two tendencies, anyway. Since I was working steadily on assigned projects and had gotten only positive feedback— literally up to the hour of my termination— I assumed that the pace and quality of my work was good.

In truth, I do not think that any of the foregoing have anything to do with my termination. The aforementioned concerns regarding my character were what did me in, I am quite confident. I will explain. Before I do, however, I need to ask that in what follows you believe me when I say that I am not trying to be a martyr in my own cause, garner your sympathy, etc. If you’re even reading this, it’s because you and I have a relationship characterized by some level of trust and mutual understanding. This is the sort of conversation that I would doubtlessly have with you personally were we to see each other at a family gathering, run into each other at a coffee-shop, or catch up on the phone. I would share this with you. The only reason I am resorting to this impersonal means of communication is that I am already exhausted from telling this story, and I’ve only told it a few times. I cannot tell it hundreds of times more, or dozens of times more, or even several times more. So I’m telling it once, and Bcc’ing some people who are important to me.

Last Friday, my supervisor asked me to step into her office and shut the door. Once I was inside and sitting down, she told me that some parents had discovered my blog.

“Oh?” I said.

“Yeah,” she said, the glimmer of a smirk hovering around the corners of her mouth. “Something about something you said being homophobic?” she said quizzically, the smirk now fully developed and one eyebrow arched.

“Oh, dear,” I said.

She cut me off— “Now, I don’t care. I didn’t even read it, and I’m sure it’s not what they’re saying, but you should just know that I think…five parents have emailed me. So it’s going around.”

I smiled. “Well, I certainly don’t remember writing anything homophobic, but all the same, I’ll beef up the permissions on my blog and make it private.”

“That’s probably for the best,” she said. “Really, it’s no big deal. It’s just because you’re new, so you’re the center of attention.” She smiled, “I mean, they’re just interested in you. You should be flattered that they’re Googling you!” I thought this was funny.
“Well,” I said, “I don’t know if I’m flattered or not, but I certainly don’t want rumors or misinformation spreading about me, so just to be prudent, I think I’ll go ahead and make the blog private.”

She apologized for the kerfuffle. “Thanks, Trent!”

Later that evening, she emailed me to let me know that another parent had emailed her a link to a particular post on my blog, “Gay marriage, the theological dimension of civil law, and the legitimacy of government,” as well as a link to an article from 2005 about a seventeen-year-old high-school journalist (me) who caused a ruckus on campus by writing an article criticizing President Bush’s immigration policy. The link to my blog post didn’t work, of course, but the other link (and probably hundreds just like it regarding the same thing) was, of course, alive and well.

She followed it up with this email:

I’m sorry. Your [sic] the new guy so all eyes are on you right now. Once things settle down and your [sic] no longer the center of attention (I mean that kindly), then you can reevaluate unblocking it. I do think its [sic] better to error [sic] on the safe side for the time being…

On Monday, September 10, midway through the day, she emailed me and asked if I had time for a quick chat. I got nervous for no good reason (that’s just the effect that those emails have on a person, right?); when I walked into her office, though, this is the conversation that we had:

“Hi! I just wanted to follow up with you about the whole blog thing, see how you’re doing.”

“Oh! Well, that’s very kind of you. I’m doing just fine, thanks for asking.”

“Yeah, I just wanted to say that I hope you didn’t misinterpret what I said in that email…I don’t want you to think that I’m restricting your free speech; it’s not that there’s anything wrong with what you said— I think that I probably actually agree with everything you wrote. You just have to understand…this is just what these parents do. They’re just a little crazy sometimes!”

“Oh, don’t worry, I totally understand! I actually really appreciated your emailing me last week and letting me know. I’ll admit, whoever thought I said something homophobic was clearly not reading very carefully, but, be that as it may, I really do appreciate you letting me know. It’s probably the prudent thing to do to keep my blog private for now.”

“Yeah, and like I said, after a few months, you can probably change it back. I just hope I didn’t offend you!”

“Not at all! Thanks for making sure though; I appreciate it!”

“Of course! I just didn’t want you to get scared off after just six weeks or think that people don’t want you here!”

“Not at all! I didn’t get that impression. I’m very glad to be here.”

Yesterday, at “Back to School Night,” I met and chatted with a good half of the school parents as I handed out schedules and various materials. My interactions with my boss were cordial— even pleasant.

Today, Friday, I was summarily fired. That my last professional interaction of any kind with my supervisor was to be my first and only negative interaction with her at all, was and still is astounding to me. Afterwards, I left for a few hours and came back after the end of the school-day to collect two boxes of personal items from a cart outside the back door of the school kitchen. I also picked up a large framed painting that I had donated to the school; it had hung in the school’s health-room for kids who weren’t feeling well to look at. It’s a big, nineteenth-century Flemish print of a rustic farmyard scene. That stung a little bit.

I went to two Board of Trustees meetings in my official capacity as Assistant Principal. That having been said, though I do not know the trustees well, I know them well enough. This buck stopped with them. Being the lone independent private school in Corvallis, Oregon, my former place of employment has a plethora of influential families that send their children there. A groundswell of parental upset or a few such influential parents— or, quite conceivably, both— raising their voices about the “homophobic” and “racist” Assistant Principal would make even a very neutral Board of Trustees exceedingly nervous.

Objectively speaking, though, this board is anything but neutral: they are exactly the type of people you would expect to find on any school board in Corvallis, Oregon, and I am sure that they shared the concerns that were brought to them, whether or not a critical mass of the parent body had complained. Frankly, if no parents had approached them and they had simply happened upon the incriminating material themselves, even if they and they alone had been aware of the “evidence” against me, I am confident that the outcome to this situation would have been the same.

I won’t sugarcoat the situation— it’s bad. Saying “Well, at least they showed their true colors— now I know that I would have been miserable there!” is cold comfort; more importantly, I don’t think it’s actually true. I wasn’t miserable there, and I was looking forward to spending a long time there as Assistant Principal.

If you’re still reading this, you’re not only my friend or a beloved family-member— you’re a saint. Thank you for doing so. It means a lot to me.

I will close with this:

Airing the opinion that homosexual acts are contrary to nature and inherently disordered is now considered to be akin to professing admiration for Adolf Hitler and the KKK. If you go even further and use the appellations “deviant” or “sinful,” you’re pretty much channelling Hitler; if you’re not an actual member of the Klan, it’s just because they’re still processing your application. As recently as five years ago, the above-mentioned opinion was unpopular, yes. But I believe that the day has now arrived in which this opinion is considered nothing less than pathological.

As for me, I’ll be fine. I’ll get another job.

Once again, thanks for reading.

 

Love,

Trent


Afterword:

After my termination, a friend of mine put me in touch with the Alliance Defending Freedom, a politically right-wing legal advocacy group. ADF reviewed my case and was willing to represent me pro bono. After meeting a few times with one of their attorneys, it became clear to me that even if it was going to be free, it was going to take a lot of time and energy on my part to go through with everything, both of which I needed to marshall at the behest of getting another job and making money (the school hadn’t paid my moving expenses from Virginia to Oregon). The thought also occurred to me that if I had in fact gotten fired for standing up for God’s Law, it might not be the most Christian thing for me to do to sue the school. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” Christ says. “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake,” He says. “Lawyer up and sue, for great is your reward on earth,” He says. No, actually He says, “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

So I didn’t sue. I worked in insurance sales and finance for the next eight months before striking out for Brighton, Iowa, where I lived and worked with my friends (the Rev’d) Jordan Cooper and his wife Lisa for the summer. After that, I headed to Canada for my first year of studies at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary in St. Catharines, Ontario.

 

+VDMA

 

4 Comments

  1. Trent, I read your account at the time you were discharged. I just read it again. My heart goes out to you for all you had to endure at the time it happened and now. Reading it again, in consideration of recent developments, it’s scary. We seem to be rapidly reaching a time when the “homophobes” will be persecuted with far more zeal and more systematically than homosexuals were “in the day”–known as the time when the question of the immorality of homosexuality was clear to a huge majority of Americans. Will the homosexuals be as tolerant of us homophobes as “heteros” once were of the “gays” in that earlier time? I don’t think so. What an irony that the Nazis once interred homosexuals and now it is we who face the same possibility. The term gay fascist comes to mind, no longer as some bizarre alternate reality but as a looming specter.

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