Almost every memory John Thomas McCecil has of his days at Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga, Tennessee, are bad ones.
Day after every dark day he was belittled and bullied for being gay. And in the days since, even lost a job he loved for the same reason.
And so when the director of his alma mater’s theater department reached out to him back in December asking him to direct the school’s upcoming musical “Godspell,” McCecil was beside himself. Finally, he thought, a little light could be trained on all those dark memories and redemption was in sight.
“I could see it as a way of rising above the previous incidents, and showing it was about the art,” he said recently. “Something in me knew that it wasn’t going to happen.”
Less than a month later, after McCecil had gone through a background check, viewed the requisite child safety video, and began auditions, the school president called to say he’d been terminated.
Kyle Schmitt then followed up in a letter, telling McCecil: “We understand you’re in a same-sex marriage which conflicts with the teaching of the Catholic Church that marriage may only be between one man and one woman.”
When asked about McCecil’s termination on Tuesday, Schmitt said, he appreciated the call but because “this is being treated as a personnel matter, I have no comment.”
It was the second time in less than three years that McCecil had been fired for being married to a man.
After a decade as the Music Director at Our Lady of the Mount Catholic Church in Lookout Mountain, he was forced to resign because he was in a “questionable” relationship.
If there is a silver lining to this story, it is this: “This was a one-off production,” McCecil said. Shortly after losing his job at Our Lady of the Mount, Rivermont Presbyterian Church named him interim Director of Music. He has since been promoted to Director of Music and the Arts.
Still, he said, his termination cut like a knife.
McCecil graduated from Notre Dame. So did his father and four siblings.
He said he wanted to share this story because he wants people to know that this kind of discrimination is still happening.
“I thought this would be a healing opportunity and a chance to spread the message of Jesus Christ and his love,” he said. “Instead it was just another nail in the coffin.
“People need to know,” he continued. “No matter what the Pope says about acceptance, individuals are still making these un-Christlike decisions.”
McCecil said his sexuality never came up during the hiring process and he has no idea how Notre Dame found out he was married to a man.
“Maybe my name is on a list or something,” he said. “But fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.
“I never should have expected the church would accept me for who I am. It opened some old wounds but for me, it was just another reminder I don’t need closure from the Catholic church or my alma mater. I get that from my faith. I won’t allow earthly institutions to make me feel lesser than.”
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