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Teacher Marries Her Girlfriend, and Then Catholic School Fires Her

Jocelyn Morffi, left, and Natasha Hass on their wedding day. Ms. Morffi was fired less than a week later. Credit Katerina Reyes-Gutierrez

Parents at a Catholic school in Miami said they were astounded that administrators had fired a first-grade teacher just days after she married her girlfriend, and now some of the teacher’s supporters on the faculty are scared that the school will retaliate against them as well.

The teacher, Jocelyn Morffi, was by all accounts one of the most popular educators at Sts. Peter & Paul Catholic School in Miami, where she taught for nearly seven years.

“I consider her the Mother Teresa of teachers,” said Samantha Mills, a parent whose son was in Ms. Morffi’s class last year.

But on Feb. 8, Ms. Mills and other parents at the school received an email from the principal saying that the school had made a “difficult and necessary decision,” and that Ms. Morffi would no longer be teaching at the school. The email was shared with The New York Times.

She was fired just days after marrying her girlfriend of about two years.

“The kids are very confused,” said Vanessa Almeida, whose children were tutored by Ms. Morffi. “My son said, ‘Mommy, I heard that Ms. Morffi got fired for getting married,’ and he looked at me and said, ‘What’s so bad about that?’”

On Feb. 9, Ms. Morffi spoke out in a statement on Instagram.

“This weekend I married the love of my life and unfortunately I was terminated from my job as a result,” she wrote in the post. “In their eyes I’m not the right kind of Catholic for my choice in partner.”

Mary Ross Agosta, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Miami, said in an email that Ms. Morffi was fired because she violated a contract stipulating that teachers must abide by Catholic teachings and traditions.

She declined to say whether Ms. Morffi had been fired for marrying a woman, noting that it was “a personnel issue.”

Four teachers attended the wedding, one of them told The Times. She asked not to be named out of fear for her career.

Ms. Morffi, left, and Ms. Hass. Credit Katerina Reyes-Gutierrez

After Ms. Morffi was fired, the teacher said, they were called into a meeting with school officials. She said they were warned that if they wanted to continue working for the school, they could not post pictures or attend events that would be considered supportive of same-sex marriage.

The human resources representative at the meeting “didn’t straight out say you’ll be fired if you do, but that’s what she led us to believe,” the teacher said, adding that she was disappointed about how the situation was handled.

“We pick and choose what is considered wrong and what we’re going to enforce, and I think it’s like a joke,” she said.

The teachers were also asked to read a memo written in 2015 by Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, after Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage was lifted.

The memo cited a statement from the Catholic Bishops of Florida that defined marriage as between a man and a woman, and said that if employees did not lead lives that were consistent with Catholic teachings it could lead to firing, even if the behavior in question occurs outside of work.

When asked about the meeting between teachers and school officials, Ms. Agosta, the archdiocese spokeswoman, said in an email that the details were “personnel-related and not for publication.”

Meanwhile, Ms. Almeida and other parents searched for the right way to explain to their children what had happened. In the end, she told hers that the school had made a mistake.

“Many of the parents are outraged,” Ms. Almeida added. Other teachers at the school were not upholding Catholic values, she said, and yet no action was taken against them.

“Do they investigate teachers to see who is using birth control?” she asked.

Ms. Morffi was an exemplary teacher, several parents said, and one friend described her as a faithful Catholic.

She encouraged students to distribute food throughout Miami’s poor neighborhoods through a nonprofit she created called Teach Hope. She volunteered as a basketball coach. And Ms. Mills recalled that every morning, as Ms. Morffi’s students filed into class, she played feel-good songs, like Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”

Ms. Morffi has since been replaced by someone Ms. Agosta described as a permanent substitute teacher who is “working on her certification.”

Ricardo Oviedo, whose daughter was in Ms. Morffi’s class, said he was examining whether the parents can take legal action. Other parents said they had considered starting a petition, holding a protest or contacting the State Legislature.

In Florida, the state civil rights law does not refer to sexual orientation. Certain counties in Florida, however, have established protections for gay workers, including Miami-Dade, where the school is, but that code does not apply to religious organizations.

Ms. Morffi declined to comment through her lawyer, Erica Cañas.

“Jocelyn is humbled by all the love and support she has received,” Ms. Cañas said in a written statement. “She feels that the manner of her firing was unfair, not only to her, but to her students as well. At this time, we are considering our legal options.”

Although Roman Catholic doctrine opposes same-sex marriage, many parishes have become more accepting of gay and lesbian parishioners in recent years, said the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and the author of “Building a Bridge,” a book about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics.

In December, the Rev. Gregory Greiten, a Roman Catholic priest in Wisconsin, wrote a column in The National Catholic Reporter, declaring: “I am gay.” He received a standing ovation when he told his parishioners. Also last year, the leader of the Archdiocese of Newark, Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, offered a welcoming Mass for gay and lesbian Catholics and their families.

Still, according to New Ways Ministry, an advocacy organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics, at least 80 church employees have lost their paid and volunteer jobs in L.G.B.T. employment disputes since 2007.

Mr. Oviedo said that he and his wife — like many other parents at the Miami school — did not even know Ms. Morffi’s sexual orientation until the school fired her.

“It’s just incredible,” Mr. Oviedo said, “in this day and age in 2018 you can lose your job over who you choose to love.”

Cree leaders show public support for LGBTQ, 2-spirited community

‘We all know that homophobia, biphobia and transphobia is still strong in most of our communities’

Conference organizer Mathias (Maloose) Jolly and Bella M. Petawabano, chairperson of the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay. The two leaders spoke at a convention supporting the Cree LGBTQ and two-spirited community on Saturday in Montreal. (Jeremy Neeposh)

‘We all know that people of different sexual and gender identities have always been part of our story,’ Grand Chief Abel Bosum. (Corinne Smith/CBC)

Several key leaders of the Cree Nation, including Grand Chief Abel Bosum, came together Saturday to deliver a powerful public message of acceptance to two-spirited members of their communities.

“We all know that people of different sexual and gender identities have always been part of our story,” Bosum told attendees at the Cree-organized conference.

“I believe our inclusiveness and our diversity … includes all our Eenouch/Eeyouch, whether they call themselves straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning, or two-spirited.”

The Two-Spirited Community Support Conference was held in Montreal on February 16 and 17.

“Two-spirited” is used by some Indigenous people to describe someone who has both a masculine and a feminine spirit.

Bosum’s message had never before been uttered publicly by a James Bay Cree grand chief, according to conference organizer Mathias (Maloose) Jolly, adding it’s a message young Cree who might be questioning their sexuality desperately need to hear.

“When I was a child I never heard any of my leaders say, ‘It’s OK you are two-spirited,'” said Jolly, 39, who now lives in Montreal.

“This is very important because hearing your own leader accept you is something we want to hear. Never in my life did I ever believe they would even acknowledge my invitation [to the conference]. It’s a big deal for everybody in Eeyou Istchee.”

High suicide rates

A 2012 report by the National Aboriginal Health Organization (NAHO) into suicide prevention said that suicide rates among Indigenous two-spirited people in Canada aren’t known, but are higher than among heterosexual Indigenous people.

Suicide rates for First Nations people are at least twice as high as the general Canadian population. The NAHO report also pointed out that two-spirited people were respected leaders in their communities prior to contact with Europeans and colonization.

Bella M. Petawabano, chairperson of the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay (CBHSSJB), was another prominent Cree leader who spoke at the weekend convention.

“We all know that homophobia, biphobia and transphobia is still strong in most of our communities,” Petawabano said. “This needs to change.”

Petawabano was recognized by conference organizers as an ally to LGBTQ and two-spirited people in Cree communities.

The Two-Spirited Community Support Conference was held in Montreal February 16 and 17. (Jeremy Neeposh)

Petawabano shared the story of how her household in Mistissini was a safe place for people to go, and how her daughters would bring home two-spirited friends who were struggling.

“There were a few times in the summer when someone [would bring] in a friend saying, ‘We found him or her at the river, wanting to drown themselves.’ That’s how it was,” said Petawabano.

Petawabano hopes to create youth clinics across the Cree territory as safe spaces for the two-spirited community. She also pledged to create a discrimination and bullying-free work environment at the health board.

“[Cree communities] still have a long way to go, but I believe we are moving in the right direction,” she said.

Speak out and stand up

Kathleen Wootton, chairperson of the Cree School Board, wants to build better support systems in schools. (Abel Bosum)

Kathleen Wootton, chairperson of the Cree School Board, attended all the weekend workshops, and said she’ll take back what she learned to build better support systems for two-spirited people in Eeyou Istchee’s schools.

“In our schools and in our education system I hope we can be more open-minded in terms of providing the emotional support our youth need,” Wootton said.

All three leaders expressed a desire for two-spirited people to feel accepted and needed by their nation, and to fully manifest their talents to help build the Cree Nation.

Jolly, the conference organizer, said it’s important for his people to publicly speak out and stand up.

“In the past we used to do [this conference] in a discreet fashion, to avoid bullying from the public,” said Jolly. “For the first time we did it openly, we publicized it.”

Jolly would like to see the gathering grow into a regional meeting to include other First Nations.

These Transgender Children Say They’re Thriving. They Want to Help Others Do the Same.

Chazzie, center, watched Gia and Nicole put on makeup before heading outside to explore New York City. They are involved with the GenderCool Project, which seeks to highlight positive stories about transgender children. Credit Yana Paskova for The New York Times

Chazzie is 11 years old. She has long, wavy hair and large, expressive eyes. She listens to Demi Lovato and Ariana Grande. She really likes playing Monopoly.

Chazzie was also assigned male at birth. But that, she says, isn’t what’s important.

“People just, like, see me as a girl,” she said.

On Sunday, Chazzie and five other transgender children and teenagers from across the country hung out in an elegant prewar apartment on the Upper West Side, ahead of their Tuesday appearance on NBC’s “Megyn Kelly Today.”

For some, it would be their news media debut. Others have fought for transgender rights in their home states and were well acquainted with the press. But all had the same hope: to shift the conversation about transgender youth from one that dwells on bullying, suicide and murder, to one that focuses on positivity, through an online campaign called the GenderCool Project.

The organization was co-founded by Chazzie’s mother, Jen Grosshandler, who left a decades-long career in public relations and marketing about 18 months ago after working for some of the biggest brands in the world.

Chazzie was born into an “uber masculine” household, Ms. Grosshandler said, with three older brothers. But from the time she was a toddler, she was drawn to toys and games traditionally associated with girls. When Chazzie was around 4 years old, she walked down the staircase with a white Hanes T-shirt wrapped on top of her head.

Chazzie said: “Mom, Dad look at me — isn’t my hair awesome? Isn’t it fabulous? I want long hair,” Ms. Grosshandler recalled.

Years later, Chazzie cried while getting ready for school, and asked: “Mom, what happens if I’m a girl? Because I really believe I am a girl. What will happen to me? Will you love me? Will Dad love me? Will my brothers love me?”

Hear The Inspiring Message One Transgender Girl And Her Parents Want To Share | Megyn Kelly TODAY Video by TODAY

“That was a huge moment for us,” Ms. Grosshandler said. She eventually left her consulting practice to focus on advocacy.

Soon after, she created the GenderCool Project with Gearah Goldstein, a transgender woman who trains people on how to create gender-inclusive environments.

“Our mission is to just get rid of the stigmas and just live our lives,” said Nicole, one of the participants. “And that’s what everybody else is doing. So my question to the world is: ‘Why can’t we? Why should we not?’”

Landon, left, and Chazzie, who wiped away a tear while describing how she hoped that the GenderCool Project would help other children feel less alone. Credit Yana Paskova for The New York Times

Meet the ‘champions’

The project seeks to humanize members of a minority group who are increasingly visible but who find their gender identity at times overshadowing everything else about them.

“I think it’s pretty unique,” said Debi Jackson, a family organizer at the National Center for Transgender Equality. There are a lot of websites that explain how to navigate a child’s transition, she said, but they aren’t focused on celebrating the kid you have.

Being “gender cool” is about being “cool with whomever anyone else is,” Ms. Grosshandler said. She calls the participants champions. And their stories are aspirational rather than full of adversity.

Gia, 14, is one of her school’s top field hockey players and a straight-A student. Nicole, 16, is an actress with perfectly manicured nails who hopes to appear on Broadway one day. Stella, 13, lobbies politicians for protections for trans students. Landon, 15, is an accomplished trumpet player and artist whose latest work explores “how society puts down men and boys for being feminine.” Daniel, 12, is a photographer. (Their last names and hometowns are being withheld to protect their privacy.)

On Sunday, they sat side by side, laughing and chatting as if they had known one another for years, even though their first meeting in person was only a day earlier. Later, a spirited game of Never Have I Ever (“Never have I ever been to Sephora!” “Never have I ever legally changed my name!”) was followed by a snowball fight in Central Park. Together, they were buoyant.

We’re all diamonds. Being trans is just one face, one edge of the diamond,” Landon said. “But there is so much else that makes us diamonds. It’s not just a single sliver.”

From left, Landon, Gia and Nicole ate lunch and played “Never Have I Ever” with the group. Credit Yana Paskova for The New York Times

‘I just want to show other people that they’re not alone’
When Gia first transitioned, she was nervous. She had heard only negative stories about transgender people.

“I was confused, honestly,” she said. “Should I really transition? Like, what’s going to come of this?”

Once she did, her fears subsided. “I haven’t had a single person make fun of me.”

That wasn’t everyone’s experience. Stella was bullied, and Nicole said she hadn’t seen her father in four years because he does not approve of her gender identity.

“But I had a very supportive family, except for him,” Nicole said. “I had a very supportive school.”

She and the other participants said they hoped to make the world a less lonely place.

“When other kids see this, they can be like: ‘Oh my God, I’m like that. I’m like that girl,’” Chazzie said, wiping tears from her eyes. “I just want to show other people that they’re not alone.”

Presenting a different narrative

An estimated 150,000 people ages 13 to 17 in the United States identify as transgender, according to a January 2017 report by the Williams Institute at the U.C.L.A. School of Law, which researches law and public policy on gender identity and sexual orientation.

Nicole paused to fix one of her nails. Credit Yana Paskova for The New York Times

In December, a Williams Institute study of gender nonconforming youths in California found that they were more than twice as likely as their gender conforming peers to have experienced psychological distress. The 2015 National School Climate Survey found that transgender students experienced more hostility than others. And four out of 10 transgender adults report having attempted suicide, according to a 2017 study by Human Rights Campaign and the Trans People of Color Coalition, the majority having done so before age 25.

The outlook for transgender youth often improves, however, when they say they feel supported.

According to the group Trans Student Educational Resources, those with supportive parents were much more likely to have high self-esteem and less likely to suffer from depression.

“I see these kids thriving all the time,” said Stella’s mother, Lisa. “It’s not newsworthy because it’s not tragic or sensationalized.”

It’s important to highlight the difficulties faced by trans people, she said. “But it’s also equally important to show how extraordinary these kids are.”

A campaign aimed at ‘folks in every town’

Ms. Grosshandler and Ms. Goldstein have rolled their campaign out strategically.

They introduced it in February because at this time last year, President Trump rescinded protections for transgender students that had allowed them to use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity.

And they appeared on “Megyn Kelly Today” because her program appeals to different groups, Ms. Grosshandler said, including “many people who have never met a young transgender child.”

Ms. Kelly, a former Fox News host, wasn’t necessarily an obvious choice. But “we felt so strongly that we wanted to talk to folks in every town, in every community,” Ms. Grosshandler said.

The GenderCool Project is a call to action, Ms. Goldstein said. “What are you doing for the community? How are you using voices, how are you telling stories, how are you being inclusive?” As a transgender adult, she added, “I wish I had some positive messaging around when I was growing up.”