For the last five years, Wilhelmina Indermaur has worked with children, either as a preschool teacher or a nanny.
She was excited to start a new job at the beginning of next school year: full-time aide to a rising fifth grader, a special needs student at Immaculata Catholic School in Durham.
Then two weeks ago, the student’s family called her. After meetings with the administration, they had learned Immaculata would not let Indermaur work there because she is transgender.
“It was really awful, very, very hurtful,” said Indermaur, 30. “It was kind of a weird moment because I was shocked, but then I wasn’t.”
Several facets of this news stung especially hard.
For one, parents of the student, who is nonverbal and uses a wheelchair, will have to scramble to find a new aide. Indermaur had been working on this position since April, filling out background checks, getting familiar with the job. That will now start over in the middle of summer.
But for Indermaur, the bigger blow is not hearing from the school directly. She attends mass at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, and has provided after-school care for two students, picking them up at the end of the day and playing with them on the playground.
“I was very present and knew a lot of teachers,” she said. “I’ve been an educator for years. I’m Catholic.”
Immaculata staff did not respond to a call or email from The News & Observer on Friday. The Diocese of Raleigh, to which Immaculata belongs, also did not return emails seeking comment.
Durham has a non-discrimination policy giving employment opportunity to all regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, and it “strongly encourages” all entities, including those that are exempted from requirements, to do the same. It was not clear Friday which entities might be exempt.
LGBTQ speaker incident
In 2019, a priest at Immaculata Catholic School withdrew an invitation to an LGBTQ Durham City Council member who was to speak to students during Black History Month, acting on concerns from parents about hearing from a politician favoring gay marriage.
Shortly after, Council member Vernetta Alston, now a state representative, said the Rev. Christopher VanHaight apologized and asked her to speak another time.
On its website, Immaculata touts a non-discrimination policy regarding race, color, national or ethnic origin. Sexuality and gender identity are not mentioned.
But earlier this month, it posted “Happy Pride month!” on its Instagram page, welcoming members of the LGBTQ community.
Several days after Indermaur heard the news, debate began popping up even on the Immaculate Conception Facebook page.
“Sad to hear this church and some of its staff and teachers are discriminating against the LGBTQIA+ community,” posted John Belusik. “Jesus Christ was welcoming to all, how can a church turn away Christians?”
“The church welcomes everyone,” responded Monica Flora Aguirre. “God welcomes all sinners but not the sin. If we are true Christian Catholics we will follow God’s commandments and his teachings.”
Indermaur said she has not even passed the church in recent weeks, and she didn’t eat while she mourned the decision.
“It was really scarring,” she said. “I had kind of a spiritual crisis. Already being queer and Catholic ... it was already difficult at times.”
But she felt validation posting about the experience, which drew hundreds of supportive comments. So meanwhile, she asks people to pray.
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