A former teacher at Mount St. Mary Academy in Little Rock is telling the public her story, after being fired from the private high school for marrying her female partner.
Tippi McCullough spoke to an audience of supporters and reporters Tuesday at an Arkansas event sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign; a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender advocacy group.
McCullough worked at the Catholic all-girls school for over a decade and learned she had been fired less than an hour after the civil ceremony.
“When I received the phone call of my firing I was devastated. I would have never purposely blown-up my life like this,” said McCullough. “The first thought that went through my mind was how hurt I was that my 15-years of commitment had been reduced to a mere label. My next thought was of my students and how much I would miss teaching them. I then thought of my mother, my strongest supporter, and how I would break this news to her. Finally, I did not want this special day in my life to be overshadowed by the sadness.”
During her tenure as a teacher and coach, McCullough says her sexuality was not a secret among colleagues at work and didn’t prove to be a problem until she got married in New Mexico on October 16.
McCullough and her wife Barb Mariani say they are disappointed by the actions of school administrators, but are amazed and humbled by the encouragement they receive from some teachers, students, and the community.
Mariani is also a deputy prosecutor in Arkansas. She says they are speaking out to end a troubling cycle of employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.
“Tippi and I are very private people and we’ve gone through our lives like that … just under the radar and not making waves and so [all this attention] is especially hard for us,” Mariani said. “We realize that silence only perpetuates inequality and until someone brakes that silence [inequality] continues to occur.”
Gillian Gullett is in the 10th grade at Mount St. Mary Academy. She launched an online petition drive to support McCullough.
“When I was younger and learned about the Civil Rights Movement in school, I always thought that if I lived in that time I would be on the right side of things... and now this is happening and I am on the right side of things,” Gullett said. “I’m really thankful that I got this chance to support such great people. I think marriage is an event that should be celebrated and not degraded so congratulations to Tippi and Barb.”
In a statement, Karen Flake the president and CEO of Mount St. Mary Academy said the school’s policy is not to discuss personnel matters.
“Sometimes adherence to the Church’s teachings may be difficult, challenging and/or unpopular. We recognize that some may disagree with our actions, and we respect their right to do so,” Flake said. “We also value the continuing support and understanding shown by the Diocese of Little Rock and the many others who recognize that, as a Catholic school, our actions must be aligned with what we believe and teach.”
Tippi McCullough says she would like to receive an apology from school administrators and she ultimately wants Mount St. Mary Academy to adopt a non-discrimination policy.
Officials with the Human Rights Campaign say, so far, more than 50,000 people have signed an online petition supporting McCullough.
Click here to read the full statement from Mount St. Mary Academy.