Erin Macke graduated from Mother McAuley Liberal Arts High School, 3737 W. 99th St., in 2001 and began teaching at her alma mater in 2009.
In 2011, officials at the all-girls Catholic school opted not to renew Macke’s contract after discovering she had revealed she was a lesbian while counseling an LGBT student, Macke said.
“Because I've been explicitly told this is not a reflection of my teaching,” Macke wrote April 23 in an open letter to McAuley submitted to the Huffington Post, “the only logical conclusion is that it reflects your attitude towards my personal life.”
In the weeks that followed, McAuley alumni shared Macke’s letter on Facebook and on group pages dedicated to school alumni. Several condemned the school and threatened to withhold donations. Some expressed disgust, and still others wondered why Macke had released the letter two years after her dismissal.
“The afternoon I learned my contract would not be renewed, I was without words,” Macke said Friday in an email to DNAinfo.com. “Shortly after that, I was with words that are not appropriate to write or say in public. After the self-pity subsided, I realized that I was mostly upset that I would leave and nothing would change.”
Macke said she pondered how she could’ve handled the situation differently.
“I could have said nothing and directed [the student] straight to the counselor, which I did,” Macke said. “But it didn't feel like enough. As her teacher, an adult, a woman of faith, and a former 15-year-old who felt the exact same way, I made the only decision that I could live with. ‘I understand because we are the same. I'm gay, too. Trust me when I tell you, this will get better.’”
Macke said it wasn’t her goal to bring attention to herself or the student, but that she wanted to highlight “struggles that fester in darkness.”
The McAuley administration declined interview requests, but President Mary Acker Klingenberger released a statement Thursday saying in part, "Our faculty and staff are directed to follow designated procedures when a student expresses an intention to harm herself or feels threatened by another."
The statement didn't specifically address Macke's claims, saying it's school policy to keep personnel matters "private, personal and professional."
“Bound by law, we keep confidential academic and personal information regarding our students," Klingenberger added.
On Thursday, current McAuley students said the student body is generally open and accepting about LGBT issues, while teachers could be hit or miss, and the administration is “very Catholic.”
“Some of the theology teachers are against" homosexuality, a 15-year-old freshman said.
She said the school “could do more” for LGBT students and said a friend of hers was yelled at for wearing a rainbow wristband. A substitute teacher allegedly told the girl “it was a sin.”
“We all treat each other equally,” said a sophomore who has several openly gay friends. “We’re like sisters here.”
A 17-year-old junior said the school taught acceptance as part of its justice curriculum.
“We’re taught to be open,” she said. “How far the teachers take that, I don’t know.”
The student said she “wouldn’t necessarily be surprised” if the McAuley administration let Macke go for revealing her sexual orientation.
“It’s kind of sad if it did happen,” she said. “I’d be disappointed, but not surprised.”