Gay theater teacher says she was forced out of Palm Bay Christian school
No Florida law prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ people
PALM BAY, Fla. – On Oct. 2, a half-hour before her musical theater class began, Covenant Christian School teacher Monica Toro Lisciandro said administrators unexpectedly called her into a meeting, reports News 6 partner Florida Today.
Somebody had apparently called the private Christian school and leveled allegations against her.
Lisciandro said the assistant principal told her the school received word that Lisciandro was in a relationship with a woman, she had attended a pride festival, and she hosted an LGBTQ group in her studio.
Her response? "Well, it's true."
Lisciandro, who is gay, says she was forced out of her part-time teaching job because of her sexual orientation. Last week, Head of School Lorne Wenzel wrote an email to musical theater parents:
"I am sorry to say that for personal reasons, Mrs. Lisciandro is not able to continue teaching our musical theater class. We are aggressively pursuing another teacher to finish the class and (direct) our play, and I will keep you posted," Wenzel wrote.
Covenant Christian School is located on Emerson Drive in Palm Bay.
"Covenant Christian School, in partnership with supportive parents, exists to glorify God by cultivating wise servant leaders through nurturing Christ-like character, promoting individual academic excellence, and developing a Biblical worldview in its students," reads a statement on the school website homepage.
According to a non-discrimination policy on the homepage, the school "does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, or national and ethnic origin in administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic and other school-administered programs." The school participates in Florida's school voucher program.
“It’s been a very difficult situation, because my life has been dedicated to children and making them feel seen and heard and loved, no matter who they are," Lisciandro said.
“And so to think that something like this could happen to them makes me feel really upset and angry, because they deserve better. So I can’t be quiet about it. I can’t be silent about it," she said.
"Because I want kids to see me and know that you can be a Christian and you can be gay. You can be gay, you can teach at a Christian school. You don’t have to feel shame about who you love, or who you are, or how you were born to be," she said.
Wenzel released a statement saying that the school requires its teachers to follow the tenants of the Bible.
"Covenant Christian School believes that every person is created by God and has inherent value and worth that cannot be minimized by any classification, status or life circumstances. We uphold and affirm this inherent worth of every person.
"Covenant Christian School also requires that all employees must agree to and model our position on human sexuality, which is based on the biblical teaching that asks all Christ-followers to abstain from any sexual activities outside of a one-man, one-woman marriage.
"For our school, teachers are not simply people who may come and go each school year. Teachers are asked to believe, model and instruct students in all matters of the faith including its doctrines. We require that teachers strive to reflect in their own lives the biblical principles that they teach. The Christian life is not simply a passing of knowledge from one generation to another, it is about a life lived in community and unity to God's standards as well," the statement read.
Lisciandro also owns the Viera Studio for the Performing Arts in Suntree, which hosts the Rainbow Project LGBTQ allyship group. The Satellite High graduate spent her teenage years acting at Cocoa Village Playhouse in the Stars of Tomorrow program, and she later spent 12 years teaching students, directing productions and performing in professional touring theater companies in New York City before returning to Brevard County.
Lisciandro taught about 35 middle school and high school students at Covenant Christian School, and her former students are rehearsing to perform the musical comedy "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown." She worked at the school the past three years for about 10 hours per week.
Legally, Lisciandro said she can probably do nothing about her situation. Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a trio of cases debating whether companies can legally fire workers because of sexual orientation or gender identity.
There is no statewide law that prohibits discrimination against LGBTQ people in the Sunshine State, Equality Florida reports.
"This means that, according to state law, it is legal to fire someone, evict them from housing, or deny them service at a restaurant just because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer," the Equality Florida website states.
In February 2016, the Palm Bay City Council rejected a proposed human rights ordinance that supporters said would protect LGBTQ people from being unfairly fired from jobs or evicted by landlords.
However, opponents said the 25-page ordinance could have encouraged frivolous lawsuits and let sexual predators sneak into restrooms at parks, malls and schools.
The emotional debate drew an estimated 500 people to City Hall.
Lisciandro's Viera Studio for the Performing Arts hosts the Rainbow Project, a youth club dedicated to creating LGBT allyship and a "safe space for the kids to be themselves." The club spearheads fundraising projects for nonprofits and manned a booth during the Space Coast Pride Festival & Parade on Sept. 28 in Eau Gallie.
Corey Beattie works at the studio as musical theatre and touring company instructor, and she leads the Rainbow Project.
"It’s discrimination," Beattie said of Lisciandro's ouster.
"You can say what you want, you say whether it's lawful or not. But we've seen throughout history: Just because it's under law does not mean it's not discrimination. The fact is that Monica hasn’t done anything wrong," Beattie said.
Copyright 2019 Florida Today