Oct. 26, 2021 By Allie Griffin
A beloved music teacher at an Astoria Catholic school was fired from his teaching position earlier this month after the diocese learned he married his longtime boyfriend.
Matthew LaBanca was let go from both his teaching position at St. Joseph Catholic Academy and his position as the music director at Corpus Christi Church in Woodside on Oct. 13. He had worked in both communities for more than a decade.
LaBanca said someone tipped off the Diocese of Brooklyn, which oversees Catholic academies and parishes in both Brooklyn and Queens, to his August wedding.
“I’m stripped of both of my jobs — all of my employment, my health insurance and most importantly stripped of the communities, the daily community life that has meant so much to me,” LaBanca said in a heartfelt video statement posted Friday. “Not because of my work performances, not in the slightest, but because I’m gay.”
A Diocesan committee of high-ranking officials met for nearly six weeks to discuss the fate of his employment and ultimately decided to terminate him from each position, he said.
The principal at St. Joseph Catholic Academy defended his employment, but the decision was the Diocese’s — and ultimately Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio’s — to make, according to LaBanca.
The music teacher was offered a severance package, but it contained a gag order as a term of acceptance, according to his account.
“Obviously, I have not signed it because I realized that no price could be placed on my personal integrity, on my voice,” LaBanca said.
The Diocese of Brooklyn, in a statement on behalf of LaBanca’s former employers, said LaBanca failed to comply with church teachings and was terminated as a result.
“His contract has been terminated based on the expectations that all Catholic school and academy personnel, and ministers of the Church, comply with Church teachings, as they share in the responsibility of ministering the faith to students,” a spokesperson said. “In his case, it has been determined that he can no longer fulfill his obligations as a minister of the faith at either the school or the parish.”
While same-sex marriage is legal in New York and nationwide, the Catholic Church doesn’t approve.
“Despite changes to New York State law in 2011 legalizing same-sex marriage, Church law is clear,” the spokesperson said. “We wish Mr. LaBanca only the best in his future endeavors.”
Both city and state laws prohibit employers from discrimination based on sexual orientation, although the law makes exceptions for religious freedom.
“Just because something is legal, doesn’t make it right,” LaBanca said.
Since the news of his firing became known, LaBanca has received an outpouring of support and the Diocese, in turn, a tirade of anger.
Council Member Daniel Dromm, chair of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Caucus of the Council, denounced the Brooklyn Diocese and Bishop DiMarzio.
“Every Catholic like me who believes Love is Love should express their disgust at Bishop DiMarzio’s firing of this wonderful gay teacher,” Dromm, who is gay, wrote on Twitter.
A petition in support of LeBanca that demands his reappointment to both positions at SJCA and Corpus Christi has garnered more than 2,000 signatures in just two days.
Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer shared the petition on social media and urged more people to sign it.
“As a gay man raised in the Catholic Church I’m outraged at the firing of @BrooklynDiocese teacher @MatthewLaBanca,” Van Bramer tweeted. “He’s by all accounts a beloved teacher. His crime? Marrying the man he loves. This is disgraceful, discrimination.”
Parents of students at SJCA have also signed the petitions and left notes of support.
Many parents of students at the school said the students miss their music teacher.
One mother said she was honored to know LaBanca and that there is no place for hate in the community.
“Mr. LaBanca made my child’s life better,” Colette Conlon said. “It’s an honor to know him. The Church will change, or die.”
Another parent said her two daughters at the school have lost an amazing mentor.
“Mr. LaBanca is the sweetest soul and a brilliant teacher,” Alessandra Kucic said on Facebook. “The real tragedy here is losing him as our teacher. Please sign the petition and maybe the Catholic church will start practicing what they preach instead of this hateful discrimination.”
She added that the students are hurting without him.
“Because of this decision the music has stopped.”