Tennessee's Belmont University says its women's soccer coach resigned yesterday — but players say she was forced to leave after she came out to them.
Mike Organ of Tennesseean spoke with several players from the Belmont team, who say coach Lisa Howe asked the administration for permission to tell the team that she and her partner were expecting a baby. The administration didn't answer for several weeks, and according to senior Erica Carter, "people were finding out, so she went ahead and took the initiative and told us, even though they didn't clear her to tell us." Then Howe was told she could either resign or be fired. A statement by Athletics Director Mike Strickland says, "Women's soccer coach Lisa Howe has informed the university of her intent to conclude her employment with Belmont. This was a decision Coach Howe made." But soccer team captain Sari Lin says that when she met with Strickland about Howe's resignation, he told her a different story:
He basically said we have the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy and when she told us about the pregnancy, it violated that. She was telling us what her sexual preference is. He said you can hide your sexuality, but you can't hide a baby. He pretty much told me that once the baby was born she was going to get fired anyway, so it's better to do it sooner than later.
The Tennesseean couldn't reach Strickland for comment, but notes that Tennessee's Human Rights Act does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation — so if Howe was fired for coming out, she may not have had legal recourse. She also wouldn't be the first school official fired for her sexual orientation this year — Christine Judd, athletic director and dean of students at a Catholic high school in Massachusetts, was fired after she married her partner (thereby, according to a diocese spokesman, engaging in "conduct which contravenes the doctrine and teaching of the Catholic Church"). On its website, Belmont University calls itself "a student-centered Christian community providing an academically challenging education that empowers men and women of diverse backgrounds to engage and transform the world with disciplined intelligence, compassion, courage and faith." But if Howe was really fired for having a baby with the person she loved, then the school's definitions of "diversity" and "compassion" must be pretty limited.