Eugene Ramirez is a star graduate of Belen Jesuit Preparatory School, the elite Miami high school that claims Fidel Castro among its alumni. Ramirez is also openly gay. That fact apparently didn't bother the school when it asked Ramirez — a TV journalist who moved to Tampa earlier this year to co-anchor WFLA's morning newscast — to shoot promo video for incoming students.
So Ramirez was disturbed to learn today that the school has refused to print an announcement in its alumni magazine about another gay alumnus' recent marriage, citing the school's "Catholic identity."
"They don't look at sexual orientation when they're asking for donations or volunteers," Ramirez says.
The school president, Rev. Pedro Suarez, defended the alumni association's decision as in keeping with Catholic traditions.
"The Catholic Church recognizes that marriage is between a man and a woman and because of the Catholic identity of the school, Belen cannot publish same-sex marriage announcements in any of its publications," Suarez says in a statement sent to New Times. "The couple that made the request was notified of the decision."
The furor over the marriage announcement spread around Facebook today thanks to a group of LGBT Belen grads who started a Facebook group that now numbers more than 60 members. An alum shared his frustration with the group that — after marrying his partner of 15 years soon after gay marriage became legal in Florida — the school hadn't responded to his wedding announcement sent to the alumni magazine.
Other group members, including Ramirez, began calling the alumni group trying to get an answer on why the announcement hadn't appeared.
"At they told me there was just a delay because it had been sent during the big Columbus-Belen rivalry game, but then I followed up," Ramirez says. "I think they were hoping the issue would just go away."
Finally, the alumnus got an answer this week: A letter from the alumni association that cites Belen's "Catholic identity" in denying to print the announcement.
LGBT alumni have reacted with fury. Many still take great pride in having graduated from Belen despite the Jesuit all-boys school not being an easy place to study as a young, gay man.
That was the story for Javi Perez, a 2009 graduate who met his fiancé, Victor Borbolla, at the school. The pair dated in secret through their senior year, too afraid to come out of the closet while still students.
"There was a tremendous fear of coming out and being discovered, being scared of being made fun of by the faculty," Perez says.
Still, Perez was a proud graduate of the school — and was shocked to learn of the alumni association's move.
"Our school motto is 'men for others.' We're supposed to be this clan of brothers that supports each other," Perez says. "They're happy to know about our success, our career success and to ask for endorsements and donations, but as soon as our personal life goes against the church, they turn their back on us. It just seems so outdated."
Ramirez says he hopes the furor causes the school to reconsider. "If anything, this is all coming from a place of love for our school," Ramirez says. "We're not trying to shame it or give it a bad name. We're doing this because we love the school, and we want to be included like any other alumni."