Howe says she would consider returning to Belmont

Wednesday, December 8, 2010 at 9:24pm

Former Belmont women’s soccer coach Lisa Howe says she’d listen if the university offered her job back.

In a phone interview with The City Paper on Wednesday night, Howe and her attorney Abby Rubenfeld declined to discuss specifics about the departure, which came a week after she disclosed to her team that her same-sex partner was pregnant.

“We have an agreement. It is confidential,” Rubenfeld said. “We have an agreement — that’s done.”

Howe, however, didn’t squash the possibility of returning to her post if Belmont offered.

“I would just have to consider,” Howe said. “I would have to take my time… I do want to make sure that the next place that I work has policies that make me feel safe and welcome working there and help me feel like my family is welcome and safe working there.”

Last Thursday, the university announced that Howe was resigning. The next day, the school issued another statement, saying the two parties had reached a mutual agreement. Several of Howe’s players, however, have said she was fired.

Howe was joined by Helen Carroll, who flew into Nashville on Wednesday from San Francisco. Carroll, a Murfreesboro native, is the sports project director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Howe called the last few days “overwhelming.” She said she doesn’t know what the future holds in terms of employment but said she is excited to be a mother. She also expressed gratitude to her players and to the Belmont students and community for their support.

“I think Belmont is a good place and it can become even better,” she said. “I had a good six years there, and I think it is a good place with room for improvement.”

On Wednesday, Belmont president Bob Fisher issued a statement in front of a roomful of reporters but did not take questions.

“Belmont comprises a rich and diverse mix of people,” he said. “Within our student community, there are many gay and lesbian students as well as gay and lesbian faculty and staff. In the 10 years that I have served as Belmont’s president, sexual orientation has not been considered in making hiring, promotion, salary or dismissal decisions. I need for you to hear that clearly – sexual orientation is not considered in making hiring, promotion, salary or dismissal decisions at Belmont.”

Fisher also said the university has “not done a good job” communicating. “I am sorry for that and I take full responsibility.”

He said he wouldn’t discuss any personnel matters or issues “regarding this specific case.”

Fisher’s statements came a day after major Belmont donor and music executive Mike Curb released a statement saying he wanted to see Howe rehired.

“I am really surprised and very grateful and thankful to Mike Curb,” Howe said. “I hope he can be a catalyst in helping change and helping the Belmont students feel more comfortable.”

Curb, after whom the music business college and the basketball arena at Belmont are named, released another statement Wednesday after several media inquiries.

“I chose to speak out as an Emeritus Board member because another Board member has spoken out purportedly on behalf of the Board and because I had heard nothing from Belmont for six days,” he said. “President Fisher has asked me as a member of the Board, now that I’ve made my statement completely, to hold off making any further statements to give him an opportunity to resolve these issues so that this type of injustice can never happen again. I promise you if the matter is not resolved, I will continue speaking out about this the rest of my life.”

More than 130 protesters marched through the Belmont campus Wednesday before stopping in front of the Gordon E. Inman Center on Wedgewood Avenue. They waved signs, prayed for change and remained upbeat despite standing in below-freezing temperatures.

“I’m horribly upset that the university would take such a reactionary position,” said protester and ordained minister Erie Chapman, 67, a former president of Baptist Hospital. “These guys have their feet in concrete… I think they need to recognize that the university can’t move ahead unless they have policies of tolerance that support the full academic creed. To fire any staff member for being gay is an outrage. I hope they’ll change. I changed the policy at Baptist Hospital when I got there and I hope my friends at Belmont — all of whom I know in leadership here — I hope they’ll change.”

The rally was held after a letter-writing event during which students were encouraged to write encouraging notes to Howe and letters to Belmont administrators demanding change. The protest lasted more than three hours and crossed over onto both sides of Wedgewood.

While the protest was continuing, faculty members at Belmont met with students and women’s soccer players in a closed-door meeting. Faculty members declined comment but senior Daniel Ritter said it was “a great time of discussing where we are now and where we would like to be.”

“Faculty are just here to listen,” said Ritter, who added the meeting was student led. “They want to let the students know they are here. They are being more than supportive, which is appreciated by the students — definitely.”

Ritter is a member of Belmont Bridge Builders, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender group that the university has twice denied sanctioning as an official student organization.

Students were out of school Wednesday and finals begin Thursday before students head home for Christmas break next week. Even with the time off, Ritter said he didn’t expect things to quiet down.

“Students aren’t going to let that happen. Plain and simple — students will not let that happen,” Ritter said. “This community is going to stay involved with each other and keep the pressure up.” 

20 Comments on this post:

By: Loretta Bridge on 12/8/10 at 8:59

Your race, gender, sex or religion has nothing to do with your being a good teacher, coach or employee. Belmont needs to concentrate on being a more tolerant university.

By: yogiman on 12/8/10 at 9:25

I must disagree, Loretta Bridge.

Belmont has had, personnel quantities and qualities of people who work on that campus since it began operation.

Ms. Lowe apparently kept her sexual behavior personal until she decided she must tell her team she and her 'partner' were going to have a baby.

Now, many people are telling Belmont they must change their state of preference in someone else's favor.

So now, what is Belmont going to be allowed to do when Ms. Lowe leaves her job as coach? Revert back to their original rules? Or will it be decided they must continue to hire homosexuals?

That's like telling your boss; You're going to do it my way, do you understand?

By: richgoose on 12/8/10 at 10:12

I can give BELMONT some of the best free HR advice they have ever been given.


By: AT on 12/9/10 at 2:00

This is not about Howe. Like the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy in the military, it's never been about readiness, ability or effective performance. It's about a vocal minority using the military, or in this case, a private Christian university, to aggressively promote their lifestyle choices, personal agenda and immorality on others. Pandering to the financial support of Curb is the equivalent of Belmont selling its soul to the devil. Howe should pursue other opportunities elsewhere. And Curb should take his money elsewhere as well if he feels so inclined. Time to stand firm and do what's right, rather than worry about who is right. That said, all people have a responsibility to love others well, with gentleness, respect and compassion always. Tolerance does not make sin acceptable. It should encourage Biblical righteousnes. Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. All else is rubbish.

By: RonBH on 12/9/10 at 5:52

Lisa Howe, by all accounts, was an excellent womens soccer coach for six years at Belmont.

What, now she's not? Because she and her partner plan to have a baby? Here's what Bob Fisher has this to say...

"In the 10 years that I have served as Belmont’s president, sexual orientation has not been considered in making hiring, promotion, salary or dismissal decisions."


So, what's the real story? And why the delay in responding to this matter? And why not answer questions from reporters? If you have nothing to hide, stand tall and put the matter to rest.

But, Belmont has dropped a bombshell, has handled it poorly and now has more than egg on its face. This becomes a PR nightmare.

If I'm Lisa Howe, I'm likely to move on and find a better situation. And, Belmont will be left with the fall-out.

It's a real shame because Belmont is so strong in many ways, but this becomes a giant blemish and one that's not soon to heal.

By: CrisCan on 12/9/10 at 6:48

Belmont has long been known as a "don't ask, don't tell" place of employment. I know several gay employees of the university, and they know that if they are "outed" they are also "out" of a job. How sad! How can there be any academic freedom in an environment where a person cannot be who he or she really is? The problem is the "money" on the board of trustees; they do not want Belmont to be open to gays, and President Fisher will follow the board to keep his job.

Totally FUBAR.

By: not_guilty on 12/9/10 at 8:12

Who Would Jesus Fire?

By: gdiafante on 12/9/10 at 8:13

He'd fire those who mention the "WWJD" crap.

By: govskeptic on 12/9/10 at 8:24

Sounds as if all the right(left) organizations and attorneys
were lined up for this even prior to the Coach informing the
Administration of her(their) situation! Was this a test case
looking for a victim as so many are?

By: Wild Bill on 12/9/10 at 8:34

Something else is at play here and maybe one day the other shoe will drop. The university clearly said that her "orientation" was not why she was fired. Neither she nor her attorney will say why she left. In fact they won't even say she was fired. The only people saying she was fired is some of her former soccer players and that is only their speculation.

Her attorney says.. “We have an agreement. It is confidential,” Rubenfeld said. “We have an agreement — that’s done.”

I have a feeling that Ms. Howe knows exactly why she was given a choice to resign and everyone speculating that it was over her "orientation" makes a nice cover for the real reason. Notice how her attorney firmly states it is confidential. I bet it is.

By: gdiafante on 12/9/10 at 8:43

Why would the University publicly acknowledge she was "fired" due to her orientation? That would be PR suicide...not to mention it could put the University at substantial risk for litigation (even though it's likely headed there already).

Sometimes a rose is just a rose.

By: HighlyAnnoyed on 12/9/10 at 8:59

If Belmont wants to be taken seriously as a University, they should just drop the religious affiliation. Universities are about education. Religion is about ignorance and fear. The 2 don't mix.

By: yogiman on 12/9/10 at 9:03

A major point here is; why did Ms. Lowe think she should tell her team members she is a homosexual? Didn't they already know she had a female 'friend' living in the same house? What would have been the reaction if she had told them she was heterosexual? Would she feel it necessary?

Why does anyone want the world to know what their sexual appetite is? Really, who cares?

Belmont could hire anyone without asking them about their sexual attitude, but knowing the university, the job seeker should know the universities favor on the matter.

I'm sure if Ms. Lowe had not told the team her 'desires' she would still be the coach.

And again, why does the homosexual of today want the world to know of their choice? I have never known a 'normal' person running around telling others their personal desires.

By: xhexx on 12/9/10 at 9:15

With all the secrecy from both Howe and the university about the reasons behind the joint decision that she should resign, I wouldn't be surprised if there is a sexual harassment accusation in this somewhere.

By: GUARDIAN on 12/9/10 at 9:17

GUARDIAN- If she wants to pretend to be a man or dine at the Y let her get a job in a public collage or university. Belmont is private and Christian. What is it with you morons that you don't understand. I know the new world order AKA-progressive communist devils want qays, muslims, illegals and enemies of GOD or America to hold names and french kiss but PLEASE "DON'T ASK DON'T TELL" and to you politically correct minions with no back bone,"STICK IT".

By: Wild Bill on 12/9/10 at 9:46


You might be spot on. Mike Curb might want to keep his powder dry until he has all of the facts. When you take your lead from the student newspaper you might get burned. Lets see if Mr. Curb goes silent for awhile.

You have listen to what is not being said.

By: Alphadog7 on 12/9/10 at 9:57

I'm not sure what the right answers are in this case, but I do notice that the word "tolerance" is asked a lot by one side, while not being offered in return. Why are the beliefs of Christians not "tollerated" by those demanding "change" and "progress"?

Not to mention, there is a difference between "tolerance" and forced acceptance. People can certainly tolerate each other and continue to disagree, but that isn't good enough for some, who then play the hate card or the phobia card.

Either way, I am sad Ms Howe was fired, and wish her the best.

By: localboy on 12/9/10 at 11:05

" I do want to make sure that the next place that I work has policies that make me feel safe and welcome working there and help me feel like my family is welcome and safe working there.”"
Good luck to her and hopefully she can find somewhere she can work without the fear she's had to live with the last six years. But it appears that six years ago the college was the party that went into this arrangement with its stance on the matter known to both sides. Bet there were papers signed to that effect, too.
xhexx certainly offers a plausible explanation to the actions taken by the parties after the fact.

By: RJP on 12/9/10 at 2:12

rjp When this person filled out her job application or in the interview were questions asked about believing in god and believing in what the bible says. If the answer was yes then the rest should be left up to god. Every one knows right from wrong.There seems to be alot of people hoping god grades on a curve. Personal choice 's are just that ! If you don't like the food in one restraunt you go somewhere else. If you don't like the music you can change it. And if your not willing to follow rule 's at the work place you can always go work where what you want is all that matters? As for me I can show you photos of my mother and father. If it wasn't for our mother's and father's none of us would be here! Think about it in the begining times they didn't know to put sperm in a test tube. What a sad thought. A plant full of women and no test tubes. Now what ya gonna do?

By: yogiman on 12/10/10 at 7:28

Another question; if she quit, why would she be willing to return to work there?

I would never think about returning to a company I quit from for personal reasons..