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.”