Fired Transsexual Teacher Sues Church
Church officials cite a gun charge as their reason, but the former catechism instructor disputes that.
[TAMPA, FL] - For more than two years years, Gene Batronie taught catechism classes as a volunteer at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Seffner.
Then last year, church officials fired Batronie. They said the dismissal came after Batronie was arrested and charged with pointing a gun at a relative.
Batronie thinks otherwise. The 56-year-old is certain that the firing came after church officials found out he was a transsexual.
"They told me that themselves," said Batronie, who has filed a discrimination lawsuit in federal court. "They know now that they need a better reason than that and have altered their story."
Batronie began working at the church in 1999 teaching catechism, the basic principles of Christianity, to the fourth-grade class. The idea was for Batronie, an experienced catechism teacher, to stay with the same class each year until the students reached the eighth grade.
Batronie, who is married and has four children, had known for a long time that he was a transsexual. Batronie was taking hormones and had thought for a long time about a sex change operation. But in the classroom, he said, he dressed in jeans and denim shirts, without makeup or any other common female accoutrements.
The only intimate relationship he has had is with his wife of 34 years, he said.
"I didn't want to confuse the children," Batronie said. "No one at the church ever said anything to me about inappropriate behavior or dress."
In July, Batronie was arrested after intervening in a domestic incident between his daughter and her husband. Batronie said he took a gun to the home because he thought the husband might be violent. Police reports said Batronie pointed the .38-caliber revolver at the husband but did not fire.
Batronie was formally charged with improper exhibition of a dangerous weapon, a misdemeanor. Prosecutors eventually dropped the charge.
Soon after the arrest, Batronie said, someone called the church and told officials about the arrest and about him being a transsexual. The suit says an official with the church and another with the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg on separate occasions told him he was being fired because of his transsexuality. Batronie's wife was at one of the meetings and agreed that the reason given was the transsexuality, not the arrest.
"At first they accused me of being homosexual," Batronie said. "They also said that the firing had nothing to do with the arrest. They said they didn't care about that."
Fred Higham, an attorney for the diocese, said the lawsuit is without merit. He emphasized that Batronie was fired because of the arrest, not for his sexual orientation. He also said that the suit, which was dismissed and then refiled, has several flaws that will likely lead the judge to dismiss it again.
"The safety of the students is the primary concern of the church," Higham said. "The decision was that an individual arrested on this type of gun charge isn't the sort of individual that should be teaching religion classes."
In April, Gene became Jean after a sex change operation in Thailand. Batronie, who works as a hypnotist and counselor in Brandon, said the ordeal has been a "test of faith." Only recently has Batronie begun attending church again regularly, although not at St. Francis.
Among other things, the suit asks for a monetary award and money to pay for psychiatric treatment required after the firing. Batronie said teaching again is a goal but returning to St. Francis seems unlikely.
"I'm not going to let this go," said Batronie, who does not have a lawyer. "They should not be allowed to do this to someone, no matter their sexual orientation."
-- Graham Brink can be reached at you can reach jean at
(post note) on 6/17/2002 a jury trial was set for may 5,2003 by united state district court judge whittemore