The host of a morning radio show in Springfield, Mo., is speaking out after she was laid off Friday — she says because she is openly gay and an outspoken advocate for LGBT equality.
Her former employer says its cancelled the morning program altogether due to budgetary constraints, and denies that the decision had anything to do with Stevens' orientation.
Jennifer Scott Stevens hosted 105.1 BOB-FM's morning show for the past year, until she says her boss informed her after Friday's show that she had just completed her final on-air appearance. The station, and three others in the area, are owned by Midwest Family Broadcasting Group, reports the Springfield News-Leader.
Stevens, who is married to another woman, said her coworkers and supervisors knew she was gay, but it was never an issue at work, since she didn't discuss her sexual orientation on-air or at official events.
But in June, Stevens was profiled in the News-Leader as part of a weekly series on businesspeople in Southwest Missouri, and she discussed her orientation and her passion for advocacy surrounding LGBT issues. Ironically, Stevens actually pointed to the elevated rate of workplace discrimination faced by LGBT people in her closing remarks in that piece.
"As a lesbian myself, I know the fear of losing one's job, home, friends and/or family just because you're gay," she told the News-Leader. "I hope one day soon that is no longer a fear and the whole thing is no longer such a big issue. I will continue to work towards that end."
On her personal Facebook page, Stevens made no secret of the fact that she believes her dismissal was in response to her public coming-out.
"I was never once written up, never reprimanded, was in the top 5 of all radio personalities in the Best of 417 last year," she wrote Saturday, noting that she was recently asked to become a shareholder in the company. "Then, I come out publicly in the paper, begin to advocate for others in the LGBT community and... I'm a budget cut. That fast."
The general manager of the Springfield-based broadcasting group, Jason McCuthin, told the News-Leader that he was troubled by the Stevens' allegations.
"As someone who attended her marriage reception, it's a little disheartening that she would assume this station didn't support her wholeheartedly," McCuthin told the News Leader. "We have other people on staff who have the same lifestyle, and they get the same support she did."
McCuthin did confirm that Stevens was the only staff member let go last week, and that the station has no immediate plans for additional cuts. The station's morning show, which Stevens hosted, will be changed to an all-music format, he said.
But Stevens doesn't believe the broadcaster's claims of financial stress leading to her dismissal hold up.
"I resent the implication that I was a bad employee, because had that been the case, I assure you I would have been fired for reasons other than 'budget' cuts," Stevens continued on her Facebook page Saturday. "And as for the company saying it was budget cuts... Do you really think they'd say anything else? No one actually fires someone and says, 'it's because you're gay.' That's why no one thinks it happens. It does, not just to me but to many, many other LGBTs around the country."
Notably, Missouri does not have statewide nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people, though the City Council of Springfield is currently considering such an ordinance to protect LGBT residents from discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations, reports the News-Leader. Stevens herself recently spoke out in support of a local fire department's consideration of granting health care benefits to same-sex partners of its firefighters.