By Sunnivie Brydum
Originally published on Advocate.com December 18 2013 5:30 AM ET
Despite what some Republican leaders claim, employment discrimination is very real for LGBT people, even in 2013. While House Speaker John Boehner said he sees "no basis or need" for the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, these 11 LGBT people who were fired could have had their livelihoods spared if it was illegal nationally to fire someone for their sexual orientation or gender identity. ENDA would not extend to individuals employed by religious institutions. But a national standard declaring it unacceptable to fire an employee on the basis of his or her sexual orientation or gender expression could readily have a ripple effect, even on those employers.
Currently, in 29 states — including some where the people featured on the following pages were employed — it's perfectly legal to fire someone because an employer thinks they might be gay, lesbian, or bisexual. In 33 states, someone can be fired for being transgender, and those employees have no legal recourse to contest their dismissal. Here is a look at just a handful of the reported firings of LGBT people, based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Bev Kearney, track coach at the University of Texas until January:
Bev Kearney, a six-time NCAA championship-winning track coach at the University of Texas, was forced out of her position for having had a relationship with a female athlete in 2002. Kearney, a black lesbian, was put on leave at the end of 2012, but decided to leave her position officially in January after news surfaced about her relationship with the female athlete (who, at the time, was of age). In March, Kearney filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, contending that the school treated her differently than it did a former assistant football coach, Major Applewhite, who had an inappropriate relationship with a student trainer during a bowl trip in 2008. Applewhite was reprimanded by the athletic director, and his pay was frozen for a year.
"We think there is a double standard at the University of Texas, giving men the opportunity to engage in inappropriate relationships without fear of being caught or punished,” Kearney's attorney Derek Howard told the Dallas Voice in March.
Her case has yet to reach a conclusion, though the Dallas Voice notes that Texas law does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Bradley Kindrick, employee at 7-Eleven in Virginia Beach, Va., until March:
Bradley Kindrick says he was working the overnight shift at a 7-Eleven in Virginia Beach on March 24 when a man entered the convenience store twice around 2 a.m. According to Kindrick, the man pinned Kindrick against a wall and assaulted him by forcibly kissing him.
After Kindrick reported the assault, he says, his managers at the 7-Eleven fired him. Officials with the convenience store denied that Kindrick's dismissal was related to the assault or his sexuality, claiming Kindrick showed up to work drunk.
"I think because I am openly homosexual, I think that they think maybe somebody would come in and do it again," Kindrick told local NBC affiliate WAVY. "I think that they made up a reason to let me go because they didn't want stuff like that happening at that store, and they felt like if they kept me, something like that would happen."
Carla Hale, gym teacher at Bishop Watterson High School in Columbus, Ohio, until March:
In addition to losing her mother in March of this year, high school gym teacher Carla Hale lost her job when administrators at the Catholic school where she worked saw Hale's partner listed among surviving family members of Hale's late mother.
Hale told The Columbus Dispatch that when she returned to work at Bishop Watterson High in March after her mother’s death, administrators showed her a letter that a parent had written anonymously to the Roman Catholic diocese of Columbus, “appalled that Hale had listed her female partner’s name in an obituary,” as the newspaper put it. Hale, who had taught physical education at the school for 19 years, was fired a few weeks later, and she says the reason was the revelation of her relationship.
More than 130,000 people have signed a Change.org petition demanding that Hale be reinstated, calling the teacher "beloved" and noting that "she cared for her students and treated each one with respect."
Hale filed a grievance under the terms of her labor contract, seeking reinstatement, but has yet to succeed in her efforts to get back to school, her attorney told the Dispatch. A diocesan official declined comment to the Dispatch, citing confidentiality of personnel matters, but the paper noted that the contract states teachers can be fired for "immorality" or "serious unethical conduct."
Tom Klansnic, principal of North Gresham Elementary School in Gresham, Ore., until April:
Tom Klansnic had been the principal of North Gresham Elementary School for 10 years, but when his contract came up for renewal, the district declined to rehire him.
Klansnic's supporters contend that the school's decision not to rehire him is related to the principal's divorce from his ex-wife three years ago, after which Klansnic publicly came out as gay, according to TV station KATU.
Klansnic's last day as North Gresham's principal was April 25 — the same day the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act was introduced in Congress — though he remained on paid leave through the end of the academic year. Oregon state nondiscrimination law does include sexual orientation, prompting Klansnic and his attorney, Judy Snyder, to consider filing a lawsuit.
Ken Bencomo, English teacher at St. Lucy's Priory School in Glendora, Calif., until July:
Ken Bencomo taught English at St. Lucy's for 17 years — until July 1, just days after the Supreme Court dismissed California's Proposition 8 on a technicality, returning marriage equality to the Golden State. In its course of reporting on the landmark decision, a local California newspaper ran a front-page article about marriage equality, featuring a photo of Bencomo and his husband.
Despite an outpouring of support by alumni, faculty, and current students, Bencomo swiftly was told by school administrators that his marriage violated the Catholic Church's teachings, so he had to be fired.
"While the school does not discriminate against teachers or other school employees based on their private lifestyle choices, public displays of behavior that are directly contrary to church teachings are inconsistent with these values," school officials said in a statement released to the press. "These values are incorporated into the contractual obligations of each of our instructors and other employees."
More than 92,000 people signed a Change.org petition launched by St. Lucy's alumna Brittany Littleton, who contends that the school was aware of Bencomo's orientation long before the newspaper published the photo of him and his husband.
"As a proud alum of St. Lucy's, I am hurt and saddened by this blatant discrimination against Mr. B.," Littleton said in a statement in August. "No one should be fired for marrying the person they love. Along with current and former St. Lucy's students, I look forward to taking this message, along with 45,000 signatures, directly to my alma mater. It's the Christian thing to do."
Littleton and her fellow supporters of Bencomo attempted to hold a silent protest of a school board meeting in September, according to the Glendora Patch, but were refused entry by officials who claimed the meeting was open only to parents of St. Lucy's students.
Kristen Ostendorf, English and religion teacher at Totino-Grace High School in Fridley, Minn., until August:
An 18-year teaching veteran at a Catholic high school in Fridley, Minn., was forced out after she revealed to fellow faculty that she's in a committed relationship with another woman.
Kristen Ostendorf told the MinnPost she didn't plan to come out, since she knew it would violate the Catholic school's stated policy on "Justice in Employment," which forbids faculty from acting or speaking against the church or its teachings. But on August 21, Ostendorf was in a conference with 120 fellow teachers when she uttered eight words that ended her nearly two decades of service at the parochial school just outside Minneapolis: "I'm gay, I'm in a relationship with a woman, and I'm happy."
The next day, school administrators asked Ostendorf to resign. When she refused, the school fired her.
"I want to be very clear about this," Ostendorf recalled telling administrators. "I'm not embarrassed about what I said. I will not dance around it. I will tell every future employer precisely why I left. And if that's a problem, I don't want to work there. I can't do it anymore."
Ostendorf pointed out that she's the second educator to be forced out of Totino-Grace in recent months after revealing an LGBT identity. The school's president, Bill Hudson, resigned in July after an anonymous source outed him. Hudson acknowledged that he was, in fact, in a committed relationship with another man, and resigned, according to MinnPost.
H. Adam Ackley, professor of theology at Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, Calif., until October:
After teaching religion for 15 years at the private Christian college in Southern California, Adam Ackley was asked to leave his position after he announced that he is a transgender man planning to seek a clinical gender transition, in addition to a divorce from his husband.
Azusa Pacific University administrators immediately asked Ackley to step down, claiming his gender identity was in conflict with the school's evangelical Christian doctrine, his attorney told KNBC in Los Angeles.
"While we appreciate Dr. Ackley’s past service and pray God's best for the journey ahead, we have reached a mutual agreement that recognizes it would be best for Dr. Ackley to pursue professional endeavors elsewhere," read a statement issued by the university October 7, confirming that would be Ackley's last day on campus.
Initial conversations between Ackley and university officials had indicated that Ackley might be able to finish the academic year — or at least the semester — on campus, but those conversations were apparently unsuccessful.
Students in Azusa's unofficial gay-straight alliance, Haven, rallied in Ackley's support, waving rainbow and transgender pride flags, and wearing shirts and holding banners reading "We Stand With Adam."
Tippi McCullough, English teacher at Mount St. Mary's Academy in Little Rock, Ark., until October:
Tippi McCullough hadn't even gotten back to her home in Arkansas after a trip to marry her partner in New Mexico when the principal at the school where McCullough worked for 15 years called inform her she didn't have a job to return to.
McCullough said that while on the road, she spoke with Mount St. Mary’s Academy principal Diane Wolfe. "She told me she never thought the day would come, that I was a great teacher and that she would give me a glowing recommendation if I resigned," McCullough told the Arkansas Times. "She said her hands were tied when I signed a legal document."
That document is McCullough’s contract, which has a clause allowing for dismissal if a staff member violates Roman Catholic teaching. When McCullough asked Wolfe how, specifically, she had breached the contract, Wolfe "said she wasn’t going to get into a theological discussion and there was nothing she could do," McCullough told the newspaper.
McCullough and her wife, Barb Mariani, both said they thought McCullough was singled out for being gay. The women also said academy officials knew of their relationship, although McCullough has never discussed it with students. They had been together 14 years before marrying in New Mexico, where several counties grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
"They hire people who aren't Catholic, with a lot of different belief systems," Mariani told the Times. "What's upsetting to me is that the morality clause covers birth control, premarital sex, and they are certainly not pro-choice. It's disturbing to me that no straight teacher is called in and asked if she's using birth control or unmarried and having premarital sex with a boyfriend."
Julia Frost, English teacher at Sultana High School in Hesperia, Calif., until August:
Julia Frost was a probationary English teacher at Sultana High School from 2011 to 2013, at which point her contract was not renewed. She says she was subjected to homophobic harassment and antigay attitudes throughout the duration of her employment, but when the harassment rose to professional retaliation against the out teacher for supporting her students, Frost had had enough.
After repeated obstruction from school officials, Frost helped students who were trying to establish a gay-straight alliance on campus by filing a formal complaint. Frost says she was spurred to action not only because she was a cosponsor of the school's fledgling GSA, but because she saw repeated instances of homophobic and transphobic hostility directed at LGBT students in the hallways and classrooms.
On November 19, Lambda Legal filed suit against the Hesperia Unified School District, contending that the Southern California school district violated state antidiscrimination laws regarding unlawful termination and retaliation because Frost helped her LGBT students exercise their right to free speech. Among the numerous instances of homophobic language documented in the complaint is the allegation that Frost was penalized after helping a student file a formal complaint after a teacher told the student to "take that gay headband off" and used the phrase "that's so gay" in a disparaging manner.
Burke Wallace, varsity football coach at Livermore Valley Charter Prep High School in Livermore, Calif., until spring 2013:
Burke Wallace filed a lawsuit in November against the Livermore Valley Charter Prep High School, alleging that he was subjected to harassment and discrimination after he casually told colleagues that he was married to a man.
Wallace's attorney, John Furstenthal, said some parents and administrators did not want him to continue coaching the team once they found out about his sexual orientation. According to the lawsuit, filed in Alameda County Superior Court, Wallace's supervisors said it was a "bad idea" to have a gay football coach.
After being fired from the coaching position, Wallace said, he was essentially forced to leave his teaching job at the school due to harassment and stress.
"They may try to come up with all these different excuses, but I don't think they'll hold water in court," Furstenthal said. Wallace is suing for an undetermined amount in lost wages and fees.
Michael Griffin, Spanish and French teacher at Holy Ghost Preparatory School in Bensalem, Pa., until December:
Michael Griffin taught Spanish and French at an all-boys Catholic high school in Pennsylvania for the past 12 years, until he traveled to neighboring New Jersey and applied for a license to marry his partner of 12 years. The next day, Griffin was informed by the school's headmaster that his impending marriage "contradicts the terms of his teaching contract," according to NBC's Philadelphia affiliate.
"Today I applied for a marriage license since NJ now has marriage equality," Griffin said on his personal Facebook page December 6. "After 12 years together I was excited to finally be able to marry my partner. Because of that, I was fired from Holy Ghost Preparatory School today. I am an alumnus of the school and have taught there for 12 years. I feel hurt, saddened, betrayed and except for this post, am at a loss for words."
Griffin told the TV station that his long-standing relationship was no secret at the Catholic school, noting that his now-fiancé has accompanied him to school functions and even to the headmaster's home. Griffin informed the administration of his plan to obtain a marriage license via email, which he believes ultimately led to his termination.
The school's headmaster, Father James McCloskey, acknowledged that Griffin's firing was due to his plans to marry his partner.
"At a meeting in my office yesterday, teacher Michael Griffin made clear that he obtained a license to marry his same sex partner," McCloskey wrote in a statement obtained by the TV station. "Unfortunately, this decision contradicts the terms of his teaching contract at our school, which requires all faculty and staff to follow the teachings of the Church as a condition of their employment. In discussion with Mr. Griffin, he acknowledged that he was aware of this provision, yet he said that he intended to go ahead with the ceremony. Regretfully, we informed Mr. Griffin that we have no choice but to terminate his contract effective immediately."
As a private, parochial institution, Holy Ghost Preparatory is within its legal rights to terminate an employee whose actions contradict the institution's religious doctrine. Pennsylvania's statewide nondiscrimination law expressly prohibits discrimination in employment based on race, color, sex, ancestry, national origin, religion, educational level, or disability — but does not cover discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, according to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.