Sixty years ago, the federal government spearheaded a massive purge of gay employees, no matter how qualified or essential they were to their department's operations. The firings were the result of an executive order by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on April 27, 1953. As told in the documentary Lavender Scare, even LGBT private sector workers who were under contract with the federal government were also fired or forced to resign.
Why? Because gay people were viewed as a godless, immoral group likely to work with communists to spill government secrets.
After decades of activism, policy changes at federal agencies, and state laws protecting LGBT citizens, 94 percent of the top 100 companies in the U.S. — the top 50 federal contractors and the top 50 Fortune 500 companies — have policies prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, and 78 percent of the companies have policies prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity.
Nine in every 10 American voters believe that there are already laws to protect LGBT employees in the workplace, just like policies for women, people with disabilities, racial minorities, or people with particular religious affiliations. But that's not the case. An employee could still be fired in 29 states for being gay, and in 34 states for being transgender or gender non-conforming.
So as we mark 60 years since the federal government's mass firings, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act is finally set for a vote in the Senate on Monday (the 19th time Congress has considered it). With a Republican-dominated House of Representatives, ENDA might be tough to gain momentum even though, according to the Center for American Progress, 73 percent of voters support protections for LGBT workers (even 66 percent among Republicans voters).
On the following pages, we've assembled a small handful of people who have been pushed out or fired from their jobs in the past few years just for being who they are.
Arkansas, October 2013
A Catholic high school in Arkansas terminated popular English teacher and coach Tippi McCullough on her wedding day. She married her same-sex partner in New Mexico and got a call from the principal. McCullough and her wife, Barb Mariani, both said they thought McCullough was singled out by Mount St. Mary’s Academy in Little Rock for being gay. The school said McCullough violated the terms of her contract, which has a clause allowing for dismissal if a staff member violates Roman Catholic teaching.
California, August 2013
Ken Bencomo had taught English at St. Lucy's Priory High School in Glendora, Calif., for 17 years until he was fired for getting married to his longtime partner. The Catholic school discovered his husband when they were photographed in a local newspaper article about marriage equality. Students have protested and appealed to the school board without any success in getting their teacher reinstated.
Texas, March 2013
Ohio, March 2013
Carla Hale's firing may be the most mean-spirited pink-slip you'll ever read about: the popular physical education teacher was let go after someone anonymously told her employers at Bishop Watterson High School that she was gay. How did they find out? The obituary for Hale's mother, who recently passed, mentioned Hale's partner. After 19 years of service, the Catholic school fired Hale a few weeks after she returned to work following her mother's death. An official with the school's diocese would only say that educators could be fired for "immorality." Hale's students rallied around her, gathering thousands of signatures calling for her reinstatement. "It’s amazing that they’ve come together and rallied around this situation," Hale told the local media. "I’m in awe of them."
Oregon, March 2013
Successful principal Tom Klansnic was served walking papers by the Gresham, Ore. school district because he divorced his wife and came out as gay, according to Klansic. The educator served as principal of Gresham Elementary School for 10 years, but his contract wasn't renewed for unclear reasons. Oregon does have workplace protections covering sexual orientation, so Klansnic has that on his side.
New York, August 2012
Mark Krolikowski was a well-respected teacher at St. Francis Prepatory School in Queens, but his gender nonconformity likely led to his dismissal. Krolikowski taught at the school for 32 years, but recently began dressing in women's clothing (he prefers to use his birth name and male pronouns). His principal took aim at his appearance, calling him "worse than gay" in 2011. After agreeing to "tone down" his appearance, and receiving excellent marks for his teaching, Krolikowski was fired from the school in August 2012. His attorneys say New York City's laws should have protected his job.
Texas, October 2011
Nikki Williams, a young history teacher and basketball coach, was fired from the Life School in Waxahachie, Tex. because she's gay, according to some parents. A petition was circulated to get Williams's job back, but school officials dug in, even refusing to expunge the firing from her records. "I think that her being gay has nothing to do with her coaching skills," parent Tiniqua Smith told local media. "She has not tried to push this off on the kids, and I don't feel like that should be a problem."
Pennsylvania, February 2011
Reverand James St. George, an adjunct professor of world religion at Philadephia's Catholic Chestnut Hill College, was fired after he made statements about gays that apparently went against Vatican teachings. St. George says he was let go simply out of antigay animus. School officials say the story was sensationalized, while the college's president tried to voice concern for gay students and staff of the school: "We ache for the negative impact this story is having on them."
Tennessee, December 2010
Lisa Howe's story resonated much wider than the halls of Nashville's Belmont University. The women's soccer coach was allegedly fired from the Christian university after she announced her partner was pregnant. Her dismissal led to protests, new protections for gay employees and students at Belmont, a campus LGBT group recognized by the university, and a citywide ordinance requiring companies contracted by the city protect their gay employees from workplace discrimination (the latter was later overturned by state legislators).
Oregon, October 2010
Seth Stambaugh (right), a young teacher in Oregon, was fired when his fourth-grade student asked him why he wasn't married and he responded that he was gay. He was later reinstated at Sexton Mountain Elementary School and awarded $75,000 for his troubles; he donated some of the money to a charity to youth-oriented nonprofits.
Texas, January 2013
Marty Edwards (shown at left), an assistant vice president at First National Bank of Granbury, stated that he asked the bank's executive vice president and the human resources director why he had been passed over for promotions in the past, despite a strong 11-year track record at the bank. They replied that the other workers who had received the promotions were "a better fit for the image we are looking for." Edwards was hired right out of college and was groomed to move up the ladder at the bank until he came out five years ago. Edwards also said he experienced a hostile work environment at the bank after coming out. When Edwards asked whether his sexual orientation was the main reason he had been denied chances to move up, executive vice president James G. Hodges demanded his resignation. When Edwards refused, Hodges fired him. In February, attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union stepped in to represent Edwards in mediation, the Dallas Voice reports.
California, August 2012
A gay former Eagle Scout allegedly fired from his job at a Scout-affiliated camp in California delivered 70,000 signatures to the Golden Empire Boy Scouts Council calling for the organization to rescind their antigay policy. Tim Griffin, 22, claims he was removed as an employee at Camp Winton because he's gay, and in solidarity with Griffin, Camp Winton program director Alex Hayes quit in protest. The pair gathered 70,000 signatures and delivered them to the Golden Empire Boy Scouts Council in Sacramento.
Virginia, March 2013
Bradley Kindrick said he was assaulted while working the graveyard shift at a 7-Eleven in Virginia Beach, Va., and then fired because he is openly gay. Kindrick said a man entered the convenience store around 2 a.m., pinned Kindrick against a wall, and assaulted him by forcibly kissing him. Kindrick says he has had panic attacks since the incident, which was compounded further when 7-Eleven management fired him a few days after the assault. 7-Eleven corporate officials told WAVY News that Kindrick was fired because he was drunk on the job — a claim Kindrick denies.
New York, March 2011
Housekeeper Anastacia St. Claire-Hannah said the couple whose house she cleaned found out she is transgender via a background check. They allegedly called her "disgusting" and "a freak," barred her from preparing their meals, and told her that she needed a psychologist. Three days later, St. Claire-Hannah was fired. She says the Park Avenue couple claimed her working at their home would look bad for the husband's image and business.
South Dakota, 2010
The grocery store where Cori McCreery worked fired her shortly after she announced plans to transition from male to female. She had moved up the ranks from clerk to supervisor at Don's Valley Market in Rapid City over five years. But after the announcement, the owner told McCreery she was "making other employees uncomfortable," and because the owner had a "seven million dollar investment in the protect," McCreery was abruptly fired.
Illinois, June 2003
Rockford's largest Catholic church fired Bill Stein as its music director after some parishioners objected to his desire to adopt a child with his partner of 10 years. The church offered to let him keep his job if he took a vow of chastity, which he refused, and then was fired. "When they asked me to make that promise, with all my dignity as a child of God, I could not do that," he told the Chicago Tribune afterward. "I was fired from a position that I truly loved."
Washington, D.C., April 2012
Peter TerVeer (shown at left) was fired in 2012 from his job as a management analyst at the Library of Congress, ostensibly for being “AWOL” from work. But he says he had to take medical leave because, since being hired in 2008, he’s been subjected to antigay harassment from his boss, John Mech, since August 2009. TerVeer says that after Mech found out he was gay, he began quoting Bible passages to him and giving him poor performance reviews. TerVeer also accuses Mech’s supervisor of stalking him after he became aware that TerVeer was considering a discrimination lawsuit. His suit was filed in August 2012 in U.S. District Court in Washington, claiming that his supervisor's actions were in violation of Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act.
Kentucky, May 2012
A federal judge ruled that a Kentucky state agency discriminated against a gay man by firing him after he violated a workplace policy, while still employing a female coworker who violated the same rule. Milton Stroder was fired from his job in 2009 at the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services for referring to other gay men using terms such as "queen" and "princess" in personal emails to his partner. However, coworker Shannon Duncan was not fired for sending her own personal emails, including a chain email to co-workers titled, "Pampered Chef," showing naked men with pots and pans placed over private areas of their bodies.
Vic Gardner contends that the Texas attorney general's office began mistreating him after dressing as a geisha for an office Halloween party. His former supervisor is accused of admitting he had a "religious objection" to Gardner being gay. His attorney says the supervisor reportedly told Gardner, "You know who you are, but try not to be so out."
Illinois, November 2007
A gay Chicago police officer was reportedly fired for moonlighting as a bouncer and “lube wrestling” participant in nightclubs. Jonathan Maynard was on convalescent-duty status, recovering from injuries, when he worked at two gay clubs, Hydrate Nightclub Chicago and Halsted’s Bar and Grill, between June 2008 and October 2009, as a substitute bouncer, and when he took part in a “lube wrestling” event at Hydrate in November 2007. He broke department rules against working in a liquor establishment, and working at all, while on his leave, the Chicago Police Board decided last month. He was a “flagrant abuser” of departmental policies, the board ruled. However Maynard said other officers with “much more serious” infractions have been allowed to keep their jobs. “I have been singled out,” he said. He also said he has been harassed by fellow cops for being gay.