Casey Stegall’s direct supervisor knew he was gay.
But, after he introduced his fiancé to the kids he worked with at the Children’s Home of Lubbock, he was fired.
“I got fired just for me being who I am,” he said.
A year after being hired and spending week after week caring for the children living at the home, he was dismissed for circumstances revolving around what Lynn Harms, president of the organization, called Stegall’s lifestyle choices.
“As a faith-based, church-related outreach providing welfare services, if you will, to children and families, there is a set of biblical values that we adhere to and live by,” Harms said. “When you are implementing life training and so forth — particularly with children — to put a confused message out there is counterproductive.”
In Stegall’s eyes, it was discrimination, but in the eyes of the law, it’s legal.
Only 18 states and the District of Columbia have rules barring workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation — Texas isn’t one of them.
Six cities and one county in Texas offer gays and lesbians protection against this type of discrimination — Lubbock isn’t one of them.
Even with such a law, most have an exemption for churches and religious organizations.
While no city on the South Plains has an ordinance specifically addressing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, Mayor Glen Robertson said he’s open to the idea.
“If anybody brought that issue forward, I’d be open-minded and look at it,” he said. “It’s one of those things that I do think should be done at the federal level, and I’m surprised that there isn’t a federal or a state law regarding that, especially as tight as our (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) stuff has gotten.”
Two sides of the same story
Stegall knew what he wanted to do with his life at an age when the biggest decision most people make is what to wear the next day.
Spending time with a child with a terminal illness and a cheerful outlook, Stegall knew working with kids was his calling.
As a human development and family studies major at Texas Tech, Stegall landed a job caring for children who’d never experienced a positive family atmosphere.
“I got to be a part of their lives and I got to see that change in them from when we first got them, and I got to see them leave a whole new person,” he said, thinking of the children he worked with who have since been adopted.
Then, during a planned day trip out of the Children’s Home in early July, Stegall introduced the group of teenage boys to his fiancé. Days later, Harms asked the caregiver to meet with him on Stegall’s day off.
That’s when Stegall learned he no longer had a job.
“He told me that because of my lifestyle choices, he didn’t feel comfortable with me being on his team anymore,” he said.
Stegall said he had a spotless employment record with the organization and was often praised by his supervisors for the work he did with the kids.
Still, he was fired without an opportunity to defend himself against accusations of public displays of affection with another man, he said. Other employees who have been accused of what Stegall described as more heinous conduct were placed on paid leave until an investigation into the claims was completed.
Stegall was not given that opportunity, he said.
Stegall was aware of the organization’s Christ-centered mission when he applied for the job, but he never expected his relationship status to send him to the unemployment office.
“My fiancé and I are both Christians and we both attend church,” he said. “I read the same Bible you read, I believe in the same God you believe in.”
Stegall has tried to find lawyers to represent him in suing his former employer, but had no luck.
“I want my case out there — even if I lose,” he said. “I want my case out there so that people know that this is happening to people like me.”
Harms declined to talk specifically about Stegall’s employment, but said in a broad sense modeling a lifestyle not in line with the organization’s interpretation of the Bible is not acceptable, and new employees are briefed on the Children’s Home’s values during orientation.
“If you want to try to force our culture to meet your expectations, that’s not going to go well,” Harms said. “I don’t feel like the culture here has to meet an individual’s desire for the world to be different.”
Homosexuality isn’t the only lifestyle choice that falls into that category, Harms said. A person who is sexually promiscuous could also be dismissed on the same grounds.
“Presenting a lifestyle that is damaging to kids could be a whole lot of things,” he said, citing aggression and ungodliness as examples.
Being gay is not always a fireable offense at the Children’s Home, however. Harms said there are employees who “fly under the radar.”
“The core of it is how they conduct their business here,” he said.
Sexual preference doesn’t usually come up during an interview, but Harms said other homosexual employees have been fired for similar reasons.
Challenging the stereotype
Many of the kids who end up in the Children’s Home often come with a history of sexual abuse. From a therapeutic standpoint, Harms said homosexuals working with kids in that situation can be problematic.
“It gets garbled in terms of sexual identity, sexual preferences, fears, concerns, retraumatization,” he said.
Local psychologist Brian Carr, however, said being around a gay man is no more traumatizing to a sexual abuse victim than being around a straight man.
“There is no effect — that’s ludicrous,” he said. “He is combining the idea that people who are gay also have to have some sort of history of either being sexually molested or being sexual molesters, and that is not true.”
There is a stigma — an antiquated one, Carr said — about gay men working with children.
“That is prejudicial and completely inaccurate.”
A look at the law
It would be illegal for the organization to fire someone for being a man, for being a Christian or because he is Caucasian.
Firing someone for being gay, however, doesn’t break any laws at the local, state or federal level.
“I think that a lot of people think that because we all deserve a fair shake at work that it must be illegal to discriminate against somebody because he is gay. That’s not true,” said Rebecca Robertson, legal and policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas.
And, even though there is protection in some areas of the country, many of those laws have religious exemptions, she said.
“So, no matter where somebody works, there is always a risk that they could get fired for being gay or lesbian and the employer could just say it point blank. There would not be any legal recourse,” Rebecca Robertson said.
Houston is the most recent Texas city to pass a municipal ordinance addressing the issue, after Mayor Annise Parker — the first openly lesbian mayor of a major American city — led the charge.
The approval was greeted with thunderous applause from the audience, largely full of supporters, and chants of “HERO,” for the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, according to the Houston Chronicle.
However, the ordinance passed in May is being challenged in court, Rebecca Robertson said.
Obama’s executive order
At the national level, an executive order issued by President Barack Obama Monday addresses the issue, but only impacts employees of companies with federal contracting work.
“America’s federal contracts should not subsidize discrimination against the American people,” Obama said at a signing ceremony from the White House East Room. He said it’s unacceptable that being gay is still a firing offense in most places in the United States, according to a report by the Associated Press.
The president also noted that more states allow same-sex marriage than prohibit gay discrimination in hiring.
Until last month, Obama long resisted pressure to pursue an executive anti-discrimination order covering federal contractors in the hope that Congress would take more sweeping action banning anti-gay workplace discrimination across America, according to the AP.
A bill to accomplish that goal — the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — passed the Senate last year with some Republican support, but has not been taken up by the GOP-controlled House. “We’re here to do what we can to make it right,” Obama said in the AP report.
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