Global pandemic and economic recession aside, it’s still been quite a couple of months for the LGBTQ community.
June kicked us off with an unexpected victory, with a 6-3 Supreme Court decision extending employment non-discrimination protections for workers based on sexual orientation and gender identity. But then, September brought the devastating loss of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — whose death suddenly throws rights like marriage equality, and our ability to serve as foster and adoptive parents, into question.
Though it lacked the same headline grabbing attention, another development that occurred this past summer helps put these SCOTUS news stories in context. This past June, Steven Arauz — a foster dad who worked at a Seventh-day Adventist School in Florida — was fired from his teaching job at Forest Lake Education Center in Longwood for no other reason than being gay. Steven was out to some colleagues at school, he told the Orlando Sentinel, but was let go after appearing in an article published on our site, Gays With Kids, celebrating him as a foster and adoptive parent and advocate.
Steven’s employer and church, too, repeatedly recognized his leadership and advocacy on behalf of the more than 400,000 children in the foster care system — he appeared on the cover of religious magazines with his adoptive son, and was described by his peers as a “model” foster parent. All this certainly lends credence to the idea that Steven’s sexual orientation has absolutely no bearing on his ability to work with or raise children.
But as soon as Steven took his story to the pages of a publication with the word “gay” in the title, his school had no problem throwing all these accolades out the window — along with the salary Steven used to support the family his employer once so eagerly praised as a model. How very Christian.
Steven’s case is proof that our recent employment non-discrimination victory at SCOTUS this past June only gets us so far. If employers can still invoke their so-called "religious freedom" anytime they want to discriminate against LGBTQ people, how protected are we, really? As an organization that accepts millions in taxpayer-funded federal and state aid — including 1.7 million in state scholarship money, according to the Sentinel — it should make no different that Steven’s employer was private and religiously based.
With Supreme Court Justice nominee Amy Coney Barrett likely to be confirmed this coming Monday, securing a 6-3 conservative majority on the court that may endure for years, the rights of the LGBTQ community will likely continue to be used as political pinballs — unless, that is, Barrett decides to follow the leader of her own Catholic faith, who became the latest to provide us with headline-grabbing LGBTQ news this week by endorsing same-sex civil unions.
"Homosexual people have a right to be in a family," the Pope said in a documentary released on Wednesday. "They are children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or made miserable over it.”
Unlike his employer, a pastor at Steven’s Adventist WholeLife Church in Orlando has also found reason to show empathy towards the LGBTQ community, telling the Sentinel (with just a touch of shady flair, I might add) that, “Our view has always been whomever Jesus decides to exclude, we’ll exclude them — but we haven’t found anybody like that yet.”
If religious leaders of institutions not exactly known for being at the cutting edge of queer equality are coming around to the idea that LGBTQ families have a right to exist, without persecution, hopefully others of faith — including our employers, judges and politicians — will, too. Until then, Steven, and others of us in the LGBTQ community, will continue to be at the mercy of those who choose to weaponize their religious beliefs against us.
It pains me that an article published on Gays With Kids — one intended to celebrate Steven's accomplishments as a much needed advocate for the country's foster care system — instead resulted in his firing. But I’m also inspired to see that he’s fighting back by taking the opportunity to tell his story.
I invite you to do the same by making a plan to vote this November 3rd, or during early voting — and making sure your friends and family have a plan, too.