Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Gay Workers, Ongoing Discrimination: A Continuation of My Story at a Methodist University

Life moves in interesting circles. Karmic circles, in the view of some Eastern religions.

When I blogged earlier today to agree with an astute reader about the treatment our culture dishes out to gay folks, I did not know that I would be revisited by some of that treatment this very day.

I’ve shared bits and pieces—such as I can share—about a horrific story Steve and I lived through a few years ago, an ongoing story that troubles our lives to this day, as we receive reports of continued defamation from which it is not easy to defend ourselves,at a distance. We were invited by someone representing herself as a friend and a supporter of gay rights to take jobs at a university she headed. The “friend” enticed us to take the huge step of uprooting ourselves and adding a second mortgage to our debt load by promising that we would have jobs at her university up to our retirement.

Within weeks of our arrival, things were clearly awry in a way that made no sense to us—awry with the very “friend” who had invited us to work for her. (It should have been a warning bell to us that she had invited others to do the same, and then turned on them—she brought seven people from her old workplace to her new one, and ran all seven off in less than year's time.) She came to our house soon after we arrived on her campus to inform us that “people” were talking about our driving to work together, though we had only one car, about our taking lunch together, though we are a couple.

We never received feedback like that from a single person other than this “friend,” who informed us on the same occasion that the bishop of her Methodist church, who sits on the board of her Methodist university, had told her after learning we were a couple that he would not have approved our hire, had he known. Our being gay was openly discussed by the board’s executive committee, which assured us we were welcome.

But the bishop supposedly had issues with hiring gay couples (though not, oddly enough, with hiring straight couples, of whom the campus has many)—issues about which we were suddenly apprised after we had uprooted ourselves because we foolishly believed promises made to us by the “friend,” who was clearly perturbed that our arrival on the campus would somehow put her under fire, as a sometime rhetorical supporter of gay people and gay rights. Unbeknownst to us, a few weeks before this visit to us took place—on the very weekend we arrived at our new house and jobs—the Methodist church of the state had ended its annual meeting split down the middle about whether gay people could even be allowed to join Methodist churches.

We walked into the eye of a hurricane emanating from the church that owned the university to which we were headed. And we quickly found ourselves very much beaten up by it—by the very “friend” who had invited us to take jobs at her university and to use our talents to assist her, as we had done to the point of exhaustion working for her in the past.

Things went from bad to worse as the academic year went on. I have shared the story, such as I am able, in previous postings, so I won’t rehearse it here. Here, because it is pertinent to the cruel homophobic subtext our "friend" chose to develop against us, I'll note that we were informed in writing that we could not take each other for doctors’ visits. On the same weekend that the “friend” came to warn us that we were unwelcome at our new campus, Steve had gotten some alarming results from the physical a doctor had performed as a preliminary to the new job. The results suggested a very serious and almost always fatal cancer.

We had no doctor in the new location; we had just arrived and were expected to work around the clock, and had no time even to set up a doctor and doctors' appointments. It took weeks before Steve had time to search for a doctor and follow up on the tests. The doctors’ visits in question in the demeaning memo we received forbidding us to take each other to the doctor were our attempt to find out what was ailing him and to get what treatment we could for the problem.

This was our welcome at a Christian institution. Our welcome! It is impossible to overstate how painful and how absolutely revolting it is to be treated this way by a Christian institution. And all because you are gay. Only because you are gay. No married couples at this Methodist university—and there are many of them—ever receive such warnings not to take their spouses to doctors.

The clear unwillingness of our “friend” to make a place for her gay friends at her university, given the upheaval in her local church over gay issues which occurred after she had hired us, resulted in my being “evaluated” by an evaluator the “friend” brought in to do a surprise evaluation, after she had told me that the consultant was coming to campus for other reasons. The evaluator—a man much younger than I am, a Sunday School teacher in a fundamentalist church who publishes articles about challenges to black heterosexual male identity—spent about an hour with me.

He had never met me before. He did not know me. He made absurd charges about my job performance, and allegations about my job history that were belied by my resume, which he was supposedly holding even as he made the false charges.

This was a set-up, in other words—a vicious set-up by a supposed “friend” and supposed supporter of gay people. Following this “review,” I was removed from my job and given another, in an office with no equipment—no computer, no printer, no mail service, no secretarial support (the position was a vice-presidential one)—at a remove from the main campus.

This was a prelude to my being terminated out of the blue, two days after the “friend” told me she wanted me gone from her campus and offered me a severance package which I accepted. When she made the offer, Steve and I agreed to an amicable settlement. But an amicable separation was apparently not to the liking of the "friend" who made the offer to us.

Two days after we had agreed to the amicable separation and severance offer, I found myself terminated out of the blue, with four armed guards in attendance as a message to me that my hard work on my "friend's" behalf had earned me no respect, and that, in her eyes, I was to be humiliated and made an object of scorn. I was presented with a severance document of multiple pages, and a termination letter. I was informed that if I did not sign the severance document on the spot, I would be terminated immediately without any severance pay.

When I leafed through the severance document and saw that it stated that the state’s laws required that I be permitted to consult an attorney prior to signing, and that there was a clause stating that I had consulted an attorney prior to signing, I noted that I would be perjuring myself if I signed, because I was affirming that I had consulted an attorney when I hadn’t. I asked to call a lawyer.

To which the head of the school’s personnel office responded that I was not permitted to make contact with an attorney, and that I would be terminated immediately if I did not sign the severance agreement on the spot. When I pointed out that this gross violation of my human rights ignored clear statements in the United Methodist Social Principles, to which the school professes adherence, she told me the school was a right-to-work employer and publishes that statement in its literature. I told her that she was really telling me that the school’s Methodist affiliation, also published in its literature, is trumped by what it can do legally though unethically, in violation of Methodist principles. She simply smiled in return.

After all this happened, a document fell into my hands in which the “friend” who had hired me noted that the “evaluator” she had brought in had recommended my removal from my job. I was never given this “evaluation” or given any chance to respond to it. I know that it exists (or that she claims it exists) only because this secret communication of the “friend” to her board about me happened to fall into my hands.

Accrediting standards for the school require that faculty be fired only when they have received an evaluation from their supervisor, to which they have had a chance to respond. My supervisor, the “friend” who hired me, never evaluated me. The accrediting bodies that oversee the school's academic life note that firing of faculty without written evaluations to which faculty members have a right to respond threatens academic freedom, by making it possible for vengeful top administrators to fire those who have displeased them without providing any cause for the firing. When such behavior is permitted in a school, its entire academic life is imperiled.

The document that fell into my hands also used outrageous stereotypical homophobic language about me. I was aware from previous communications that the “friend” had been circulating such stereotypes about me. These communications including statements made by her hand-picked "evaluator," who simply parroted what she had told him to say to me, since he did not know me at all. He informed me I was not aggressive (read: macho) enough to do my job. I had previously protested such language when the “friend” used it in relation to me, noting that it was stereotypical and homophobic, and designed to paint me as less than masculine.

Her secret communication to her board stated that I had “pouted” when she removed me from my position without any evaluation (without one ever shared with me) and had put me in an office with no equipment in it. This use of demeaning stereotypes was consistent with a quite ugly tactic she tried the day she informed me she wanted me gone from her campus.

On that day, with an influential Methodist clergyman and retired university president egging her on, she told me that I had violated the feelings of a colleague. I had noted in a sympathy card to this colleague that I would like to do more to commemorate a family member she had lost, but had taken a sizable cut in my salary with my recent demotion. My “friend” informed me that in mentioning my pay cut in this way, I had overstepped a boundary and she wanted me gone from her campus.

This was, of course, another set-up. It was another way in which my “friend” was seeking to depict me as the evil, heartless, corrupt gay man with no fine feelings about the pain normal heterosexual people endure when they lose a family member.

Never mind that the straight, married woman, who had assisted in taking away my job, had a secure livelihood, and had helped take mine away through a campaign of lies. She did not want to be reminded of what her lies had cost my partner and me. Never mind that my supervisor and “friend” had lied to me about the reason she was bringing a consultant to campus, and had staged a secret “evaluation” of me by a homophobic hired gun who assaulted my humanity in every way possible in the scant hour he spent destroying my job and my reputation.

Never mind that I had worked to the point of dropping to assist this “friend,” and that Steve and I had made sacrifices that still weigh on our lives, due to promises on which she reneged after we arrived at her university.

Even with all this, my "friend" continues to believe she has the moral high road for one reason and one reason alone. I am gay. And she is straight. She has the right to depict me in any way she wishes and to lie to me and about me if she wishes. If I open my mouth in protest, I am evil. The church stands with her—solely because she is a straight married woman. It has no place for Steve and me—solely because we are a gay couple.

It is that simple. It is that stark. It is that cruel and that unjust.

Why am I writing all this now? Because, sad to say, the attacks still continue. And the homophobia driving our "friend's" atrocious behavior continues. When my former friend finds something new she can use to depict me as an evil, degenerate gay, she does so—always tactically, at points when she can most effectively whip up animosity against me among those who accept her misrepresentations of me and do not seek to hear my side of the story. And who will not challenge her clear homophobia, because she has strong promoters in her church's power structure.

I have just received a warning that something I published on this blog this week offends her. That snippet, it appears, is something she wants to use to continue her campaign of defamation of me with her board of trustees, who were the recipients of the secret communication about me that has fallen into my hands, which uses homophobic language to describe me.

I am publishing this statement for two reasons. I am doing so first and foremost to let readers know, in graphic, concrete details what some gay folks continue to deal with in the workplace—and even after they have left a homophobic workplace. Because the laws permit such persecution, and do not protect us against such gross discrimination.

And persecution and gross discrimination by Christians—especially by Christians.

This has to stop. Gay people should not be subject to such unjust treatment in the workplace. Laws should not permit this destruction of gay people's lives, careers, and character, simply because they are gay.

I’m publishing this in the second place because I have had it, frankly, with such bullying and grandstanding by someone who may manufacture a legal leg to stand on in a homophobic state with no laws protecting gay people, but who does not have a moral leg to stand on. I turn 59 at the end of this month. I am too old, too tired, too near the end of my life journey, to put up with this demeaning treatment any more.

Treatment dished out to me simply because I am a gay man.

If my former friend wishes to make an issue of this posting, then I am ready to meet her in whatever forums she can choose as she tries to continue her campaign of vilification and destruction of my livelihood. And if she does wish to continue the bullying, then I will continue to use this blog to tell the truth as widely as possible, about the unjust and unChristian way in which she and her Methodist institution have treated me, while trying to pretend that they occupy moral high ground.