Counselor fired from Bellingham religious camp for being gay

Jace Taylor's summer plans fell apart days after he changed his Facebook profile photo to show him with his boyfriend.

He had a counselor job set up at Fircreek Day Camp in Bellingham, but a camp leader called him to a meeting.

"He sat me down and told me that I was terminated because of my sexual orientation," Taylor said. "I wanted to bawl my eyes out, but I didn't because it was a professional meeting."

For Taylor, working at Fircreek, part of The Firs Camps and Retreats, wasn't just any summer job.
He grew up going to the camp.

His mother went there and so did her mother.

Taylor calls The Firs a second family.

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"They really raised me in my Christian faith. To have that family that raised me in that way, to basically tell me, 'You can't work here because of who you are,' was devastating to me," Taylor said.

The Firs is a nonprofit religious organization.

The website makes clear staff must follow its doctrinal statement, which includes traditional views of sexuality.

"I totally knew they had this doctrine, but I thought because the world is being so progressive lately, I wonder if they've changed," Taylor said.

In a statement to KIRO 7, The Firs Executive Director Tom Beaumont wrote, "To be consistent to our mission and doctrinal statement, we unfortunately had to withdraw our invitation to this young man, who we truly like, for this summer staff role.  We sincerely wish this was otherwise."

J. Denise Diskin, of Q Law Foundation, wrote to KIRO 7 that while she couldn't comment on the legality of the firing in this particular case, "Discrimination by religious nonprofit employers for any reason, including sexual orientation, is not legal when the job duties of the employee are not religious in nature."

Job duties listed on The Firs website for summer staff include teaching Bible study and spiritual enrichment.

Jennifer C. Pizer. of Lambda Legal, wrote to KIRO 7 that "this legal rule is called the 'ministerial exception' to no discrimination laws. It's a US Supreme Court interpretation of the federal Constitution's protection of free exercise of religion."

Pizer also wrote, "Prospective employees, unfortunately, should take it seriously if a potential job with a faith-based institution will involve teaching or other activities likely to involve religious tenets - and the potential employer states anti-LGBT policies. The prospects for a successful experience there are dubious."

Pizer praised Taylor and his family for speaking out about "how this discriminatory application of a particular religious idea is inconsistent with the core beliefs that inspire and have held that community together."

Taylor said he does not intend to sue but does plan to picket the first day of day camp June 24.

He says he has received much support since going public, including several job offers.

KIRO 7 reached out to Beaumont and he gave this full statement about Taylor's termination: 

"I am writing to you who know and care about the ministries and programs of The Firs (Firwood, Fircreek, ASA…). Every year of the 34 years I have been in leadership here at The Firs our focus has been on loving and serving any and all kids in the setting of an outdoor camp environment.  If The Firs has been part of your experience I suspect you would agree.

We are a faith-based organization whose mission is not only to love kids but to introduce them to a God who loves them as well. A God that we feel reveals Himself primarily in the Bible. This, then, is what we are all about.  We seek to accomplish this mission through our programs within the context of approved Doctrinal Statements which are approved by our Board of Directors and in our organizational by-laws.

In order for us to do this we partner with young leaders each summer to carry out our purposes and we call them “summer staff”. These folks are extremely important to us, we care deeply for them and they are critical in the fulfilling of our mission. And since they are critical in fulfilling our mission, it is critical that we hire only individuals who are committed to both our mission and our Doctrinal Statements.

We recently extended an invitation for a young man well known and loved by many of us at The Firs to serve as a counselor at our Fircreek Day Camp program.  It became evident in the hiring process that he did not personally align with our Doctrinal Statement (regarding sexuality in particular). In this case, in order to be consistent to our Mission and Doctrinal Statement, we unfortunately had to withdraw our invitation to this young man, who we truly like, for this summer staff role.

We sincerely wish this was otherwise. We understand that our decision may be confusing or contrary to other individuals’ beliefs. Please be assured that the full leadership of The Firs will continue to seek the appropriate means to carry out our mission in the context of a changing world while keeping our Missional and Doctrinal convictions."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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