In the latest intersection between LGBTQ+ rights and religious freedoms, a Canadian Baptist church pastor was voted out after she came out as Trans in a sermon. Find out what happened, and how recent court decisions have shaped and limited the options available to religious leaders here in the United States.
The livestreamed sermon on June 14, 2020, for the Lorne Park Baptist Church in Mississauga, Toronto, Canada, wasn’t your everyday Sunday lesson. In front the whole congregation and the greater community of the internet, Junia Joplin came out as a trans woman.
“I want to proclaim to my transgender siblings that I believe in a God who knows your name, even if that name hasn’t been chosen yet,” she said during the livestream. “I believe in a God who calls you a beloved daughter even if your parents insist you’ll always be their son.”
The sermon became popular among LGBTQ Christians online, who valued how she wove together themes of the religionand self-acceptance that so many gay and trans individuals struggle with. Many of Joplin’s parishioners were supportive as well, including some she hadn’t expected.
However, not everyone was so enthusiastic about her coming out, however. Shortly afterward she received an email from church leadership, and on July 20, the congregation voted on whether to remove Joplin from her position. Aftera a narrow vote, the congregation fired her for coming out as trans.
The close vote raised questions and controversy for many within the Lorne Park Baptist Church community. A former pastor of the church spoke up on the church Facebook account, perpetuating the gender identity discrimination by deadnaming Joplin and intentionally using the wrong pronouns. At the same time, other frequent attendees questioned how the vote was done, finding that they had been excluded because they were not official members of the congregation.
In the months since the vote, the church has experienced substantial upheaval. Six of its eight executive council members and two of its pastoral team have stepped down. When asked their reasoning for removing her, several parishioners admitted they voted against her for reasons other than the church’s theological beliefs, indicating that their motives were purely discriminatory, rather than based on some religious belief or tenant.
Here in the United States, 2020 has been a big year for Trans employees’ rights. Earlier this year, the United States Supreme Court extended Title VII’s protections against gender discrimination officially include same-sex orientation discrimination and gender identity discrimination. Now, no matter where Trans* employees live and work, they can file wrongful termination or gender discrimination claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or in federal court when they are fired for coming out or expressing their true gender identity.
Pastor Joplin is far from the first minister to find herself removed from her pulpit after coming out as LGBTQ. The Shower of Stoles project has gathered over a thousand liturgical stoles and sacred items from pastors, priests, ministers, and rabbis who faced sexual orientation and transgender discrimination within their churches, synagogues, and places of worship.
However, while their Trans* brothers and sisters have found shelter in the Supreme Court’s rulings, pastors and ministers still do not have access to those same federal laws. That is because of the “Ministerial Exception” to federal anti-discrimination laws. This exception says that, because of the U.S. Constitution’s law against government-established religion, churches and other religious institutions must be allowed to control who they employ in ministerial positions. The Supreme Court recently ruled that this included Catholic school teachers. It would even more clearly apply to a Baptist church pastor such as Joplin.
That doesn’t mean there is nothing to be done when transgender religious discrimination threatens the job of a Trans pastor or minister. At Eisenberg & Baum, we understand the impact gender identity discrimination on transgender and nonbinary pastors and employees. From our office in New York City, our employment discrimination attorneys can help Trans* pastors negotiate with congregations and employers to protect their rights. We are committed to making our office a safe space for you and your loved ones. If you feel like your position is at risk because of your gender identity or expression, contact us. We'll meet with you and help create a strategy that protects you against gender identity discrimination.