Gay Church Worker Says Being Fired Was a “Kick in the Stomach”


John Murphy, right, with husband Jerry Carter

A former church worker who is gay said being fired was like being “kicked in the stomach,” and, in a new video, he reaffirmed his commitment to seek justice.

John Murphy filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) last year, reported The Washington Blade. The complaint now being investigated claims sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Murphy was fired for being gay and married after serving just a week as executive director for St. Francis Home, an assisted living facility operated by the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, for low-income elders.

In an interview with The Washington Blade, Murphy presented new details about the firing:

“Murphy said Tina Neal, president of the St. Francis Home’s board of directors, told him that the fact he is a married gay man was not a problem because ‘this is 2015.’

“The EEOC complaint alleges that Bishop Francis Xavier DiLorenzo ordered the board to fire Murphy once he learned about his marital status. The diocese sent McGee and Mahanes [respectively the diocese’s Chief Financial Officer  and Human Resources Officer] to do so because the board refused. . .

“He told the Blade that at least two board members have resigned since the diocese fired him. Murphy said the consultant hired to help fill the position at the home said she was ‘appalled at discrimination like this.’ “

Murphy said the board agreed his firing was “not right,” and Neal even met with DiLorenzo the following day to seek a reversal. The Diocese of Richmond sustained its decision, and is now keeping quiet on the matter. Inquiries from the Blade were referred to an old statement about the EEOC complaint, but Murphy said there have been changes made since he was fired:

“Murphy said the diocese has implemented a policy since his termination that says prospective employees ‘must be a Catholic in good standing.’ He pointed out to the Blade that the home’s website now contains several references to the ‘ministerial role’ that its employees ‘play in the operation of St. Francis Home.’ “

Murphy denied any discussion of ministry during the hiring process and said he was honest about having a husband.

A new video from the Center for American Progress tells Murphy’s story as a way of  highlighting the workplace discrimination too many LGBT people and their allies face, including some 60 church workers since 2008. You can watch the video below or by clicking here.

John Murphy’s case is now being investigated by the EEOC, whose findings may allow him to sue the Diocese of Richmond for wrongful termination.

On March 1, the EEOC announced  it had filed its first lawsuits against private business which discriminated against LGBT employees under Title VII, which bans gender discrimination.  The Advocate explained how a case such as Murphy’s may be considered under this statute:

“The EEOC determined last year that discrimination based on sexual orientation is prohibited under Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans discrimination based on sex. Sexual orientation as a concept cannot be understood without reference to sex, the agency noted at that time, and sexual orientation discrimination is often rooted in whether an employee complies with stereotypical gender norms. The agency had previously held that the sex discrimination provision also applies to gender identity.

How religious employers, like St. Francis home, will be handled remains a question.

The experience of being fired has taken its toll spiritually, Murphy explained:

” ‘I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach. . .I’m not sure where to go or religiously what the next step would be for me. . .

“Ironically this happens at the time where we’re led to believe that [Pope] Francis is creating a new environment, ‘Who am I to judge?’. . .[His message] hasn’t trickled down and it isn’t consistently applied from diocese to diocese. . .That of course dictates a lot of what people hear and what happens in the churches.”

Though not all church workers fired are Catholic, many have been faithful church members. Being expelled and excluded does tremendous damage. Jerry Carter, who is married to Murphy, said he watched his husband’s “very sad and disturbing reaction” in the days after the firing, with Murphy losing the optimism he once held and doubting his career and sense of worth. Murphy himself explained further:

“I have spent a lifetime believing that I am a person worthy of God’s love and, a lot of times, I’m getting a contrary message. This firing message seemed to reinforce that.”

In previous posts, Bondings 2.0 has highlighted the damage to communities and to the church’s mission which these firings inflict. John Murphy’s words highlight the pastoral and spiritual damages which should not be understated. Legal victories, like Colleen Simon’s settlement reported earlier this week, are worth seeking and celebrating when they happen. But the work of healing our church and those it harms should not be forgotten, too.

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of this story, and other LGBT-related church worker disputes, click the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right or here. You can click here to find a full listing of the more than 50 incidents since 2008 where church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equality.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

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Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] Murphy was fired in April 2015 after only eight days into his new position directing the lay-administered St. Francis Home. Diocesan intervention seems to have been the cause, as Board members were quite unhappy with the decision.  One member even resigned. Murphy has compared the incident to being “kicked in the stomach.” […]

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