Christian home for at-risk youth fires top caregiver for being gay

Casey Stegall is a full time college student in Texas who has long been devoted to helping kids who are in need. Having worked for a year as a caregiver to abused and neglected youth at the Children's Home of Lubbock as, in the words of his supervisor, one of the best employees she'd ever seen, Casey was fired by the organization's president, Lynn Harms, for being gay.

According to the group's website, the Children's Home seeks "to make life better for children who need to see that caring and love do exist in a world that has often been unfair and unjust." Casey's dismissal, unfortunately, sends a contradictory message.

Casey's direct supervisor noted that, with the help of Casey's efforts (which included spending his weekends serving as a parental figure), the kids demonstrated their best behavior yet.

However, after Casey's fiancé helped chaperone a group trip to a local water park, Harms told Casey that as a result of his "inappropriate behavior," Harms felt Casey's "lifestyle choices were detrimental to the kids' health."

Casey, who says he never introduced his fiancé as such and has never engaged in public displays of affection for fear of backlash, was not given an opportunity to defend himself against Harms' allegations and was terminated from his position. These aspects have been misreported by numerous outlets.

The Children's Home is a faith-based organization and receives reimbursement funds from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. One of the state's leading family rehabilitation programs, the Children's Home emphasizes what they call "spiritual training" and regularly integrated worship.

Harms told a regional news outlet that keeping Stegall on staff would have "put a confused message out there [that] is counterproductive…to implementing life training and so forth—particularly with children."

He stated in a interview with the Lubbock Avalanche Journal, "If you want to try to force our culture to meet your expectations, that’s not going to go well.  I don’t feel like the culture here has to meet an individual’s desire for the world to be different.” Harms also admitted that numerous employees have also been previously fired for their identities.

The organization is affiliated with the Church of Christ and Casey consistently participated in the program's religious aspects, including taking the kids to chapel every weekend. Raised Baptist but kicked out of the church when he came out as gay, Casey and his fiancé remain dedicated Christians and are active members in the Metropolitan Community Church, an evangelical LGBT denomination.

“I read the same Bible you read, I believe in the same God you believe in," said Casey.

It's in the MCC community that Casey has found support when few other resources have been made available to him.

Casey is extremely concerned for LGBT kids who are afraid to come out for fear that they will be banished like Casey was.

He is also now determined to make sure other people who are LGBT are protected against workplace discrimination. There are no statewide policies to such an effect in Texas. Currently, only six cities and one county protect workers from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation—though religious organizations like the Children's Home are exempt from these laws.

"I have no ill feelings toward anybody at the children's home," Casey told KLBK News. "I'm not out to hurt anybody there. I'm wanting to get the word out, because Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Plano, they've all passed laws protecting LGBT people in the workforce, and I would like that here in Lubbock."

Though Mayor Glen Robertson said he "would be open-minded" to "look at" protections for LGBT workers "if anybody brought that issue forward," and is "surprised that there isn't a federal or a state law regarding that," Texas' Governor Rick Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott have expressed strong anti-LGBT sentiments on a range of issues.

President Obama's recently-signed executive order protects federal workers who are gay, lesbian, bi, and trans; but people can still be fired in 32 states for their sexual orientation and in 29 for their gender identity.

Check out Casey's interview with KLBK News: