Pastor Files Lawsuit Against Baptist Church After Allegedly Getting Fired for Coming Out as Transgender

Written on 08/20/2021
Contributing Columnist

A pastor in Ontario is filing a lawsuit against a Baptist church after being fired for coming out as transgender — CityNews reported.

Reverend Junia Joplin is pursuing wrongful dismissal, claiming her termination was a result of discrimination. Joplin presented as male when she started working as lead pastor for Lorne Park Baptist Church (LPBC) in Mississauga, Ontario. But in June 2020, Joplin came out to her congregation in a live-streamed sermon.

In a statement of claim not yet tested in court, Joplin said many people in the congregation, other Baptist churches and many organizations reached out with support.

Joplin alleged that days after her coming out, Lorne Park Baptist Church suspended her from her duties and gave her no return date.

In the lawsuit, Joplin alleged she was subjected to an “unfair process,” where church go-ers attended virtual town halls to discuss her, and in July 2020, they voted to terminate her employment. Members were given the option to choose whether her employment should continue indefinitely, be reduced to an 18-month contract, or be eliminated altogether.

Of the 111 voters, 58 voted to terminate Joplin’s employment, and 50 said it was due to a religious belief.

According to CityNews, Joplin said in an interview that the experience left her with “a kind of anxiety around church work and church life” that she had never felt before.

“Those were very much my first steps into social transition. That’s a hard place to be. I think just about any trans person will tell you that can feel frightening, feel vulnerable. It’s a time when support is so essential and, unfortunately, for a lot of us, we don’t get it in places like our workplace,” she said.

“But for that to happen within that context of a caring community — I think one of the toughest things for me was knowing that I’m going through one of the most consequential and difficult seasons that I’ll ever go through in my life and I’m pretty much isolated from my faith community, from the place that I would most naturally go to for support.”

On Wednesday (Aug. 13), Lorne Park Baptist Church said that it conducted a “process of attempting to discern God’s will” after Joplin came out and did so in a “careful and thoughtful manner.”

“In the end, the congregation voted to terminate her employment as lead pastor of the church, with the majority of the votes to terminate made for theological reasons. We offered her what we think was a fair severance,” David Huctwith, chair of the church’s executive council, said in a statement.

Joplin told CityNews she hopes the lawsuit will make Canada more inclusive and understanding.

“I don’t want other people to go through that. I don’t want other queer people to connect to faith communities that don’t really welcome them unequivocally, without caveat or qualification,” she said. The document also noted that the Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec have been ordaining women for over 70 years.

After coming out, Joplin claimed that the congregation held a series of virtual town halls and asked her “difficult and (in many cases) deeply personal” questions about her transition, coming out, and the impact it would have on the church’s members.

Joplin is seeking nearly $200,000 in damages, claiming the church went against the Canadian Human Rights Code, which prohibits discrimination in employment based on gender identity, gender expression, sex and other grounds.

The lawsuit argues that although the Human Rights Code allows religious organizations to be partial to those with similar beliefs, that only applies when religion is a qualification for the job — it doesn’t allow discrimination based on gender identity or expression.

“LPBC did not perform a close and careful examination of the nature and essential duties of lead pastor or demonstrate an honest, good faith, and sincere belief that Rev. Joplin lacked a qualification that was reasonably necessary in relation to those duties,” said the claim.

The lawsuit argues it should be ruled unconstitutional “unreasonably and unjustifiably limits the right to equality,” as clearly stated in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom. Lorne Park Baptist Church said it believes its decision to let Joplin go was lawful, and it takes no position on the constitutional argument.

(Image Credit: Jah Grey for Vox)