The office met with community leaders on how it could protect LGBTQ+ people in the coming legislative session.
A leading aid provider for Phoenix’s unhoused population discriminates against LGBTQ+ people.
Phoenix Rescue Mission and similar orgs require employees to sign an anti-LGBTQ+ statements of faith, which has ripple effects in care for queer people.
Three things to know
- Phoenix Rescue Mission requires employees to sign and agree to a morality clause, which discriminates against LGBTQ+ people.
- Though they are one of the largest, Phoenix Rescue Mission is not the only aid organization that requires this, and anecdotal cases show how these morality clauses effect care for LGBTQ+ people.
- Technically legal, the clause is allowed due to multiple U.S. Supreme Court cases affirming religious freedom to discriminate.
When a woman named M.B. applied as an intern at the Phoenix Rescue Mission in 2018, one of the state’s largest religious organizations dedicated to fighting housing insecurity and substance use, she said she had high hopes.
As a social work graduate student at ASU, she thought working at the longstanding nonprofit would allow her to make a difference in people’s lives. After interviewing at its women’s shelter, M.B. accepted a job and began filling out the required paperwork on the spot.
That’s when a Phoenix Rescue Mission staff member handed her one last policy to sign: a religious agreement that mandated employees follow the organization’s Christian values, including its disapproval of same-sex marriage.
“I stopped there and said, ‘My beliefs don’t align with this,’” said M.B., who asked LOOKOUT to use her initials instead of her full name out of fear of professional repercussions. LOOKOUT has verified M.B.’s story through emails and a copy of Phoenix Rescue Mission’s religious agreement.
The agreement was non-negotiable, M.B. remembered a staff member telling her.
“It kind of dead-ended the conversation,” M.B. said. “I said, ‘I’m sorry, I’m not comfortable signing this.’ And we were done.”
Copies of emails M.B. supplied to LOOKOUT confirmed M.B. declined a job at the organization because of its discriminatory policy.
LOOKOUT reached out to Phoenix Rescue Mission multiple times for a comment. The organization never responded back.
Faith-based institutions across the U.S., including schools, foster care organizations and substance use treatment centers, routinely ask prospective employees to sign similar religious agreements, known as morality clauses.
Some institutions have turned away interviewees who reveal they are LGBTQ+ or who don’t agree with their stated values. Others have fired workers who violate the policies.
The legality of such practices is a gray area that is actively being battled out at multiple levels of government, from city halls and state legislatures all the way up to the Supreme Court.
In Arizona, the Washington Elementary School District came under fire when they decided to not renew a contract with the faith-based Arizona Christian University, which also required students to sign a discriminatory religious agreement. The agreement, which is also in the student handbook, says that not abiding by one’s gender assigned at birth is “offensive to God,” and that same-sex marriage is immoral and aligned homosexuality with bestiality.
The school sued the district, which eventually renewed the contract.
But there’s a rub in all of this: LGBTQ+ people are more likely to be impacted by housing insecurity, according to research from True Colors United, an advocacy group for unhoused LGBTQ+ youth. And some are now asking: If a powerhouse organization like Phoenix Rescue Mission can require employees to abide by discriminatory practices, how is it impacting people on the ground?
Whether or not a person can lawfully be discriminated against based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or personal values can depend on a variety of factors, including the specific position they’re being considered for, whether the employer receives government funding and more, legal experts said.
“There’s layers of complications to this that policymakers really haven’t done a good job of unwinding and really thinking through all the implications of,” said Darrell Hill, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, which advocates for greater LGBTQ+ protections in the state.
Arizona is one of 29 states that does not have a statewide law explicitly protecting LGBTQ+ people from discrimination, according to Human Rights Campaign, a national nonprofit that lobbies for LGBTQ+ rights.
“I think states and policymakers need to make clear, and we as a society need to make clear, our continuing support for and belief in nondiscrimination,” Hill of the ACLU of Arizona said. “That people’s characteristics—their race, their gender, their sexual orientation, their gender identity—should not be the basis for whether or not they’re employed or receive services.”
But when is an employer allowed to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity?
The short answer: It’s complicated.
Several recent Supreme Court decisions and local actions have complicated how laws are enforced.
In 2012, the Supreme Court carved out a “ministerial exception” that gave religious organizations the freedom to make faith-based decisions when hiring ministers, but the decision did not give clear guidance on how to define a minister, and if that could be a rank-and-file employee or a leading religious practitioner.
In 2020, the court extended that exception and clarified the definition to include anyone whose work supports the organization’s religious mission, such as teachers.
‘A HUGE DISSERVICE’
Phoenix Rescue Mission makes no secret of its anti-LGBTQ+ views. A “Statement of Faith,” which employees, volunteers, and board members are required to sign is posted on its website. It says:
- God “immutably creates each person as male or female”;
- Marriage’s sole meaning is “the uniting of one man and one woman”; and
- God “intends sexual intimacy to occur only between a man and a woman who are married.”
Some other faith-based nonprofits in the Valley publicly maintain similar values, though it’s not clear whether they require employees to comply with them. Church on the Street, which operates a sober living home and conducts outreach to people experiencing homelessness, states on its website that it believes “marriage is a union between one man and one woman permanently united spiritually, emotionally, and physically in a lifetime bond of loyal love.”
Church on the Street would not respond to calls or emails asking about their hiring policy.
LOOKOUT found that there are other religious-based missions, including Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest and Phoenix Dream Center, whose websites state they accept employees and clients of all religions and backgrounds.
Not only do such policies affect job seekers, they can also harm clients, M.B. said.
Several years after turning down the job at Phoenix Rescue Mission’s women’s shelter, M.B. was working as a case manager at another local nonprofit when a judge mandated one of her clients to complete a program at the very same shelter.
The client, who is bisexual, had to hide her sexuality and pretend to believe that homosexuality is a sin in order to get through the program, M.B. said. If she didn’t complete it, her children could have been taken from her.
“It was a huge disservice because she didn’t make any therapeutic progress,” M.B. said. “She just checked a box.”
Multiple staff members of other local housing nonprofits told LOOKOUT the strict religious rules of Phoenix Rescue Mission and other faith-based nonprofits like it are well-known among the Valley’s nonprofit sector.
“Everybody knows,” M.B. said, adding that the practice is a way to manipulate people. “Everybody who works in that field for any significant amount of time knows the way that those agencies function.”
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