A Canada transgender pastor is suing her former church for wrongful termination on the basis of discrimination after being fired shortly after coming out publicly as transgender last year.
Rev. Junia Joplin was fired from her position as head pastor at Lorne Park Baptist Church in Mississauga, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto, roughly one month after coming out as transgender while conducting a virtual sermon during Pride month 2020. She had served in her role at the church since 2014, years before she began socially transitioning. Though she didn’t come out until 2020, Joplin approached ministry at the church from an LGBTQ-inclusive perspective from day one.
According to the filing, the church suspended her indefinitely from her job despite multiple members of the congregation and other Baptist organizations offering her support. The following month saw Joplin be subjected to multiple virtual town halls with members of Lorne Park Baptist Church in what she deemed an “unfair process” of asking prying personal questions and determining her future at the church. Joplin was subject to questions on topics ranging from her transition to how it might impact the church and its members.
“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,” Joplin said in an interview with the CBC. “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.”
Those meetings ultimately resulting in the congregation voting to fire her in July 2020. The majority of those who voted in favor of ousting Joplin said they did so “fully or in part” out of adherence to a religious belief. The decision left Joplin feeling “isolated” from her own faith.
“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,” she said.
Joplin’s lawsuit claims that her termination was a violation of the Ontario Human Rights Code, which prohibits employment discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression. Members of Joplin’s former church argue that an exemption in the law that allows religious organizations to show preference in employment if candidates are of a “similar creed,” defined as one’s religious beliefs, negates Joplin’s claim. The pastor’s filing argues that such an exemption only applies when creed is an “occupational qualification.”
“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,” reads Joplin’s filing.
The claim further argues that if the court does find that the exemption applies to Joplin’s case, then it should be deemed unconstitutional as it violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The charter prevents the unreasonable and unjustifiable limiting of “the right of equality.”
According to the CBC, Joplin is seeking $200,000 Canadian in damages, but this fight is about much more than financial compensation. “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,” Joplin said.
Canada Trans: Previously on Towleroad
Screenshot via YouTube