Growing up, life in Valdosta, Georgia was all about the three Fs: faith, family and football. It was high school football on Fridays, college on Saturdays, and the NFL on Sundays — but only after church. I was raised on these values by a loving, supportive family who has always embraced me for who I am. But I learned the hard way that many children aren’t that fortunate.
After college graduation, I moved to Savannah and began my twenty-year career in foster care and child protective services with the Georgia Department of Families and Child Services. While the job was difficult and forced me to confront some of the most chaotic and unimaginable situations, helping abused and neglected children became my passion. Standing alongside these children when no one else would, providing care and consistency when they needed it most — it was more than a career, it was my calling.
In 1994, I moved to Athens — home to the University of Georgia — and that is where I came out at the age of 30. I struggled with my feelings for many years, but I was in a relationship that gave me strength to be my true self. When my partner’s job transferred him to Key West, Florida, we moved together and I became a case coordinator for the Court Appointed Special Advocates (or “CASA” program) for the 16th Judicial Circuit of Florida. Unlike my previous work for the Department of Child and Family Services, I was able to focus on being a voice for the children. It was a dream job.
My partner’s job later transferred him yet again to Atlanta, and my director in Key West encouraged me to continue working there. She recognized my hard work, and even suggested I lead a program rather than just carrying a caseload. When I began leading the CASA program in Clayton County, I was elated. I vowed to never let a child fall through the cracks on my watch, and I was successful. During my 10 years as the child welfare services coordinator, we were able to recruit enough volunteers to ensure every child in the local juvenile court system had a dedicated advocate.
But everything changed when I joined a gay recreational softball team.
It was January 2013, and I had just beaten prostate cancer. I was just starting to feel like myself again and wanted to prove — largely to myself — that I had overcome the physical and mental strain that cancer wrecked on me. When I put on that softball uniform, I could have never imagined what was to come.
Like I had done for the last 10 years, I encouraged my teammates to become CASA volunteers. Recruiting more volunteers meant we could serve more children, and I was excited to bring more diversity to our program. Yet shortly after joining the softball league, I started to hear disparaging comments at work. I was suddenly and falsely accused of mismanaging program funds, even though I always filed reports on all my expenditures and never broke any rules.
On June 3, I came to work and found my access card was not functioning. When I asked for help to access the building, I was shocked to learn that I was being fired for “conduct unbecoming of a Clayton County employee.” It was very clear to me, however, that I was being fired because I am gay.
Losing my job was devastating. I lost my medical insurance in addition to my source of income. Moreover, I was fired from a job that I loved, I was worried about the kids we were helping, and my reputation in the child welfare services industry was ruined. After coming out and finding acceptance in my family and community as a gay man, I struggled with a nagging question: How could this have happened to me?
No matter the answer, I decided to fight the decision. When a federal magistrate judge dismissed my case against Clayton County — alleging that my former employers engaged in unlawful discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — I took the case to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia and then the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, both of which also claimed that national civil rights laws don’t protect people like me from being dismissed from our jobs just because of who were are.
That case made its way all to the Supreme Court, where it will be heard along with two other LGBTQ+ rights cases on Tuesday. The judges will decide whether I am entitled to the same workplace protections as the majority of Americans — the basic rights millions enjoy without thinking about it.
But through this journey, I have also learned that my situation is sadly not unique. Right now, there are 28 states without express legal protections for LGBTQ+ workers at the statewide level. That means you can get married to the person you love on a Saturday, but then get fired because of your legally recognized relationship on Monday morning. This is not only wrong. It is immoral.
This is more than a legal issue; it is a human issue. I hope the court will see that my case represents addressing not only the hardship that I’ve experienced, but also the immense and detrimental impact homophobia in the workplace has on our nation. I am confident the justices will agree with our position that everyone deserves the right to work without the fear of discrimination based on how a person identifies or who they love.
When I look back on joining that softball league, I have no regrets. I am very proud of the work I did in Clayton County and what we accomplished on behalf of all the children who needed us. I have never apologized for being true to myself, and I never will. One thing my battle with cancer taught me is hope is everlasting. With this enormous hope clutched tightly to my chest, I ask the justices to consider my human rights and the rights of millions of LGBTQ+ Americans and right this wrong.