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Former Goodwill Employee Says He Was Fired for Being Gay

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday May 6, 2008
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A former Goodwill Industries employee says that he was fired for being openly gay.

Bryan Simms came out as gay while still living in Cal. Two years later, he moved to Colo., where for the last three years he has lived in Colorado Springs, partly because he has relatives in the area, and also because Colo. is closer to Tex. than Cal.; his ex-wife and his children now live in the Lone Star State.

Simms was quoted in an article published May 6 by the Colorado Springs Independent as saying, "My family is mostly accepting of me."

Still, "It hasn’t been easy," Simms, reckoned.

Simms said he was drawn to work with Goodwill because the non-profit has a reputation for helping people. Simms landed a job with the organization last year, in Oct., as a case manager working with those afflicted by economic hardship.

According to Simms, he was not in the closet on the job and it wasn’t a problem for his colleagues.

"I didn’t say, "I’m gay, I’m gay, I’m gay,’" Simms said.

"But when co-workers were speaking about their dates over the weekend, I’d say what I was going to do and where I was going to go."

Added Simms, "They figured it out."

The article quoted an unnamed co-worker from Goodwill, who said, "Bryan was himself, and that’s why many of us liked him."

Simms’ former co-workers would only speak if assured of anonymity, the Independent said.

One former colleague was quoted in the article as saying of Simms, "He was treated differently" by higher-ups.

Simms, too, claimed that there was some anti-gay sentiment from management; Simms said that a supervisor singled him out.

"Just days after starting, she called me into her office and said to me, ’You need to change your appearance.’ Then she pointed to her ears."

Simms stopped wearing his earrings, except for on Fridays--for a time. But eventually he tired of playing along with what he felt was an anti-gay rule being imposed specifically upon himself.

"The women were allowed to wear earrings at Goodwill. Why should they hold me to a gender stereotype?" said Simms, who dresses in drag to portray Dorothy Cannon with the United Court of the Pikes Peak Empire.

"I felt this was an issue of equal rights. I should be allowed to wear earrings, too, if I choose."

Simms claimed that the supervisor would address him in demeaning ways, on one occasion instructing him to speak in his "toughest man voice."

Said Simms, "Some of my co-workers came up to me afterwards and said, ’I can’t believe she said that to you.’"

When Simms attempted to express his concerns about what he felt was a hostile work environment by writing an email to the supervisor’s superior, he ended up being fired for it.

Said Simms, "They said that I broke the chain of command, and that that was against company policy."

Simms took his story to the state’s Civil Rights Division, saying he had been unjustly fired for his sexual orientation. Possible outcomes include Goodwill being instructed to address Simms’ complaint, or Simms taking Goodwill to court, reported the Independent.

The state only last year made its anti-discrimination law more comprehensive, adding protections for gay and lesbian employees, the Independent noted.

However, "Even with new law, it has taken businesses a while to catch up," according to Ryan Acker, the executive director of the Pikes Peak Gay and Lesbian Community Center.

"In Colorado Springs, these kinds of discrimination cases are, unfortunately, rampant," added Acker.

Colorado Springs is home to a number of religiously-based anti-gay organizations such as Focus on the Family and the Family Research Institute.

Acker defended Simms’ going over his supervisor’s head to being attention to the atmosphere at work. "It is important that people can go up to the next level to raise issues if they feel they must."

Goodwill Industries of Colorado Springs spokesperson Laura Marth reiterated the policy proclaimed on the non-profit’s Web site, which states that Goodwill Industries International does not "discriminate in employment opportunities or practices based on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, age, disability, or any other characteristic protected by federal, state or local law."

Said Marth, "We’re aware of the issue, and our H.R. department is looking into it," the Independent reported.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network’s Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association’s Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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