Florida Teacher Fired From Adventist School For Being Gay

A teacher in Florida was fired from his position at a school run by an Adventist organization for being gay.

Steven Arauz was dismissed from his $49,000-a-year role as a sixth-grade teacher at Forest Lake Education Center (FLEC) in Longwood, central Florida, on June 23 shortly after featuring in an article published by online news site Gays With Kids.

Arauz, who has an adopted son, told the Orlando Sentinel newspaper he had hoped the interview would lead to more children in Florida's foster care system finding loving family homes.

"The irony is that, as Christians, we like to say, 'Everyone belongs. Come as you are and follow Jesus,'" he added. "But then if they find something they don't agree with, you're thrown out."

Arauz went on to detail how the superintendent of schools for the Florida Conference of Seventh-day Adventists had contacted him via email following the publication of the Gays With Kids article, noting the piece had identified him as a "gay father" who was dating another man.

In the email, which Arauz shared with the Orlando Sentinel, Frank Runnels wrote: "You are aware that this conduct, if true, does not comport with the Seventh-day Adventist church's standards and the education program at FLEC."

Responding to Arauz's claims in a statement issued to the Orlando Sentinel on Tuesday, Runnels declared that Adventist teachers are part of the church's ministry and therefore "must teach, support and live in accordance with the teachings of the Seventh-day Adventist Church."

He added that Arauz had "breached this agreement" due to his "conduct and advocacy," and said the latter had "compromised his ability to minister to his students" by advocating "positions in opposition to Seventh-day Adventist teachings".

On its website, the Seventh-day Adventist church states its position is that "sexual intimacy" should take place only between a married man and woman, according to the Orlando Sentinel. "The Bible makes no accommodation for homosexual activity or relationships," it says.

Arauz accused the statewide Adventist organization of unjustly dismissing him with their move, which came little more than a week after June's watershed U.S. Supreme Court ruling held that discrimination against gay and transgender workers was illegal under the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

In particular, he highlighted that FLEC had received public money in the form of state scholarships as well as federal coronavirus aid.

Forest Lake relied on state scholarships for at least 40 percent of its students last year, according to the Florida Department of Education and Step Up For Students, a non-profit organization which administers many of the scholarships.

The scholarships, which see parents provided with state-backed vouchers to pay for their children's tuition, brought the facility nearly $1.7 million in total.

In addition to scholarship money, the Longwood school received $82,700 in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act money, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Public records meanwhile show the Florida conference, which says it educates some 4,600 students statewide, also received between $350,000 to $1 million in forgivable loans under the federal Paycheck Protection Program, another coronavirus pandemic relief effort, the newspaper reported.

But while Florida's scholarship law prohibits schools that take the vouchers from discriminating against students based on "race, color or national origin," it does not explicitly protect gay students.

State law also does not protect LGBTQ people from employment discrimination, meaning it is unclear whether the termination of Arauz's contract could be successfully challenged.

Newsweek contacted the Florida Conference of Seventh-day Adventists for comment.