Steven Arauz, a sixth-grade teacher at the Forest Lake Education Center in Longwood, Florida, was recently fired.
What did he do that was do troubling?
He gave an interview to the online publication “Gays with Kids” in which he talked about the importance of being a foster parent in order to help kids. (Arauz is inspirational and has given many talks about the subject.) This publication, however, described him as a “gay father” who was dating another man.
That’s it. That’s the “crime.” Because Arauz worked at a private school run by a Seventh-day Adventist church — an anti-LGBTQ religion — they got rid of him.
“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,” wrote Frank Runnels, superintendent of schools for the Florida Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, in an email Arauz shared with the Orlando Sentinel.
We’ve run many stories like this before, and my thoughts are no different this time around: If you choose to work for an anti-gay religious school, then you don’t really have a leg to stand on when they fire you for being in a same-sex relationship. You knew the rules when you signed up for the job. Yes, they are bigots, but they never hid that fact.
Here’s the difference this time around, though: The school in question accepts a hell of a lot of taxpayer money.
Arauz also says his firing from Forest Lake Education Center in Longwood is unjust because the school accepts public money in the form of state scholarships and federal coronavirus aid.
Any school that receives taxpayer dollars to operate should not be allowed to discriminate against students or staffers. If they want to be bigots, they have that right, but they shouldn’t be rewarded for it.
That’s the controversy this time around, because Florida Republicans don’t care.
Forest Lake relied on state scholarships for at least 40% of its students last year, and those scholarships brought it nearly $1.7 million, according to the Florida Department of Education and Step Up For Students, which administers many of the state scholarships.
Though some Democratic lawmakers have pushed the Florida Legislature to ban LGBTQ discrimination in schools that take state scholarships, those bills have not won support from Republicans, who dominate in both the House and Senate.
Florida’s scholarship law prohibits schools that take the vouchers from discriminating against students based on “race, color or national origin” but does not protect gay students. State law also does not protect LGBTQ people from employment discrimination.
The Orlando Sentinel reports that many other schools have used this loophole. Using publicly available information, reporters found 156 anti-gay Christian schools that received taxpayer dollars for scholarships. (At the time, the Seventh-day Adventist schools weren’t on the list because they didn’t make their bigotry public.)
Making matters worse, despite the mingling of church and state, there’s likely no legal recourse for Arauz. (While private schools can discriminate as they’d like, the law gets a bit hazier when the school accepts taxpayer dollars.) Still, the only likely way they’ll suffer at akl is if decent parents recognize their kids deserve better than a religious school that preaches hate and move their kids elsewhere.
If there’s any good news here, it’s that Arauz has a new job at a non-profit organization and his son is now enrolled in a public school. But unless faith-based bigotry is ruled illegal when it involves taking state or federal dollars, these incidents will just keep happening.
(Screenshot via YouTube)