If you have read my blogs, you will know that five weeks after I was terminated from my volunteer position in Young Life based on my sexual orientation, I asked for a written record of my termination. I did so because I had heard from students that the local staff were telling them I had been terminated for reasons that I was not terminated for. I perceived this as a violation of trust because they told me several times that they would not discuss the termination with anyone, and also because they had told me several times not to talk about the termination myself.
At first, they refused to provide written documentation and insisted I had to call Human Resources if I had any questions. When I persisted, the Regional Director said we had to meet in person to discuss “new information.” When I asked if I could bring an attorney to that meeting, he cancelled the meeting and never rescheduled. When I said I would bring the media to a club event to discuss the termination, they finally relented and sent me a document entitled “[My Name] Termination Letter.”
Following my termination, and after hearing that local staff were discussing my termination with students in ways that they had not discussed with me, I insisted that we should keep all communications in writing. Anyone would agree that this is a wise practice to follow when clarity is needed regarding sensitive matters. Young Life staff refused to communicate in writing until the very last minute when they absolutely had to in order to prevent a media story covering my termination, which was based solely on my sexual orientation.
Fast forward a year and a half later, and I took the steps of communicating verbally with Young Life staff, including two meetings with Danielle Eylander and a phone conversation with Ann Shackleton, Senior Vice President of Human Resources. Following these conversations, Young Life realized things weren’t going their way, so they defaulted to only being willing to communicate in writing- what a novel idea, right?
When I tried to get in contact with Terry Swenson, Young Life’s Vice President of Communications, this is the response I got:
Nevertheless, I persisted.
So they only wanted to communicate in writing. Good idea. Exactly what an organization should do when communicating about important information such as terminations. Exactly what I wanted to do when I originally asked for a record of my termination in writing.
Here are the questions I sent:
- I received a document entitled “[My Name] Termination Letter” on 10/16/15 from Mason Rutledge, who was at the time a Senior Regional Director employed by Young Life. Before sending this letter, Mason Rutledge said he would receive help writing it from “more folks.” I would like to know who within Young Life staff was involved in the writing and/ or sending of that document.
- Ann Shackleton denied knowledge of the document mentioned above, and claimed that no Young Life staff were involved in the writing or sending of that document. Danielle Eylander confirmed that several Young Life staff members, including Scott Didrickson, were involved in the writing and sending of that document. Can you please explain why the Senior Vice President of Human Resources is denying knowledge of this document?
- The letter referred to “several recent events” in which I told students, in Young Life settings and outside of Young Life settings, that I am gay. Please put in writing the date on which those “several recent events” were first reported and/ or documented by any Young Life staff member. Please also put in writing when and how this information was obtained.
- It is my understanding that Young Life does not send letters of termination, that it has a policy not to discuss dismissals of staff and volunteers, and that it has a policy not to discuss situations involving students. All three of these actions were done by multiple Young Life staff members, in multiple different settings, and with multiple different audiences, regarding my termination from Young Life. Can you please explain why a “Termination Letter” was sent to me, why my dismissal was discussed in meetings with local adult and student leaders, and why Mason Rutledge, as a staff member currently employed by Young Life at the time, sent emails to parents discussing my termination, and inviting parents to call him in order to further discuss my termination?
- Several emails I have received from Young Life staff members have been nearly identical in content, word choice, and sentence structure. I would like to know if Terry Swenson or any other staff member within Young Life other than the senders of those communications was involved in the writing of those communications.
- I had a meeting with Danielle Eylander and Scott Didrickson, both of the Young Life staff members in my area at the time, on August 31st, 2015. During that meeting, both staff members communicated to me that I was being removed from ministry within Young Life due to my sexual orientation being in conflict with Young Life’s beliefs and policies. Nothing I ever did or said at any time during my involvement with Young Life was ever mentioned or discussed during that meeting as a factor in the decision made by Young Life’s Senior Vice President of Human Resources, Ann Shackleton, to, in her own words, “terminate,” “let go,” and “move away from having [me] involved” in Young Life. Please put in writing the reason for that decision on that date. I would also like to know why any action I had taken, or anything I had said that was a factor in that decision at that time, would not have been mentioned during that time, if it was really a reason at that time.
- Danielle Eylander acknowledged on 01/05/17 that no Young Life staff member knows what was said during the settings that have been referenced as a reasoning for my termination, and that no Young Life staff member had ever discussed those conversations with me prior to that date, 01/05/17. I would like to know why that action would not be discussed with me, if an organization whose goal is “Keeping Kids Safe” knew that those actions had been taken, and that I would continue to work with minors in other roles, despite those actions being severe enough to be the sole reasoning for my termination.
- Both Scott Didrickson and Danielle Eylander have communicated that they are confused about Young Life’s policies and beliefs regarding homosexuality and the involvement of homosexual people within Young Life. However, both staff members stated in meetings that they know every time an adult leader comes out as gay, staff members are required to ask them if they have engaged in inappropriate and/ or sexual relationships with minors. Can you please explain why this is the only thing that 100% of the Young Life staff members in my area knew about Young Life’s process in dealing with gay leaders?
- In a phone call with Ann Shackleton, Mrs. Shackleton said that she wished I had told Young Life staff in my area that I was gay before sharing that information with students. Can you tell me why that would be? Are all heterosexual volunteers and staff required to discuss their sexual orientation with their superiors? Are all openly homosexual volunteers and staff members within Young Life, if there are any, required to discuss their sexual orientation with their superiors?
- In a phone call with Ann Shackleton, Mrs. Shackleton explained that my act of telling students that I am gay during cabin time was a violation of a sacred, holy time. Can you please explain if and how cabin time is more sacred and holy, or sacred and holy in a different way, than club times, where several adults of all roles within Young Life camps share personal information about their own journeys regarding their sexuality?
- Danielle Eylander confirmed that Young Life has a mission-wide practice of not allowing adults to lead students of the gender that corresponds with the gender of an adult romantic and/ or marriage partner they would seek. Can you please either confirm or deny that this is practiced within Young Life?
- Scott Didrickson made several very clearly homophobic and derogatory remarks to me regarding my sexual orientation, such as suggesting that “putting a gay lifestyle on display” would negatively influence kids, that parents would not want me around their kids due to my sexual orientation, and that my sexual orientation would negatively affect my business. I also volunteer within a public school district, and I know for a fact that if the principal of a public school had said those things to me, they would undoubtedly be dismissed from their employment. Can you please explain why these remarks, which would result in termination in almost any workplace, did not result in termination from Young Life? Are these remarks consistent with the understanding, beliefs, and actions of Young Life regarding homosexual people?
- A leader in Bellevue Young Life named Micah Humann has a history known by Young Life staff of making clearly homophobic and derogatory remarks regarding homosexual people, on social media, in Young Life settings, and outside of Young Life settings. He has even called a student gay with a derogatory connotation. Can you please explain why a leader who shows such a lack of self-control is allowed to continue leading students?
- In a phone conversation with Ann Shackleton, Mrs. Shackleton said she is aware of “some of the threats that [I’ve] made legally and with the media.” To date, the only thing I had communicated to Young Life staff regarding anything legal was when I asked Mason Rutledge if I could bring an attorney to the meeting where he said he would provide the “Termination Letter,” which Ann Shackleton claims was not written or sent by anyone “involved or working for Young Life.” In regards to media, I communicated to Scott Didrickson that I would bring the media to a club event to discuss the reasoning of my termination because they were unwilling to do so directly with me. Can you please explain how and why these communications were perceived as “threats?” If Young Life believes its actions are morally, ethically and legally righteous, why would Young Life feel threatened by the idea of this process, these beliefs, and these actions being made public?
- I have attempted several times to communicate with Danielle Eylander, Scott Didrickson, Ann Shackleton, Terry Swenson, and Newt Crenshaw in efforts to open up dialogue regarding my termination, and to better understand the process, timing and reasoning involved. All of my recent efforts have been somewhat fruitless, other than the sense that actions speak louder than words, and I am “saddened” by that. Can you please explain why someone wanting to know more, to be held accountable, and to speak and pursue relationship, would be excommunicated and shunned due to these efforts?
- In a phone call with Ann Shackleton, Mrs. Shackleton said that the information I shared with students regarding my sexual orientation was inappropriate and violated the trust of an adult entrusted with the care of minors. Because Danielle Eylander confirmed that Mrs. Shackleton and the rest of Young Life staff “have no idea what was said in those conversations,” I am wondering how the content of those conversations could be determined as inappropriate or as a violation of the trust of an adult entrusted with the care of minors. I am invited every semester to speak in 7th and 10th grade Health classes within the local school district, to share with students of the same ages the same content that I shared during conversations at Young Life camps. The staff of local schools have determined that the content is consistent with what is considered appropriate educational material by state standards, and after hearing it, which Young Life staff did not, no certified teacher or faculty member has determined that the content is inappropriate or a violation of the trust of an adult entrusted with the care of minors. Can you please tell me how this determination was made despite the fact that Young Life staff have “no idea what was said during those conversations?” What standard does Young Life use when attempting to determine what is appropriate material to share with minors regarding sexuality?
Here is the response I received from Terry Swenson:
It is ironic that Young Life’s official communication in the face of a pending national news story told the truth that they should have told in the first place. When I asked for a written record of my termination in October 2015, they determined that their best bet was to avoid clarifying that my termination was related to their policy about gay leaders and instead chose to make up a lie that it was about how I had communicated with students. I had to wear their asses out a little to get down as close to the truth as they’ll ever get. One thing about me is that I never give up. It’s both a strength and a weakness, but as I wrote a long time ago, I put my foot down when it came to telling students and parents the truth about my termination and about Young Life’s policies, beliefs and actions regarding gay people. We had to get there the hard way, but an international organization with hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue eventually complied with my request and put the reasoning of my termination in writing after refusing to do so and after maintaining lies for over a year and a half.
Although this doesn’t address or answer all the questions, it answers a few, both directly and indirectly.
First: I was terminated because I had made it clear that I don’t agree with or support Young Life’s policy regarding sexual conduct. I made it clear that I am gay and that I want to get married, which implies, correctly, that I am not committed to life-long celibacy, which is what Young Life requires of all gay people. I can totally own that, and I have always been willing to own that. I am glad that they are finally owning that. It sucks that we had to get there the hard way instead of the easy way. Honesty is the best policy.
To be clear, this is not the real reason I was terminated. Remember all those times I was told not to talk about Young Life’s policies and beliefs regarding gay people, and my termination? Danielle Eylander, a staff member of ten plus years, justified and rationalized those manipulative and spiritually abusive appeals by explaining that it wasn’t fair to other leaders who don’t agree with the policies, and they didn’t want the relationships that those leaders have with students to be affected by students thinking that their leaders agree with these policies. She confirmed that she not only knows that other leaders disagree with the same policies that I was supposedly terminated for not believing, and also defended their ability to continue volunteering in Young Life without agreeing with the same policies and beliefs. What is the difference between several straight leader who have made it clear that they don’t agree with with the beliefs and policies and a gay leader who has done the same? One is gay, and several are straight. So what is the real reason? You can decide. I am comfortable with any conclusion anyone draws, because I recognize that it is a result of their life experiences and understanding.
Second: I was not terminated because I told students I was gay in any setting. I was not terminated due to anything I ever communicated to any student in any way. I was terminated because I came out as a gay person who’s hoping to someday get married. They made up another reason because it is literally their policy and practice not to disclose that these policies and beliefs even exist. They had to lie about who I am and what I did and said because they didn’t want students and parents to know the truth about who they are and what they did and said. What’s done in darkness will come to light. Most people have no idea how significant it is that it is the organizations lying, covering up, and refusing to talk about what they’re really doing rather than the gay Christians.
Third: This letter claims that the core of the issue with what I told students during cabin time is that they believe I was teaching students in a Young Life setting concepts and ideas that do not align with Young Life’s policies and beliefs. Although they still “have no idea what was said in those conversations,” it’s probably true, and I have no problem owning that, either. Everything they believe and communicate about those conversations is nothing more than assumption. Their assumptions prove their homophobia, because in an absence of real information, they defaulted to assuming that I was using kids to process my sexuality, sharing personal things about myself, and violating the trust of an adult entrusted with the care of minors. This would never happen if a straight leader wrote in a blog that they told kids they were straight. I told kids that I am gay, and that’s it. Danielle Eylander admitted that when kids ask her if adults can be gay and lead, she replies, “I don’t know.” If a staff member of ten plus years of experience in the organization, who has extensive training about all policies and beliefs, who has seen the process of a gay leader coming out in her own area and being terminated can still answer this questions with “I don’t know,” it is reasonable, logical and rational to accept that a volunteer with less experience and less exposure to the beliefs and policies such as myself wouldn’t know either, and wouldn’t know that it’s not ok to tell students that they’re gay. It is the organization’s responsibility to provide clarity, and this whole process has actually been intentionally unclear. This is the first communication from Young Life that has ever suggested that their rationale behind this reason was that they assumed that I was teaching about sexuality in a way that is inconsistent with their beliefs. This was never, ever mentioned in my termination letter, two meetings with Danielle Eylander, or a phone call with the V.P. of Human Resources. In addition, I have been saying that it is impossible that those conversations were the real reason for my termination, and this communication proves that decisively. If they are basing their assumptions regarding the content of conversations I had in which I made it clear that I disagreed with their policies regarding gay leaders, it is literally impossible that these conversations were the reason for my termination.
Fourth: Yes, the ideas that I have shared regarding sexuality are enough to justify termination, and that’s fine. Yes, the ideas that Scott Didrickson and Micah Humann have shared regarding sexuality are in accord with Young Life’s policies and beliefs, and that’s ok, too. Danielle Eylander confirmed that Scott Didrickson does not believe that any gay person should be allowed to serve in any Christian ministry. If all staff have to be aligned with their beliefs, I hope there is a little less confusion about Young Life’s beliefs, policies and values in this area. My goal is not to argue about if that’s right or wrong, but simply to educate people. If Scott Didrickson or Micah Humann were to make these statements while working or volunteering for a non-Christian organization, they would most likely result in dismissal. But Young Life is Young Life, and they can decide what they think aligns with the standards and values of their organization. Again, I just want to educate people about what those standards and values are.
Five: They refuse to communicate while there is a pending news story that will educate people about Young Life’s policies, beliefs and actions regarding the involvement of gay people. That’s fine, too. That is also what I’ve been saying from the very beginning: there has been a very interesting shift regarding this issue that enables the gay individual to be completely open, honest and clear, while the organizations avoid communication, written records, and external accountability. I have been shunned and excommunicated for telling the truth, which is one of the tenets of the Christian faith. I’m ok with that. I don’t have any conditions for pursuing relationship and dialogue, but their condition is secrecy and silence. It wouldn’t be a major issue if there wasn’t some good old fashioned shunning and excommunication involved. Every time shunning and excommunication happens, there is always a justification and rationalization that makes it the fault of the person being shunned and excommunicated. That’s history. When an organization compromises all of its values to defend one value at all costs, such as their ability to discriminate based on sexual orientation without anyone knowing about it, it is unhealthy in that area. There is no doubt that Young Life does a lot of good in the world and adds a lot of positive value to many lives, I would never dispute that. It is possible for an otherwise healthy organization to be extremely corrupt in one area, and there is no doubt that Young Life is extremely unhealthy and corrupt when it comes to the way they view and treat gay people. When it comes down to it, I think it is much more likely that Jesus would have been shunned and excommunicated for telling the truth rather shun and excommunicate others for telling the truth.