Denver Rescue Mission Removing Discriminatory Language From Employee Handbook

Denver Rescue Mission has walked back the discriminatory policies in an employee handbook.
Denver Rescue Mission has walked back the discriminatory policies in an employee handbook. Paul Sableman at Flickr
Following the revelation that the Denver Rescue Mission's most recent employee handbook contained language that discriminated against staffers based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the faith-based organization has decided to walk back those policies.

"After dialogue with the Denver Rescue Mission’s Board of Directors and Senior Leadership team today, we have determined it is appropriate to re-evaluate recent changes made to our Employee Handbook and have paused its implementation. In particular, the phrases 'acting on same sex attraction' and 'rejecting of one’s biological sex' will be removed. We will be engaging in further discussion before asking employees to sign the handbook," says Stephen Hinkel, a spokesperson for the Denver Rescue Mission. "While the Mission will remain committed to our Statement of Faith, leadership realizes that continued dialogue is important to all supporters. For the last 130 years, Denver Rescue Mission has faithfully served individuals experiencing homelessness, regardless of race, age, sexual orientation, marital status, and any other protected class, and plans to continue to serve them with love, grace, and dignity as Christ calls us to serve."

Denver Rescue Mission's policy language change follows a November 18 report by Denverite that the Mission, which has over 300 employees, had recently adopted an employee handbook that bans employees from "acting on same sex attraction" and "rejection of one’s biological sex." Some local politicians were outraged by the report, including Councilwoman Robin Kniech, the first out member of the LGBT community to serve on Denver City Council.

"It has been a long-settled matter in Colorado and Denver that discrimination isn’t only wrong, it is illegal in many circumstances. When organizations are taking public dollars, they are subject to laws prohibiting discrimination and contractual obligations. These laws, and the contracts Denver makes with those receiving public funds, prohibit discrimination in services and in employment," Kniech says.

In February, Denver City Council approved an $8.7 million contract with the Denver Rescue Mission to provide sheltering and case management to people experiencing homelessness, which the organization has done for years.

That contract, like others issued by the City of Denver, includes an anti-discrimination section that says Denver Rescue Mission "may not refuse to hire, discharge, promote, demote, or discriminate in matters of compensation against any person otherwise qualified, solely because of race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, citizenship, immigration status, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, marital status, source of income, military status, protective hairstyle, or disability."

Under city law, Denver Rescue Mission must post this anti-discrimination section in its facilities. According to Kniech, the Mission had been doing so. But the employee handbook laid down some very different rules.

"If the city had any knowledge of that handbook, this would've been taken very seriously, investigated and action taken immediately," Kniech says.

The Denver anti-discrimination code does not apply to the hiring or employment practices of religious organizations. A religious organization that gets money from the City of Denver must abide by the anti-discrimination policy, however.

Kniech points to the connection between anti-LGBTQ policies and rhetoric and violent episodes, such as the shooting that left five dead and nineteen injured at Club Q, an LGBTQ club in Colorado Springs, on November 19. Prosecutors plan to charge the alleged perpetrator with hate crimes and murder.

"While we await news on that shooter’s motive, what is known is that vitriolic political rhetoric and attacks on LGBTQ people’s right to exist and our ability to function as members of our community fuels hatred and violence. Leaders cannot seek to erase, exclude from schools, or fire LGBTQ people from employment and then expect followers to respect our human dignity. We must recognize the dehumanizing impact of discrimination and its connection to violence. Today provides a grim opportunity for those who may not have understood that connection previously to choose a different path in their own policies and practices," Kniech says.

"The goal of anti-discrimination policies is to bring people into inclusivity," she continues. "And that is the outcome we hope for here. We're not clear yet on how much harm has been done, but there must be a path for reconciliation. That's the ultimate goal."
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.

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