Jace Taylor speaks on stage at the Bellingham Pride Parade July 14. //Photo by Ally Burdett
By Nick Baca
The message #IStandWithJace was seen flying over Cable Street. These signs were part of a protest sparked by the termination of an 18-year-old Bellingham native from his job due to his sexual orientation. With Pride month ending last week, LGBTQ+ awareness and rainbow flags were prevalent around Bellingham.
Jace Taylor found a job at The Firs Camps & Retreats as a FirCreek Camp counselor. Having worked there in the food service division previously, he decided that this summer was a good time to apply for the counselor position. Jace had always talked about being a camp counselor and when the opportunity presented itself he was excited, according to his father James Taylor.
It was when The Firs looked over Jace’s social media that they learned about his sexual orientation and when the Firs called Jace to tell him, he was crushed, said James Taylor.
The Firs is a non-denominational Christian organization that claims on their website that their mission is to help people “encounter Jesus and experience the love of God.” Additionally it states that they follow and endorse certain doctrines such as marriage being between a man and a woman, as well as acknowledgement of male and female being the only two sexes, according to their website.
The Firs has been in Whatcom County since 1927 and has a long history in the area. The Taylor family has attended this camp for over a generation. “The connection to The Firs is deep. Jace’s mom and uncle went there as kids and were counselors as adults,” James Taylor said.
The firing of Jace Taylor has led to the resignation of other employees such as Melissa Burke, the daughter of Susan Burke, a Bellingham mother upset with the choices of The Firs. Melissa was a lifeguard for The Firs but decided to quit after hearing Jace’s story.
“She was hoping beyond hope The Firs would change their mind about Jace to no avail,” Susan Burke said.
Soon after, the community began to rally behind Jace Taylor with the support of Cherrelyn Seegers, the mother of one of Jace’s friends who also identifies with the LGBTQ+ community.
“I asked Jace what he wanted to do,” Seegers said. “He said he would like to do a protest on the first day of camp which was Monday, June 24. So, at that point I started a private Facebook page which has now grown to more than 700 members.”
As campers were being dropped off, protesters stood across the street on behalf of the Taylors and in support of progressing LGBTQ+ rights.
An aim of the protest was to call for The Firs to take a claim of equal opportunity employment off of their website, said Seegers. Equal opportunity employment is described as “n employer that pledges to not discriminate against employees based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability or genetic information,” according to Tulane University.
“An equal opportunity employer has been set forth by a federal commission called the Equal Opportunity Employment Commision,” Seegers said. “The two designations are mutually exclusive. This means that The Firs should not be claiming as they do on their applications as well as their website that they are an equal opportunity employer.”
Another goal of the protest was for The Firs to “look inside their values, principles and policies, and decide that it is time in fact for them to change as many other religious organizations have over the past couple years,” Seegers said.
According to Seegers, since the protest, some companies have taken action. The Opportunity Council in Bellingham pulled out of a 25-year contract which included the use of a commercial kitchen at The Firs. Executive Director of the company, Greg Winter, stated on their website that The Firs action “does not align with non-discrimination clauses in the federal and state contracts that fund these Opportunity Council (OC) programs.” The Taylors have also received numerous emails, texts and support through social media.
“It has been something beautiful out of something painful,” James Taylor said. “It has been a very encouraging experience.”