Denver Rescue Mission says it’ll remove anti-LGBTQ language from employee handbook

The nonprofit has an $8.7 million contract with the City of Denver.

A line of beds inside the Denver Rescue Mission's new shelter in Northeast Park Hill. June 30, 2021.

A line of beds inside the Denver Rescue Mission's new shelter in Northeast Park Hill. June 30, 2021.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

The Denver Rescue Mission will remove language that prohibits employees from “acting on same sex attraction” and “rejecting of one’s biological sex,” according to a statement from the nonprofit.

Denverite first reported on the language from the handbook last week after receiving a tip.

“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,” the mission said in a statement.

Denver Rescue Mission currently holds an $8.7 million contract with the City of Denver’s Department of Housing Stability, which includes an anti-discrimination clause protecting sexual orientation and gender identity.

“We are concerned and disappointed by these reports, and we will not tolerate discrimination in the provision of services or employment under contracts that are publicly funded and for the public good,” HOST said in a statement.

“We are in conversations with our shelter providers to ensure they understand our commitment to equity and that non-discrimination practices are carried out and adhered to in City-funded facilities, operations and employment. We stand with our LGBTQ+ community and will continue work to ensure city-contracted facilities and services are safe and welcoming without discrimination.”

Civil rights experts say the handbook could be in violation of city contracts, as well as state and federal law. Denver Rescue Mission says its handbook is compliant.

Denver-based civil rights lawyer Mari Newman helped write Colorado’s anti-discrimination law. She said she believes Denver Rescue Mission’s handbook violates both state and federal law.

Federal law prohibits employers from discriminating against an employee based on sexual orientation or gender identity. There’s an exemption for religious organizations, but Newman said a case recently ruled in the 10th Circuit Court says that exemption can only be applied to ministry, not other types of employees, such as those at Denver Rescue Mission.

Newman said state laws similarly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and also include a religious exemption, but only for groups that do not receive public money. Newman does not think the exemption would apply to Denver Rescue Mission because the organization receives tax money.

“If you want to talk about the the overarching impact of these kinds of discriminatory policies and public statements, look no further than what happened just this week in Colorado Springs,” Newman said, referring to the Saturday shooting at an LGBTQ night club that killed five people. “Policies like this tell people that it’s okay to discriminate against certain groups.”

ACLU Colorado legal director Mark Silverstein agreed that the handbook likely violates state and federal law. “Denver should not be subsidizing this kind of discrimination,” he said. “Denver ought to be using its leverage with this multimillion dollar contract to help persuade the rescue mission to abide by Denver’s anti-discrimination laws.”

Stephen Hinkel, a spokesperson for Denver Rescue Mission, disagrees. “The Denver Rescue Mission handbook is updated regularly to stay in compliance with all federal, state and city ordinances,” he said in a statement. “To the best of our knowledge, our handbook is compliant with all federal, state and city ordinances so we can serve the most vulnerable.”

Additionally, the city of Denver often includes its own anti-discrimination language in its contracts with organizations. A contract between the city and Denver Rescue Mission from earlier this year includes a “No Discrimination in Employment” section.

“The Contractor 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,” the contract reads.

This article has been updated with comments from legal experts and an additional statement from Denver Rescue Mission.

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