Wichita Falls trans woman says she was fired from Baptist church for wearing make up, even though the pastor wore it, too
Everything considered, I think the lady makes a valid point.
Terri Beth Richeson couldn’t understand why the business administrator of the First Baptist Church in Wichita Falls kept telling her to quit wearing make up on her job as a church custodian.
After all, the church’s pastor, the Rev. Robert Jeffress, wore make up when he preached and appeared on television, said Richeson, who is a male-to-female transgender. What’s the difference between the pastor wearing make up on the job and a custodian doing the same thing, she wondered.
“The pastor wore a lot of make up,” Richeson said. “I’ve got pictures of his make up. I got a call one day from another employee who said, “‘You’ve got to come down to his office. He’s got his make up all laid out.'”
Richeson, 54, said she was amazed by the pastor’s collection of make up.
“It wasn’t the kind of make up I wear,” Richeson said. “It was Clinique. It was real expensive make up. I’m not sure it was just for Sundays and television. But that may have been what it was for.”
At least some of the make up observed in the pastor’s office was designed for women, she said.
Nevertheless, Richeson said she wound up getting fired in January, and the pastor continued on without any problems until he recently resigned to accept the position of senior pastor at the First Baptist Church of Dallas.
“They threatened to fire me two different times for transitioning on the job,” she said.
Richeson said she first realized she had a female identity when she was about 21. Prior to that, she had secretly worn female clothing as a teenager, but she didn’t realize what it meant until later.
“When I was 21 I read a book about transgender [people],” said Richeson, who got married to a woman 23 years ago and is possibly headed for separation or divorce now. “It was like everything clicked. I knew what I was at that point.”
Richeson, who worked at the church for almost three years before she was fired, said she was first warned about wearing make-up after she had been on the job for about a year. She was told to quit wearing make-up immediately or face termination, she said.
“I stopped for a little bit, but I just found that I was not happy doing that all,” said Richeson, who began her transition about six months before she started work at the church.
So Richeson started using a little make-up, adding a little more later and finally going full throttle. By the time church officials caught on again, Richeson said, she was wearing make-up and female jeans and tops.
“I wasn’t wearing a wig, but I was pretty much wearing everything else,” Richeson said. “I was asked by the business administrator to quit doing that within three days or I would be terminated.”
Richeson said she toned things down again on the advice of other church custodians who were supportive and friendly to her.
In December 2006 Richeson had castration surgery and in January she asked to be transferred to another area in the church because of a young male employee she felt was harassing her. She had resumed wearing female clothing and make-up at that time, no doubt to the enormous frustration of church officials.
“It’s a really big church, and I didn’t think that would pose too much of a problem,” Richeson said.
Instead, she was fired a week later. The business administrator, Lowell Addy, told her it was because she had failed to get along with another church employee, Richeson said.
In an e-mail response, Addy declined to discuss Richeson’s dismissal or the church’s policy concerning the eligibility of LGBT employees.
“We honor the privacy of our employees and former employees and therefore will not discuss personnel matters,” Addy said.
Richeson, who has no children and has never identified as gay, said the business administrator offered her six weeks of severance pay if she would sign an agreement not to discuss her church employment and not to sue the church.
“I told him, “‘Not a chance,'” said Richeson, who has changed her name from Tim to Terri since her firing and remains unemployed.
Richeson is ineligible for unemployment benefits because churches’ nonprofit status exempt them from participating in the state insurance program. To date, she has not attempted any legal action against the church.
“I really didn’t know how to do that,” Richeson said.
Richeson said she left a few friends behind at the church, but that did not include the pastor even if they both did wear make-up.
“He just never was friendly, I thought,” Richeson said.
It all seems damn unfair to me. At the very least, church officials could have ordered the pastor to keep his make-up hidden from plain view in his office.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 14, 2007