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Virginia Commonwealth University volleyball coach: I was fired for being gay

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It’s surprising how many people think you cannot be fired for being LGBT in this country. It’s important to pass the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) — but that even with it, discrimination will still occur — it will just be against the law.

It’s apparently not enough to have a perfect graduation score and a 25-6 season if you’re coaching Virginia Commonwealth University’s women’s volleyball team. On Monday November 19th, James Finley, who is openly gay, found out that he was fired, with the school’s new athletic director, Ed McLaughlin saying the “program needs a different direction.”  Huff Po:

“He said ‘We want someone to better represent the school,‘ and coach had never done anything to misrepresent the school,” Kristin Boyd, a fifth-year veteran of VCU’s volleyball program, told GayRVA.

“That really just stabbed me in the heart,” Finley said in an interview with NBC 12. “This guy just absolutely doesn’t want to have somebody gay on his staff.”


He had put much into the success of his team. But there were several red flags that popped up throughout the season leading up to this moment.

“From the beginning he interacted with other coaches, staffs, other teams. He participated [with them], and  with ours he didn’t…  At booster events, he avoided me whenever I was there. [I’d be] having a conversation with him and he’d walk away when I was trying to talk to him. I’d say ‘Hi’ and he’d look up at me, and put his head back down and not acknowledge me.”

Finley didn’t think much of the issue as the season passed, but on Oct. 5th, when Pat Stauffer, a 30-year-veteran of VCU athletics and an open lesbian, was demoted from Senior Women’s Administrator to  Sr. Associate AD for Sports Administration. It was too much for Finley, it was another red flag.

“If one things happens, OK, it happens; but if it happens a second time, it’s a pattern,” said Finley when he connected the dots. The lack of interaction all season and the circumstances of his dismissal became suspect.

Virginia is one of many states that does not have include sexual orientation in its anti-discrimination policies. VCU does, however, include protection language in its anti-discrimination policy, and Finley believes this internal policy was violated. Finley spoke with local TV station WWBT:

Ultimately, I came to this decision that I had to stand up, because you know we have a lot of gay and lesbian student athletes,” said Finley. “I can’t let them down. They have depended on me to have a safe voice and a safe place to be. We should be judged on the job we do. We shouldn’t be judged on who we love.”

Finley says he would like his job back because he believes in VCU, but even if that doesn’t work out, he’s glad he spoke up – and Finley’s husband, John Sternlicht, agrees.

“I hope and have faith that VCU will stick to its core principals of diversity and anti-discrimination,” said Sternlicht.

VCU, of course, cannot respond in any detail to the charges since it’s a personnel matter, but it did put out this statement:

“We adhere to federal and state laws and regulations that protect the privacy of our employees and the conditions of their employment. The employment action was taken in compliance with appropriate VCU employment practices and policies.

VCU and its athletic director, Ed McLaughlin, are fully committed to the core value of diversity – as reflected in the university’s diversity statement and strategic plan.  As the Commonwealth’s most diverse university, we practice the spirit of that policy statement every day.”

– Pamela Lepley
VCU Spokesperson


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Pam Spaulding

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