Joined by members of the local group Recover the World, Lizzi Duff held a protest outside Seattle First Baptist Church in First Hill on Sunday, Jan. 15, alleging discrimination led to her being forced out of the volunteer-placement organization Companis. Companis, however, vehemently denies the claim, which appears may potentially to turn into a legal action against the church.
Companis is a secular nonprofit that was founded in 1994 by Craig R.J. Darling, who was recruited by Seattle First Baptist Church to be the executive director. SFBC provides financial support and office space to Companis, which “connects volunteer professionals with nonprofit agencies that need staffing assistance,” according to its online mission statement.
Duff claims she was dismissed from Companis on Sept. 14, after she spoke out about three gay men in the group “sneering” at the idea of discussing gender pronouns, “which shows the depth of the hatred by many men toward women.”
She said she had asked to respond to being misgendered, and was told to do so outside of the meeting. After leaving the room, Duff said Companis executive director Gary Davis and counselor Peter Jabin told her she couldn’t return.
“The quote from Gary was, ‘Lizzi, we can’t protect you,’” Duff said.
“She kind of invented that quotation, as far as I can tell,” Davis tells the Capitol Hill Times. “I said, ‘When people are talking about their own … preferred pronouns and they’re talking about their own lived experiences, that’s what we’re here to do, and if you don’t feel safe in that, I don’t know how to keep you safe when people are talking about their own lived experiences.”
Duff hand-delivered a letter drafted by her and Recover the World members and addressed to Davis and Seattle First Baptist Church lead pastor Tim Phillips on Nov. 15. As well as alleging she was dismissed by the nonprofit, the letter states Duff was denied assistance by Companis in finding employment.
“They exist to get that, and they knew I wasn’t a volunteer and I needed money,” Duff told the Capitol Hill Times on Sunday.
“We’re not a job placement agency. That’s not what we do, and we’ve been very clear about that,” Davis said, adding there are some nonprofits that will offer stipend pay for volunteers.
Companis states Duff chose to no longer associate with the nonprofit, denying allegations of transphobic behavior by Davis and other staff on Sept. 14. This statement was issued to Duff in writing on Nov. 28, a deadline Recover the World’s letter had set for the nonprofit and Seattle First Baptist Church to meet with the group to discuss implementing “intensive transgender cultural competency re-training for all Companis staff and volunteers.”
Companis denied Duff’s request, stating it has a long history of engaging in educational forums on the topic of gender identity.
Davis pointed out a “Transgender 101” training held last February, which Duff and about 70 others attended.
“In fact, that was one of our biggest forums last year,” he said.
Sunday’s protest continued Recover the World’s demand that Companis and church leaders meet with them to discuss competency retraining.
“They have refused to meet with us,” Duff said. “That’s what we’ve been demanding since the start.”
Duff said she is in discussions with her attorneys, and may seek legal action in the future.
This is not the first issue Duff has claimed to have experienced since her transition.
Duff filed an unlawful discrimination and consumer protection lawsuit against People’s Bank in December 2015.
Prior to completing her gender transition in September 2014 — legally changing her name and updating her driver’s license — Duff’s complaint states she had communicated with the Magnolia bank she used, asking what documents staff would need to change her account, so she could continue accessing her account balance, which she frequently did by phone.
The complaint states she provided the bank with those documents. When she attempted to access her account balance by phone, a bank representative refused to provide it. It was provided after several attempts, and after Duff provided her driver’s license number, which had not been a security question she’d encountered before, the complaint states.
The lawsuit was filed months after Duff and the Gender Justice League had been unable to establish a meeting with bank management to discuss transgender cultural competency training, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice in July 2016.
Companis 3 Demand Delivery Letter,11!8!16 by branax2000 on Scribd
Companis Response to Lizzi Duff Letter Dated 11-15-16 by branax2000 on Scribd