SCOTTSDALE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - "I just felt God speaking to me. I wasn't sure about becoming a traditional pastor, but I really like working with people one on one, so that's how I ended up as a pastoral counselor," said Tres Adames.
Adames is a man of faith. He describes himself as a man of God. On Sundays, he preaches by reading passages from the Bible. His passion is to help people discover their faith. Adames wanted more, so he became a pastoral counselor.
"For me, I had low self-esteem because I was constantly being told that being gay was so bad it was going to send you to hell," Adames describes how tough it's been growing up gay in a conservative church.
"Another argument that's often made toward LGBT people is, 'Well, if you can't change, then you need to essentially stay in the closet or remain celibate,' which is an extremely tall order to put on somebody. That's an incredibly harsh sentence to put on somebody. I would even say that makes God a cruel God, and I don't think he is," said Adames.
Adames did everything to, as he says, "pray the gay away." He just wanted to be accepted. He wanted to be straight.
"Even as I was struggling with my sexuality, I tried a lot of different things. I tried repressing it. I tried dating women. I tried conversion therapy for 10 years," Adames said. He also says he thought about taking his own life after years of conversion therapy.
"I finally realized, 'OK, God. Why am I not changing?' Because that's what everyone tells you. You have to change, and that's when I realized there was nothing wrong with me and that God fully accepted me for who I am," said Adames.
Adames' faith would be tested again, but not for another six years. He teamed up with Life Changers, a nonprofit, faith-based Christian counseling group. On its website, they offer counseling for anxiety, depression, anger and self-esteem. Adames was thriving. He was living his life preaching and counseling. Until one day, Adames received a phone call from the director of life changers named Tom Zimmerman.
Adames recorded the call and gave the recording to Arizona's Family. Here's part of the recorded call.
"So, I'm just trying to understand here..." said Adames.
"Uh huh," said Zimmerman.
"Me being gay is what disqualifies me from being able to minister?" asked Adames.
"Uh, with Life Changers," said Zimmerman.
"At Life Changers?" Adames asked.
"Right," said Zimmerman.
Adames was told that he could no longer be a counselor at Life Changers because he's a gay man in a relationship with another man. Here's more from that recorded call.
"I don't see that I have a choice, Tres. If I believe that practicing as a homosexual is not allowed Biblically, uh, then I don't see how I have a choice if there's somebody practicing as a homosexual I don't see how I have a choice," said Zimmerman.
"I just don't see where it interfered with my work, whether it was counseling or the media that I did for Life Changers. It didn't seem to affect any of that," said Adames.
Adames is in a serious, committed relationship and doesn't see why Life Changers would punish him for who he is.
"Sin is anti-love. It is un-love. And so, the opposite of sin is to love. So, why would a loving relationship be sin?" said Adames.
It's a question we wanted Life Changers to answer. We reached out to Zimmerman to explain why he would essentially fire Adames just because he's a gay man. After all, Zimmerman confesses in the recorded phone call that Adames was an exceptional counselor. Here's that portion of the recorded call.
"It's a lifestyle issue, and from what you shared in the past about counseling people and done some teaching for us, it's been very good and very insightful. This is a lifestyle issue, not about performance, really," said Zimmerman.
Zimmerman declined our invitation to be interviewed for this story.
Adames says the hardest part through all of this is that he looked up to Zimmerman as a spiritual brother.
"It's so hard when it comes from somebody you felt close to. And then, suddenly, they find out this part of you and then don't want anything to do with you," said Adames.
So is it legal for a Christian nonprofit to essentially fire someone for being gay?
"People are still discriminated against based on their race, based on their gender, based on their age. I see it every day. A lot of people are always shocked. 'Does this really happen?' It does," says Tyler Allen, an employment law attorney in Phoenix who takes on discrimination cases just like this one. He says Phoenix and Tucson have laws in place to protect LGBTQ workers, but he says this case falls into a gray area because Life Changers is faith-based and because Adames is considered an independent contractor. Allen says Adames is likely not protected under the current law and that only a court will decide if this falls under workplace discrimination.
"Sexual orientation discrimination has come up the last two sessions of the Arizona Legislature, and it hasn't gotten anywhere. I would love to see that passed. Nobody should have to go to work nervous to be who they are and face the fear of being terminated. Nobody should be terminated just because of their sexual orientation just as nobody should be terminated based on their race or their age or their gender," says Allen.
Adames is considering legal options moving forward.
"I think just for so long you're told that you cannot be a Christian. That you cannot know God if you're gay. Eventually, for me, it had to get to the point where I would not listen to those voices and recognize that I know who God is. I know he's close to me. I have this faith that I know he talks to me, and he's very close to me, and, eventually, I realized I don't care what anyone else says. They cannot take this away from me," said Adames.