Christian actress sues after losing role over anti-gay comments

A Christian actress who claimed homosexuality was wrong was sacked from her show because a large proportion of the "theatre community" are LGBTQ, a tribunal has heard.

Seyi Omooba, 26, was fired from The Color Purple last year over a 2014 Facebook post created when she was a 20-year-old student that stated she did "not believe homosexuality is right" and people were "not born gay".

She was due to play Celie, widely considered to be a lesbian character, and her contract with Leicester’s Curve Theatre was terminated after her comments were revealed by another actor.

The actress has launched legal action against her former employer and agent Global Artists for breach of contract and religious discrimination, and on Thursday a hearing was held to discuss the admission of evidence ahead of her full tribunal in February. Her claims against her former agent and the theatre company are disputed by both parties.

The Employment Appeals Tribunal hearing heard her dismissal was due in part to "the particular demography of the theatre community", of which "LGBTQ people are a sizeable proportion". Her ex-employer was "concerned about the offence taken among the community at the claimant’s post and the threats of boycott of the production".

Omooba, right, in 2018. She lost her job in The Color Purple

Credit: GETTY IMAGES

A tribunal heard from Ms Omooba’s lawyers that the devout Christian "was engaged for an iconic LGBTQ role".

"A lesbian relationship is central to The Color Purple. The production and the novel challenge the view that homosexuality is a sin." Ms Omooba and her team from the Christian Legal Centre have argued that her past views would not have undermined her role, or caused a boycott. They have also claimed her beliefs are common Christian views and dismissal for their expression is discriminatory.

Ms Omooba’s lawyers on Thursday appealed to have expert witness statements from a theatre critic and a theologian admitted as evidence for the February tribunal. These were previously ruled inadmissible by a judge.

The tribunal in London heard that the critic, Lloyd Evans, argued the proposed threat of a boycott presumed the same "illiberal" beliefs among the playgoing public as the industry professionals he claims were intolerant of Ms Omooba’s beliefs.

His statement also argues that actors do not have to share the ethical values of their characters, citing Othello as an example. His contribution was ruled inadmissible by a judge for being "not unbiased".

Ms Omooba’s representation also argued on Thursday for the inclusion of evidence from Dr Martin Parsons, a theologian, to illustrate that the actress’s Facebook post on homosexuality fell within Christian doctrine.

This, her lawyers argued, is relevant to claims she was discriminated against on the basis of her religious beliefs. The statement was previously ruled inadmissible as not relevant to the case.

No decision was made on Thursday on the Christian Legal Centre team’s appeals, with judgment reserved.

The respondents to Ms Omooba’s legal action, who have been contacted for comment, are contesting her claims.

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