Lack of Professional Judgment, Not Religion, Led to Atlanta Fire Chief’s Termination

Anti-LGBT activists saying otherwise—and stoking the fires of animus—mislead the public

WASHINGTON – The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, supports Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s decision to terminate controversial fire department chief Kelvin Cochran. As extreme anti-LGBT activists attempt to turn Cochran’s case into a rallying cry for religious freedom, let there be no mistaking that the fire chief was fired for poor judgment, insubordination and, according to the final report of the city’s investigation, “erod[ing] trust and […] compromis[ing] the ability of the chief to provide leadership in the future.”

Consider the facts.

Late last year, Cochran came under public and media scrutiny for virulently anti-LGBT views in a self-published book entitled, “Who Told You That You Were Naked?,” in which he called being gay a “perversion” and compared being LGBT to bestiality and pedophilia. The book also contained passages that encouraged women to take a subservient role to men, and suggested that Judaism encourages its followers to “reject [God’s] salvation.”

But what’s clear is that the contents of this book are not the reason why Cochran lost his job.

According to Mayor Reed, as well as an official report now publicly released, an internal investigation revealed that Cochran had failed to get formal approval from the city’s ethics board or the mayor’s office before publishing the book, a standardized policy applied to all officials at this level of government service:

The Standards of Conduct provide a clear directive to “commissioners, deputy commissioners [and] department heads” to seek approval of the Board of Ethics before the department head “may engage in private employment or render services for private interests."1 No such approval was sought or rendered in the publication of the book that is available on Amazon.com for purchase.

The report also cites the fact that Cochran distributed the book within the workplace to employees who did not explicitly request to receive it. In addition, while the investigation related to his conduct was ongoing, Mayor Reed noted that Cochran spoke out publicly and repeatedly, in violation of the terms of his suspension.

In sum, the report concluded, Cochran’s unprofessional conduct left him deeply compromised as an employee and as a manager, citing that there is, “general agreement the contents of the book have eroded trust and have compromised the ability of the chief to provide leadership in the future.”

Cochran’s profoundly unprofessional conduct left Reed no choice but to remove him from the public trust. As Mayor Reed said in a press conference announcing Cochran’s firing earlier this month, “his religious [beliefs] are not the basis of the problem. His judgment is the basis of the problem.”

HRC President Chad Griffin released the following statement on the facts of the case:

“The fact that Mayor Reed lost confidence in Kelvin Cochran’s ability to do his job is completely unsurprising, and his decision to terminate Cochran was right, fair and in the best interest of all Atlanta’s residents. People of faith take their religious convictions with them to the workplace every day, but Cochran’s unprofessional and irresponsible conduct was completely unrelated to his personal convictions. Instead, his actions before and during the investigation left him unfit to serve, and if Mayor Reed had not taken action, it would have represented a severe failure in his duties as the city’s chief executive.”

Unsurprisingly, some of the most relentless activists opposed to LGBT equality are seizing on Cochran’s termination to claim that anti-LGBT voices are being suppressed around the nation.

Fringe activist Ralph Reed, who once compared marriage equality to slavery and those fighting it to abolitionists, leveraged his Faith and Freedom Coalition to call for supporters to bombard the Mayor’s office with protests late last year. Since his firing, Cochran has begun releasing statements through the Alliance Defending Freedom, a radical anti-LGBT legal organization which drafted some of the nation’s original bans on marriage equality, promotes dangerous and discredited efforts to change the sexual orientation of minors, and is increasingly exporting anti-LGBT laws around the world.

“Radical anti-LGBT activists are mounting a campaign to transform Kelvin Cochran from an employee who exhibited extremely poor professional judgment into a martyr for the failing campaign to keep LGBT people as second-class citizens across this country. This is more than misleading, it completely ignores the facts of this case,” Griffin said.

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