ATL fire chief, 2012: ‘Cannot tolerate’ anti-gay slur
By JIM WALLS
Feb. 6, 2015 — Before Kelvin Cochran condoned his own anti-gay slurs, he condemned a much milder one made by an Atlanta firefighter under his command.
The former fire chief, whose 2013 book compared homosexuality to pederasty, bestiality “and other sexual perversion,” has filed an EEOC complaint claiming he was fired last month for expressing his religious beliefs.
In 2012, though, Cochran disciplined firefighter Joey Shoemaker with an unpaid 30-day suspension for using the term “fags” in a comment posted on Facebook.
“We cannot tolerate this type of behavior from our members,” Cochran told Deputy Chief Randall Slaughter in an August 2012 email obtained under the Georgia Open Records Act. “[T]ake the actions necessary to get Shoemaker to take this off of the Facebook page as soon as practical.”
Why does Cochran regard his own language as a protected expression of freedom of religion but Shoemaker’s less inflammatory comment as intolerable? The former fire chief isn’t talking for now, but his lawyers see no inconsistency.
“There’s no conflict between believing what the Bible says – that sex is reserved for marriage – and Chief Cochran’s commitment to treating every human being with dignity and respect and demanding the same among members of the department,” Jeremy Tedesco, senior legal counsel to the Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom, said in a prepared statement to Atlanta Unfiltered.
The alliance denied Atlanta Unfiltered’s request to interview Cochran or his lawyers. A spokesman for the group did not respond to a follow-up email asking whether Cochran’s language was respectful of LGBT employees.
City personnel records show Cochran himself fielded the initial complaint about Shoemaker’s Facebook comment. Another firefighter had posted a photo of several colleagues eating at Chick-fil-A in support of Dan Cathy, the restaurant chain’s president, who was facing criticism for his public stance against same-sex marriage.
Shoemaker posted a comment beneath the photo: “Glad to see y’all fags are not to (sic) bitter!”
The complainant emailed Cochran the same day:
“It is not the fact that a squad chose to patronize Chick-Fil-A today that bothers me. I think that everyone should have the right to eat where they please and spend their money as they please. It is the comment to the side by Joey Shoemaker “Glad to see y’all fags are not to bitter” that makes me uncomfortable. … [h]e could potentially be saving the lives of people who may identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual. The clearly homophobic language that he uses does not necessarily mean that he is bigoted or that you are not teaching an appreciation of diversity in your office, but I must question whether or not your staff receives appropriate training when it comes to working with and working for a diverse community. I would personally be uncomfortable if this person were to come into my home using language like that.”
Cochran forwarded the complaint to the deputy chief to get Shoemaker’s comment removed. A few days later, the department’s Office of Professional Standards launched a formal investigation that found Shoemaker had violated work rule 2.15: “Employees of the department shall not refer to any person in a derogatory manner because of their race, creed, color, religion, sex, national origin, physical disability or sexual orientation.”
Under the department’s graduated discipline policy, Shoemaker was recommended for dismissal because he’d violated three other work rules in the previous 48 months.
The final decision fell to Cochran, who met with Shoemaker and his lawyer in October 2012. Shoemaker told Cochran that the comment was “not who he is” and that he said it jokingly and not with discriminatory intent, the chief’s notes of the meeting show.
Cochran suspended Shoemaker for 30 days without pay but let him keep his job. It was not uncommon for Cochran to reduce recommended penalties in disciplinary procedures, department spokeswoman Janet Ward said.
Cochran himself was suspended for 30 days without pay in November when news of his book’s comments on homosexuality surfaced. Mayor Kasim Reed fired Cochran in January when he returned to work.
Cochran claims city Ethics Officer Nina Hickson had OK’d his plans to publish the book. Hickson, though, says she told him in a followup conversation that he needed to clear it with the mayor and the city’s Board of Ethics, according to an investigative report by the city’s Law Department.
The chief’s self-published book, “Who Told You That You Were Naked?,” sold briskly for a while after the flap made national headlines but has fallen to #80 among Amazon.com’s top-selling bible-study books.
It includes, in one section, this definition:
“Uncleanness — whatever is opposite of purity; including sodomy, homosexuality, lesbianism, pederasty, bestiality, all other forms of sexual perversion.”
Elsewhere in the book, Cochran wrote that “naked men” indulge in sex “through multiple partners, with the opposite sex, same sex and sex outside of marriage and many other vile, vulgar and inappropriate ways which defile their body-temple and dishonor God.”
Cochran claims that he was within his rights to use that language as an expression of his religious beliefs. Mayor Reed, though, said he fired Cochran for not getting clearance to publish the book and for poor judgment in speaking out about the controversy while the city’s investigation was under way.