January 15, 2015

The Atlanta fire chief who wrote the homophobic book has been fired


I still think he should have gone with the title "This Is What Happens When You Find A Stranger In The Alps". Image via Wikipedia.

I still think he should have gone with the title “This Is What Happens When You Find A Stranger In The Alps”. Image via Wikipedia.

In a previous MobyLives investigation, we focused on the unfortunate tale of Kelvin J. Cochran. Cochran, as you recall, was Atlanta’s fire chief, and had served in the position since 2008 (with a brief period working for the Obama administration as U.S. Fire Administrator, a role which we assume comes with guest privileges at any fire watchtower in the country). However, the key word now is was.

When we reported the initial story, Cochran had merely been suspended, required to attend sensitivity training, and barred from doing the thing that got him in trouble; distributing his self-published book, Who Told You You Were Naked?, on public property. This punishment was handed down by Atlanta’s Mayor Kasim Reed after Cochran’s self-publishing business and the book’s contents, which include numerous homophobic interpretations of Biblical scripture, both began receiving major media attention.

But now, Cochran has been fired, effective January 6th, as reported by the New York Times. Cochran immediately struck back against the decision, claiming persecution.

“I am heartbroken that I will no longer be able to serve the city and the people I love as fire chief, for no reason other than my Christian faith,” Mr. Cochran said in the statement released by the Alliance Defending Freedom, an Arizona-based conservative legal organization that is representing him. “It’s ironic that the city points to tolerance and inclusion as part of its reasoning. What could be more intolerant and exclusionary than ending a public servant’s 30 years of distinguished service for his religious beliefs?”

Reed has objected to this characterization, claiming that Cochran was fired not for being Christian, but for poor judgement.

Mr. Reed said that the chief failed to follow proper protocol in receiving approvals from city officials to publish his book, a claim that Mr. Cochran disputes. Mr. Reed also said that Mr. Cochran opened the city to possible discrimination lawsuits.

…“I hired him to put out fires,” Mr. Reed said. “Not to create them.”

Mayor Reed further elaborated on his motivation in a Facebook post published this week.

Every single City of Atlanta employee deserves the certainty that he or she is a valued member of the team and that fairness and respect guide our employment decisions. His actions and his statements during the investigation and his suspension eroded my confidence in his ability to serve as a member of my senior leadership team…Thank you for all of your kind offers of support. Please take a moment to remind everyone you know that the City of Atlanta is a city too busy to hate.

Reed also linked to an opinion piece published by the Times’ editorial board that supported his decision, titled “God, Gays, and the Atlanta Fire Department” (worst/best buddy cop movie ever?). Fox News, meanwhile, has a handy collection of the people who have spoken out in support of Cochran, who can be found in the article and in the comments section.

The mayor, who also faces a growing rift with the Atlanta City Council President Caesar Mitchell, has it in his best interests to present a united front. He retains an ally in the Atlanta Professional Firefighters union, who supported his initial punishment of Cochran and has repeated their support of the firing on their website.

Local 134 supports LGBT rights and equality among all employees. Atlanta Professional Firefighters believe we should take this opportunity work [sic] with city council and the Reed administration to improve LGBT rights by adding an LGBT liaison for the fire department. We look forward to working with City Council and the Mayor, and hope to provide any assistance they need going forward.

I think the moral of the story, for both public employees and those who manage them, is this: always seek the okay to distribute your own book, especially if they’re even remotely about scripture, BEFORE you hand them out at work. Otherwise you risk getting the book thrown at you.


Liam O'Brien is the Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.