*A firestorm is blazing in Atlanta after Mayor Kasim Reed’s controversial firing of Kelvin Cochran, the city’s fire chief, on Jan. 6 for publishing and distributing his self-help book, Who Told You That You Were Naked? Apparently, Cochran distributed the book, which includes a passage referring to homosexuality as “vile, vulgar, and inappropriate,” to coworkers throughout a widely diverse fire department.
Mayor Reed insists that Cochran’s firing was not a result of the former fire chief’s religious views, but for using poor judgment and for not obtaining permission to publish and distribute the book. Cochran, along with his supporters, asserts that his firing is discriminatory and a direct violation of his First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and religious expression. As a result, we now have two highly regarded and widely respected African American public figures in the national spotlight, fueling the on-going debate over religious beliefs, sexual orientation, private lives, and personal freedoms protected by the Constitution.
Although there is no record of Cochran discriminating against any gay employees, the unsolicited distribution of his book containing inflammatory remarks obviously creates deep concerns for Mayor Reed, who is leading and overseeing an administration that has a vested interest in moving the city of Atlanta forward in marriage equality, diversity, and inclusiveness.
Whenever these contentious battles are fought on the national stage, my concern naturally rests with the individuals who are caught in the crossfire—the parents, relatives, friends, and loved ones of LGBT people. But my deepest concern is for the casualties in this endless cultural war—LGBT youth and young adults who remain gravely wounded by the psychological and emotional trauma caused by rejection, bullying, teasing, and verbal harassment, an experience that I’m sure Cochran and his zealous crusaders are unfamiliar with. It is, in fact, an experience quite similar to the kind of injury and reinjuring that takes place when Blacks are perpetually viewed as “ugly, unlovable, animals” by other races.
Yet Cochran claims that he is the victim and that he is under attack, while the language in his book works to further diminish a sense of value, self-worth, and self-love in LGBT youth contemplating suicide, which is the leading cause of death among this group.
Cochran’s language also exacerbates the prevalent issue of gay men who inevitably surrender to societal pressures to marry the opposite sex, while privately leading double lives, a trend not uncommon in Black churches. The level of judgment, condemnation, and shaming that recurs is one of the primary reasons why African Americans, in spite of the scars that we still bear from racial discrimination, segregation, and inequality, are now perceived as being one of the most intolerant and oppressive racial groups in the country.
Frankly, Cochran has every right to publish a book expressing his personal religious views on homosexuality, but his unsolicited distribution of the book in a diverse workplace of employees who serve a diverse population of taxpayers is quite audacious.
It’s unfortunate that Cochran, along with so many others, seem to only view gay individuals through the narrow lens of sexual acts, impairing their ability to see the full humanity of sexual minorities who are equally entitled to exercise their individual freedoms and rights like every U.S. citizen. But the most disheartening thing about these particular issues is that, unbeknownst to Cochran, gay 911 operators would dispatch gay firefighters with gay paramedics to save the property and the life of any individual, regardless of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation, and without prejudgment.
The reality is that religious beliefs and personal opinions are unlikely to ever change, but we must realize that our lives are far more connected and intertwined with individuals who don’t share our personal beliefs. All of the rhetoric and demonization that comes from both sides of the debate only works to erode our ability to respect, regard, and appreciate our differences.
I only hope that, in the midst of our perpetual fight for rights and righteousness, we are all convicted by the inner knowing that God remains pro-human being and pro-His Creation.
Dana L. Stringer, author of “In Between Faith,” is a writer, playwright, poet, and screenwriter based in Atlanta, Georgia. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter: @danalstringer. You may email her at [email protected]