Nashville Paramedic Suspended for Anti-Gay Facebook Post
A paramedic with the Nashville Fire Department posted anti-gay messages online at Facebook as well as on the fire department’s own web page, prompting a two-month suspension, the Associated Press reported on Sept. 21.
Kevin Kennedy, who has been with the department for two decades, reportedly posted a message to the effect that two openly gay work colleagues should "crawl back into the closet," according to a Sept. 21 story at local newspaper The Tennessean. Kennedy also referred to homosexuality as a perversion, the Tennessean article said.
In addition to posting anti-gay comments at his personal Facebook account, Kennedy also reportedly trashed gays at the web page for Nashville Fire Department Emergency Medical Services. The longtime veteran had never before faced disciplinary action in the course of his career, although, the Tennessean noted, "Before the suspension, Kennedy was charged with five counts of misconduct, including participation in a pattern of harassment toward a Metro employee and using threat of violence or intimidation toward others, according to his charge sheet."
The department’s spokesperson, Deputy Chief Kim Lawson, indicated that the severity of his punishment was a result of how seriously the department took the incident.
"We have a diverse group of employees in the fire department who respond to the needs of a diverse community," Lawson told the media, going on to say that Kennedy’s posting of anti-gay remarks "disrupts the order of discipline. We have an important job. These actions in no way are tolerated."
Fire department officials said that the postings, accompanied by a photo of Kennedy in uniform, were in violation of social media policies that the department’s employees are expected to abide by.
"In no way did we want people to think the department was associated with anti-gay comments," Lawson stated.
The department’s stance and actions drew praise from GLBT equality advocates who took note of the state’s new law preventing municipalities from extending GLBT-inclusive anti-discrimination ordinances.
Tenn. Gov. Bill Haslam signed that law on the evening of May 23, with little lead-time and over the objections of the Tennessee business community. The anti-gay law came about in response to a Nashville ordinance that sought to protect the GLBT workers of contractors seeking city contracts.
The local firefighters’ union was ready and willing to help Kennedy should he choose to appeal his punishment, the article said. The union president, Mark Young, called Kennedy "a superior paramedic" and told the media that the fire department veteran "regrets the decision he made" to post anti-gay remarks.
"Does the punishment fit the crime?" Young added. "Well, that’s a matter of opinion."
Kennedy’s postings are only the latest chapter in a series of controversies in which public employees and others in sensitive positions have invited criticism not only of themselves, but of the agencies they represent by posting anti-gay comments online.
In August, a Florida teacher named Jerry Buell was taken out of the classroom and given administrative duties for three days last month after writing a Facebook post saying that he "almost threw up" at the news that marriage equality had been legalized in New York. Buell, who had won the "Teacher of the Year" award at Mount Dora High School in Lake County, also called marriage between committed persons of the same gender a "cesspool."
Buell was reinstated to the classroom following an investigation into whether his comment constituted a violation of the school’s code of conduct. School officials said that the code of conduct applies even when employees leave school for the day, but Buell insisted that his anti-gay speech was Constitutionally protected.
"I was making a statement," Buell told the media. "Free speech, exercising my rights as a citizen of this country."
In northern Arkansas last year, a school board member generated headlines and heat when he posted comments in response to a national movement to wear purple in memory of a number of GLBT teens that had killed themselves. The gesture was organized to take place on National Coming Out Day. Clint McCance posted that he would wear purple only "if they all commit suicide," which some interpreted as McCance encouraging gay youths to engage in self-destructive behavior.
On his own Facebook page, McCance wrote, "Seriously they want me to wear purple because five queers killed themselves. The only way im wearin it for them is if they all commit suicide. I cant believe the people of this world have gotten this stupid. We are honoring the fact that they sinned and killed thereselves because of their sin. REALLY PEOPLE."
In an exchange with others who posted protests at his page, McCance added, ""If you get easily offended by being called a fag then dont tell anyone you are a fag. Keep that shit to yourself. I dont care how people decide to live their lives.... It pisses me off though that we make a special purple fag day for them. I like that fags cant procreate. I also enjoy the fact that they often give each other aids and die. If you arent against it, you might as well be for it."
In response to another challenge, McCance replied, "I would disown my kids they were gay. They will not be welcome at my home or in my vicinity. I will absolutely run them off. Of course my kids will know better. My kids will have solid christian beliefs."
McCance later resigned from the school board, following a deluge of attention in the press.