What’s it to Utz? – To my close friend Kelvin Cochran
By Hans Utz, contributor
On Jan. 6, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed fired Kelvin Cochran, Atlanta’s fire chief, over the distribution of a self-published book that condemns homosexuality and, among other things, equates gay acts with pedophilia and bestiality.
I should disclose fully: I know Kelvin Cochran personally. I consider him a good friend, and a man to whom I have turned in moments of great need. I have long known he was deeply, conservatively Christian and though I hold different views I have never judged him for it based upon my own beliefs.
I should also disclose, fully: I am a straight white male. Those three things together mean that I will likely never touch the boundaries of my privilege. It means that I have little comprehension of the unjust obstacles faced by a poor, young black man from Shreveport, La. He had a dream to be a firefighter and ultimately held the top firefighting position in the country and led a premier department in one of the largest and most diverse cities of the US. I have nothing but admiration for what Kelvin Cochran has achieved.
Mr. Cochran, in a statement issued through his lawyers, said, “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. 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?”
Good question. Let’s explore it.
First, let’s talk about “exclusionary.” I long suspected, even expected, that Mr. Cochran’s personal views on this subject matter differed from mine, and those personal views never encroached upon the professional job we were both called to do. His personal views did not impede our ability to be colleagues, to serve the city we both love through thick and thin, and to develop a friendship, and a close one at that. In other words, I never saw him “excluded” for his personal views; rather as professionals and human beings, his personal views were immaterial to our relationship.
The key phrase here is “personal views.” Mr. Cochran led a department with 1,000 employees reporting to him. Many of the men and women who were under his command are gay, and it is their civil right to not work in a discriminatory and exclusionary environment. This is the basis of tolerance. You may hold personal views, but as a leader if your personal views scorn individuals for their sexual orientation, you cannot publicize those views without by default creating a discriminatory and exclusionary environment.
Now, let’s talk intolerance. Actually, let’s be more specific. A person can be “intolerant” of a food to which they are allergic; there exist forms of intolerance that can be reasonably justified.
Instead, let’s talk bigotry. Bigotry is the strong and unreasonable intolerance of individuals. It is unreasonable because it is directed at aspects of the individual’s character that have absolutely no bearing or relevance to the bigot. A white supremacist is rightly labeled a bigot because it is entirely unreasonable to scorn a person based upon skin color. The only justified way you could be racially intolerant is if black skin somehow directly caused you harm. That is ridiculous on its face, which is why it is more than simply “intolerant.” It is bigotry.
An individual’s sexual orientation has absolutely no bearing on you as an individual. Thus being intolerant of a gay person is bigotry, plain and simple. Trying to justify that bigotry with faith is a deeply unChristian thing to do, no different from the discredited fools who used their faith to justify slavery and condemn racial equality.
Kelvin, as your former colleague, as a current friend, as someone who heretofore has admired you unreservedly, with compassion, with love, and with a substantial amount of personal anguish, I say this:
You are a bigot, and you have defended that bigotry in the same manner as men in your youth used their misguided faith to try to prevent your equal participation in this great country.
But that is not why you were fired. You were fired because you publicly compared some of the fine men and women under your command to pederasts, people willing to prey on children, willing to break the most profound public trust which they had sworn to uphold.
In your flawed judgment you failed to realize that publicly stating this unjust comparison would indisputably create a discriminatory environment. Pretending that you are now being treated with intolerance is an unconvincing inversion of the sequence of events. You publicly called good people under your command horrible, unconscionable names, and made it clear through your disparaging and cruel words that the love they righteously cherish you view as comparable to the worst form of predatory criminality. Everything that has followed is a consequence of that atrocious lack of judgment.
Lastly, using your faith to justify your bigotry has put you in the same pantheon of Americans as George Wallace, Nathan Bedford Forrest, and William Joseph Simmons. You are on the immoral side of history, holding tenets that are intensely unloving and unChristian. I know you, and I believe you to be a better man than that. You said God will see you and your family through this. I believe He will.
The question is, will you see Him?
Hans Utz has lived in and around Atlanta for 25 years and formerly served as the Deputy COO of the City of Atlanta. He writes about local and national politics. He and his family currently reside in Decatur.