Channel 2 Actions News contributed to this report.
Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran has been suspended without pay for one month because of authoring a religious book in which he describes homosexuality as a “perversion” akin to bestiality and pederasty.
Mayor Kasim Reed's spokeswoman Anne Torres said the administration didn't know about "Who Told You That You Are Naked?" until employees came forward with complaints last week. In addition to suspending Cochran, Reed's office has now opened an investigation to determine whether the chief discriminated against employees.
Cochran has been ordered to undergo sensitivity training and barred from distributing copies of the book on city property after a number of firefighters said they received them in the workplace, Torres said.
Reed said he was “deeply disturbed” by the sentiments Cochran expressed in his book and will “not tolerate discrimination of any kind” in his administration.
“I want to be clear that the material in Chief Cochran’s book is not representative of my personal beliefs, and is inconsistent with the administration’s work to make Atlanta a more welcoming city for all of her citizens — regardless of their sexual orientation, gender, race and religious beliefs,” Reed said in a statement on Monday.
Cochran was not available for interviews on Monday, according to Reed’s office. But Torres said the chief assured the administration that his personal views do not interfere with his management of the department, something that Reed’s office is now investigating.
In Cochran’s writings, he said the 162-page book is a result of lesson plans he prepared for various men’s Bible study groups.
In a copy of the book obtained by Channel 2 Actions News, Cochran wrote that his “job description” is to cultivate the department’s culture “for the glory of God,” as well as to focus on the mission of saving lives and property.
And in passages about sexual relationships, he wrote that “since God made sex for procreation, he only intended it to be between a man and a woman.” He continued, saying that those who live without God’s purpose “pursue sexual fulfillment through multiple partners, with the opposite sex, same sex and sex outside of marriage and many other vile, vulgar and inappropriate ways.”
He later defined terms such as “uncleanness” as: “whatever is opposite of purity; including sodomy, homosexuality, lesbianism, pederasty, bestiality, and all other forms of sexual perversion.”
In an “about the author” section, Cochran describes himself as a devout Christian and deacon at Elizabeth Baptist Church in Atlanta.
That he also identifies himself as Atlanta’s fire chief that city leaders say is most problematic.
District 6 Councilmember Alex Wan, who is openly gay, said he’s concerned Cochran’s book could create a hostile work environment. He and others say while Cochran is free to express his personal views, they should be left outside the office.
“First and foremost, I respect each individual’s right to have their own thoughts, beliefs and opinions, but when you’re a city employee, and those thoughts, beliefs and opinions are different from the city’s, you have to check them at the door,” he said.
Wan, who said he’s “personally very offended and disappointed,” learned about the book in recent weeks from a fire department employee. He’s calling on Reed’s administration to investigate how and if Cochran’s views have impacted lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees.
“I expect senior leaderships to be mindful of what their role as a public official or a senior member of the administration requires,” the councilman said.
District 9 Councilwoman Felicia Moore said she’s concerned the book could injure morale and open the city up to complaints of discrimination.
While Moore supports freedom of speech: “I do think it would have been more sensible maybe to wait until … he was (not) over a large workforce and diverse workforce.”
The veteran firefighter, formerly of Shreveport, La., first served as chief under former mayor Shirley Franklin in 2008. After briefly serving as President Barack Obama’s U.S. Fire Administrator, Cochran returned to Atlanta as fire chief in 2010. He earns $172,000 annually, according to 2013 earnings.
His book was published last November and is available on Amazon.com.
Stephen Borders, presidents of the Atlanta Professional Firefighters union, said the union has not officially filed complaints over the matter, but he has heard from a number of employees about the book. Borders said the fire department has few, if any, openly gay firefighters.
“Even the employees that reach out to us don’t want us to be involved in their complaint because they are afraid it will get out to their officers and their chief and they will be labeled and outed just by being concerned about how they’re treated,” he said.
Borders said he hopes the controversy leads to a support group or office that works with employees who fear discrimination based on sexual orientation or religious views.
"He can have whatever beliefs he wants, but the fact that he's representing himself as a fire chief and bringing this into the fire department, to me that's not the message we need to send to employees nor the citizens."
Deputy Chief Joel G. Baker will serve as acting fire chief in Chief Cochran’s absence, according to Reed’s office.
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Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com