Atlanta Fire Rescue Department Chief Kelvin Cochran started a month-long suspension without pay this week after some of his employees complained about the content of his self-published religious book. Among other things, the book calls “homosexuality” and “lesbianism” a “sexual perversion” morally equivalent to “pederasty” and “bestiality.”
That book, city spokeswoman Anne Torres told Channel 2 in Atlanta, was distributed to some of Cochran’s employees. “We understand that he was distributing the book to other employees. We are still not sure what the circumstances surrounding them are,” Torres said. “The bottom line is that the [Mayor Kasim] Reed administration does not tolerate discrimination of any kind.”
In a later e-mailed statement to The Washington Post, Torres said the administration was “not sure about how many employees received the book.”
GA Voice reviewed a copy of the book and highlighted a couple of passages.
In one, Cochran wrote: “Uncleanness — whatever is opposite of purity; including sodomy, homosexuality, lesbianism, pederasty, bestiality, all other forms of sexual perversion.”
In another section, Cochran wrote that “naked men refuse to give in, so they pursue sexual fulfillment through multiple partners, with the opposite sex, the same sex and sex outside of marriage and many other vile, vulgar and inappropriate ways which defile their body-temple and dishonor God.”
The mayor’s administration learned about the book after employees complained about it last week. The city is now investigating whether Cochran broke any city laws or discriminated against some employees in the city’s fire department, according to a statement the mayor’s office gave to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The mayor has read the book, Torres told The Post. “There are a number of passages in the book that directly conflict with the city’s nondiscrimination policies,” she added.
“I am deeply disturbed by the sentiments expressed in the paperback regarding the LGBT community,” Reed said in a statement. In the future, Cochran will be prohibited from distributing the book on city property; he will also be required to undergo sensitivity training.
At least one local LGBT group has asked for Cochran’s permanent removal from the force. “Frankly the only course of action at this point and time is his immediate and permanent dismissal,” Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, told WBAE. “It appears that his language is so extreme, so belittling of gay and transgender people that I don’t see how he could possibly lead a diverse workforce.”
According to Torres, it’s “too soon” for the administration to know whether further disciplinary action will be taken against Cochran. Any further action will be based on the outcome of the administration’s investigation.
The Atlanta Professional Firefighters union said in a statement that it was “disappointed to discover how the Fire Chief chose to represent Atlanta Fire Rescue in his book,” adding, “We applaud Mayor Reed for his quick decisive decision and look forward to working with the Mayor’s [office] of LBGT services to develop strategies to ensure equal treatment and rights for all.”
The book in question,“Who Told You That You Were Naked,” is available in paperback on Amazon.com. [Amazon.com chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.]
The book’s title is a line from Genesis — it’s what God says to Adam and Eve as he figures out that the first humans ate from a forbidden tree. In the “about the author” section of the book, Cochran identifies himself as the Atlanta fire chief.
In the wake of Cochran’s suspension, several of the fire chief’s supporters and detractors have left reviews of the book on its Amazon page. “Refreshing to see public figures openly state their beliefs. I stand behind you Chief Cochran !!! God Bless you and God Bless America !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” writes one reviewer. “Ignorant and hateful,” says another.
Some wrote that they purchased the book specifically to support Cochran. “I bought this book because the author was suspended without pay from his ‘regular’ job for a month just for writing it,” one person writes.
Although the mayor’s decision to suspend Cochran seems to focus on Cochran’s comments about LGBT people, along with complaints about the chief distributing materials to employees, Red State’s Erick Erickson encouraged his readers to purchase Cochran’s book, writing that the fire chief was facing suspension for “publicly professing Christian beliefs.”
Cochran first served as Atlanta’s fire chief in 2008. The next year, President Obama appointed him as the U.S. fire administrator for the United States Fire Administration. He returned to Atlanta, and his old job as the fire chief, in 2010.
[This post has been updated]