Kelvin Cochran out as Atlanta’s fire chief following anti-gay remarks

Mayor says religious freedom supporters called him ‘anti-christ’


  • Jeff Baker/CL File
  • Kelvin Cochran

The city and Atlanta’s fire chief are “parting ways” after over controversial book published that contains discriminatory remarks against the LGBT community.

Flanked by nearly two-dozen cabinet members, Mayor Kasim Reed this afternoon announced the termination of Atlanta Fire and Rescue Chief Kelvin Cochran. Deputy AFR Chief Joel Baker will replace Cochran in an interim capacity and will become a candidate for the permanent gig.

Reed’s decision follows Cochran’s one-month suspension without pay for making disparaging remarks about gay people in a self-published religious book, Who Told You That You Were Naked?. In several different parts of the book, which was released in 2013, Cochran refers to homosexuality as “bestiality” and “sexual perversion.”

“Let’s stop trying to make this about religious freedom when it’s about making sure we have an environment in government where everyone — no matter who they love — can come to work from 8 a.m.-5:30 p.m. and do their job and then go home without fear of being discriminated against,” Reed said.

The mayor, who had ordered his staff to conduct a complete review of the book’s publication and distribution after it was brought to light, required Cochran to participate in sensitivity training. Reed also banned the city’s fire chief from distributing the book on city property.

Reed said that Cochran did not cooperate with the city’s investigation, which determined that the fire chief had violated the city’s conduct code. While Cochran asked the city’s ethics officer for permission to publish the book, Reed said the fire chief never spoke with him about the issue.

Cochran, who was given the chance to resign from his position, this afternoon said that he did not intend to offend members of the LGBT community with his book. According to Cochran, the city’s ethics officer gave him permission to publish the book provided that the contents did not discuss government or the fire department. He says he distributed the book to AFR employees whom he personally knew through prayer, Bible study, and other religious rituals.

The terminated fire chief also said that the city’s investigation found “no evidence and no circumstances” that he had discriminated toward AFR employees or LGBT community members.

“My spiritual convictions regarding sexuality do not equate to anger or hatred or malice toward LGBT members,” Cochran said in a prepared statement. He added that his spiritual beliefs did not “diminish his drive for an inclusive Atlanta, nor equate to a propensity to hate or discriminate against others who do not share his core value.”

Cochran’s published remarks threw a wrench in the city’s efforts to present itself as an inclusive workplace. Atlanta last year had received perfect HRC score, a distinction received for equality within city government policies. Jeff Graham, executive director of LGBT advocacy group Georgia Equality, tells CL that Cochran’s publication and promotion of his book flew in the face of the city’s inclusive policies. His continued leadership over a diverse workforce would have undermined the fire department.

“This isn’t about anyone’s individual personal beliefs,” Graham says. “It’s about being an effective leader of a workforce and making sure all workers of an organization are being treated fairly and equally.”

But conservative religious groups, including an Duluth-based organization founded by one-time Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed, last month rallied in defense of Cochran. The Georgia Baptist Convention has collected more than 4,300 signatures for a petition urging the mayor to apologize for the suspension, restore the fire chief’s pay for the one-month suspension, and acknowledge Cochran’s First Amendment rights.

According to the mayor, Cochran supporters had repeatedly emailed the mayor and called his house during the holidays. One person, Reed says, called him the “anti-christ” in a phone conversation.

Reed said he would require AFR employees to undergo sensitivity training and would be open to suggestions on how to foster a more inclusive culture within the city’s fire department.