This week while the Employment Non-discrimination Act (ENDA) is once again being debated in Washington, and its detractors continue to deny any need to protect workers from baseless firings, comes the story of a public servant suddenly dismissed, and the community she serves searching for answers. For any of you who haven’t heard the story from Latta, South Carolina, I’ll bring you up to speed. Crystal Moore was hired by the City of Latta in 1989 and has served her community as a police officer ever since. By all accounts, she has been an exemplary officer, rising through the ranks until her appointment to Chief of Police in 2012. Her service record shows no disciplinary action in all of those years.
In December, the city got a new mayor, and suddenly Chief Moore has become something completely different. She’s a discipline problem, a troublemaker; she is not fit to run the agency. Mayor Bullard cites the fact that Moore received seven reprimands, ostensibly the justification for the firing of his police chief. The interesting thing about the list of transgressions is that six of the seven seem to deal with challenging her supervisor in some way. Hmm…the Chief’s supervisor…oh, that would be the mayor. So, in the space of four months, this formerly stellar employee has racked up seven times as many reprimands as in her entire career. Now, we might conclude that the new mayor and the chief simply cannot get along. It happens. One would think, however, that they would have a sit down to discuss the issues between them. According to the chief that never happened. She states that after hearing rumors that her job was in jeopardy, she asked but the mayor but he denied it. City council is concerned about the fact that no verbal counseling preceded the written reprimands.
What happened next is the troubling part of this story. During a phone conversation with City Councilman Jared Taylor, Mayor Bullard had this to say:
“I would much rather have … and I will say this to anybody’s face … somebody who drank and drank too much taking care of my child than I had somebody whose lifestyle is questionable around children.
Because that ain’t the damn way it’s supposed to be. You know … you got people out there — I’m telling you buddy — I don’t agree with some of the lifestyles that I see portrayed and I don’t say anything because that is the way they want to live, but I am not going to let my child be around.
I’m not going to let two women stand up there and hold hands and let my child be aware of it. And I’m not going to see them do it with two men neither.
I’m not going to do it. Because that ain’t the way the world works.
Now, all these people showering down and saying ‘Oh it’s a different lifestyle they can have it.’ Ok, fine and dandy, but I don’t have to look at it and I don’t want my child around it.”
Maybe the chief wasn’t as much of a discipline problem as she was…a lesbian. And you know what the amazing thing is? It’s perfectly legal in South Carolina and thirty other states to fire an employee for being gay. Ironically, the progress we’ve made toward equality has rendered it politically incorrect for homophobic people to openly admit to firing someone on the grounds of sexual orientation. Which means the mayor felt he had to invent other reasons for the firing, but his unfiltered words tell the tale. That’s what bothers the fair-minded residents of Latta, who turned out in support of their police chief at a city council meeting.
The purpose of ENDA is to prevent precisely this type of situation from occurring. Opponents of the legislation claim that discrimination based upon sexual orientation doesn’t occur, and it’s another example of the advancing “homosexual agenda”. No doubt the segregationists in the old South used the same arguments based on race in the days before the Civil Rights Act. It would be great if equality could be achieved without the need for laws to ensure that individual’s rights weren’t denied based on prejudice. Unfortunately that’s not reality. The Human Rights Campaign spokesman, Fred Sainz, correctly states, “Without explicit federal or state employment protections, a decorated police chief is left to fend for herself.”
The citizens of Latta apparently don’t care that Chief Moore is a lesbian. They only care about the job she does for their city. That’s all LGBT citizens want—to be judged on the merits of their job performance. Once again, folks, we don’t want “special” rights, only equal treatment under the law. Chief Moore shouldn’t have her many years of service to her community sacrificed based upon bigotry. If it can happen to her, it can happen to any one of us in the LGBT community. The Employment Non-discrimination Act has huge implications for all of us. ENDA is the next step in the equality march. Let’s keep moving forward.