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Georgia school bus driver fired after gay personal ad discovered

Your online personal life is enough to get you sh*tcanned at work if you’re gay. Here’s yet another tale of how vulnerable we are — this is why the Employment Non-Discrimination Act is needed.

Shawn Wooten drove a school bus for the Henry County system for five years, but it all went out the window when he was called into the assistant superintendent’s office because of a parent passing around a printout of a personal ad of Wootens. He was later terminated. (SoVo):

“He basically pulled out a copy of a personal ad I put up on from two years prior,” Wooten said of Malcom. “They said a parent was passing it around over at a high school.”

Malcom allegedly told Wooten that a copy of the profile – which featured several pictures of Wooten, along with images of users who commented on Wooten’s profile – had also been sent to Georgia School Superintendent Kathy Cox, according to Wooten. One of the images on Wooten’s profile was the genitals of a man who commented on Wooten’s ad.

Following the May 24 meeting, Malcom sent Wooten a list of four questions, according to a copy of letter provided to Southern Voice by Wooten. The questions included whether the pictures on the profile were of Wooten, whether he shared the information from the website with any Henry County students, whether he identified himself as a Henry County schools employee on his profile, and whether Wooten used school property to post the profile.

Wooten responded on May 31 that all of the pictures were his except for the explicit image, but answered no to Malcom’s other three questions. A week later, on June 8, Wooten received a letter from Henry County Schools Superintendent Jack Parish informing him that on June 7 “the Henry County Board of Education accepted my recommendation to terminate your employment as a school bus driver.”

Of course, there is nothing that Wooten can do about this because in much of the country, employers can fire you for simply being gay, and that can extend to your online presence whether or not it is a personal page. Also interviewed is Jeffrey Prince, a professor at UCal-Berkeley who studies sexual orientation in the workplace, who notes that while you can choose to be out online, if you are in a Red state, your declaration can land you on the unemployment line.

Prince said it is appalling for a gay person to be fired for standard online activity such as having a website or profile, and gay employees must find a balance between out-and-proud, and employed-and-protected.

“I hate to say that they should [avoid mentioning their sexual orientation in online profiles], but I think it’s realistic in today’s electronic world to be careful what they put up on different sites because these are always open to misuse,” Prince said. “I hate to forward the stereotype that one should hide his or her sexual orientation on the basis of fear.”

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding