CHATSWORTH, Calif.—As we stumble into 2010 still hung over from the boom-and-bust decade, it might behoove some of us to think about the knee-jerk reactions we have when we “catch” people at work with pornography or discover that they have dabbled in adult entertainment while they’re off the clock. The current fad seems to be to fire them willy-nilly, outraged that they would even have the nerve, but I think in many cases this is an overreaction that causes more harm than it presumes to repair.
In fact, in many cases, it’s akin to cashiering outed gays from the military. Beyond being contrary to the interests of the country, losing trained and capable people because of their sexual orientation simply makes no sense. Unfortunately, our natural biases are not easily tempered by rational thought, and I think a similar process is in play with pornography. It’s becoming increasingly synonymous with something shameful and worthless—i.e. sex—and an attitude of emotional intolerance is obscuring rational decision-making.
Obviously, employers have every right to dismiss employees who are not doing their jobs or who waste time or resources while company business is not being attended to. I’ve had to do it when I managed staffs, and the only regret I had is the fact that otherwise competent employees forced my hand after repeated warnings.
But I think a lot of people are fired not because of incompetence or lax work ethics, but simply because of the porn. Some are fired because they had a few magazines at work, some because they accessed a porn site or six while idle, and some because they actually had the temerity to engage the adult industry in their free time. Sometimes, they are fired for other alleged reasons but the porn charge is added to justify the firing.
A few choice examples might help make the point:
1) Orangevale, Calif.—A cheerleading coach was fired after school officials learned she had posed for semi-nude photos and had been named Playboy's Cyber Girl of the Week.
2) Sunbury, Pa.— Two Northumberland County 911 center employees have been fired for looking at pornographic materials on their work computers.
3) Oklahoma City, Okla.—Christian charity Feed the Children fired longtime front man Larry Jones on Nov. 6, accusing him of taking bribes, hoarding hardcore pornography and using a charity employee as a personal nanny. Mutual lawsuits ensued.
My point is not to pass judgment on these actual situations, because like everything else—including marriages and workplaces—you simply never know what’s really going on behind closed doors unless you’ve either worked at a place or lived with someone. (That goes for Tiger, too!)
That said, in each of the examples above, presumably capable and professional people have lost their jobs at least in part because of porn, and if the extenuating circumstances in those cases are weak, that’s just a shame.
In example 3 above, for instance, Jones vehemently denies any wrongdoing.
"They fired me wrongfully," he said Tuesday evening. "I’ve never taken a bribe in my life. What they're trying to do is build a case up against me so that will hold up. It won't hold up ... I didn't do anything."
For their part, it looks to me as if the charity added in the porn charges, replete with salacious details, less to justify the firing than to help sway public sentiment against Jones, knowing that he was virulently anti-porn in the past.
“Feed the Children's countersuit claims that hardcore pornographic magazines were found in Jones' office including Family Affairs, Taboo's Family Heat, Penthouse Secret Fantasies, The Penthouse Sex Files, and Playboy,” reported CBSNews.com.
"The unexpected discovery of pornographic material, along with other personal items found in his offices, leaves this board of directors saddened, but certain the right decision was made," the charity said in its media statement Tuesday.
What a way to end the year, with yet another pathetic tale of a good man who did good deeds but who could not come to terms with the truth of his own sexual nature, and the equally hypocritical charity that would cruelly twist the knife in a man who had served their cause loyally for 30 years.
As the new decade dawns, isn’t it time to stop persecuting proficient people for also being sexual beings? The trend toward sexual harassment by businesses, organizations and the government simply has to stop. As the inexorable march toward marriage equality continues, the next civil rights battle looms as large and as difficult as any we have faced. The fact is, we are born to own our sexual identities and to be able to express them in myriad ways, and I both hope and fear that we will need to expend every ounce of our energy, anger and compassion to make sure those natural rights also prevail.
Happy New Year!