Featured photo: Former GSO Fire Captain Dustin Jones attended the June 6 Greensboro city council meeting encouraging people to speak out against his termination. While his supporters spoke, he did not. (photo by Todd Turner)
That’s what NAACP Greensboro President Kay Brown said she’d tell Dustin Jones, a former Greensboro Fire Department captain who was dismissed last month after repeatedly posting anti-transgender and racist posts on his personal Facebook page.
“Don’t consider people who are different than you a threat,” said Brown, who attended Tuesday evening’s Greensboro city council meeting to commend the city for their decision to fire Jones. “They’re trying to live their lives the same way you’re trying to live your life.”
Ahead of Tuesday’s meeting, Jones posted several times on Facebook in an attempt to get supporters to speak out against his firing. In return, dozens of counterprotesters who support the LGBTQIA+ community showed up outside of council chambers ahead of the meeting.
A bright Progress Pride flag fluttered in the hands of counter-protesters in the plaza outside Melvin Municipal Office Building. Protesters supporting Jones were nowhere to be seen. Jones slipped inside the building while counterprotesters made speeches and dozens gathered around to listen.
Brown said that Jones’ behavior “undermines public trust,” because Jones’ posts could make members of marginalized groups worry that a first responder might hesitate to do all that they can to save them “based on an outdated, homophobic or transphobic belief.”
Del Stone with the Working Class & Houseless Organizing Alliance agreed. WHOA and other groups like NAACP Greensboro and Guilford For All gathered together to support the LGBTQIA+ community and speak against Jones’ behavior on Tuesday evening. Jones would be fine after losing his job over what he posted, said Stone, who warned: “The people who aren’t gonna be fine are the people he’s targeting in his posts and the people who are gonna continue to be marginalized.”
As outlined in a letter upholding Jones’ termination by City Manager Taiwo Jaiyeoba, Jones published at least five posts on his Facebook page from 2021 to earlier this year that were in violation of the Greensboro Fire Department’s social media policy.
The most recent post advocated for “Straight Pride,” while another made disparaging comments about Rachel Levine, a transgender woman and a pediatrician who serves as the US assistant secretary for health. Other posts made light of the Black Lives Matter movement after the killing of Tyre Nichols. In another instance, Jones commented on a video in which Guilford County Sheriff Danny Rogers was attending an NC A&T State University homecoming parade. He called the sheriff a “joke” and a “clown.”
Jones also posted a photo with the caption: “You know what’s insane…. A white person can paint their face black and be accused of being a racist. Yet a man can dress as a woman and be called a hero.”
GFD’s social media policy warns that “[d]epartment employees should assume that their speech and related activity on social media sites will reflect upon their position within the department.”
Department employees are also prohibited from “[s]peech containing obscene or sexually explicit language, images, or acts and statements or other forms of speech that ridicule, malign, disparage, or otherwise express bias against any race, any religion or any protected class of individuals.”
Prior to the city council meeting, Rogers stood with members of his department on the curb outside of city council chambers.
When asked about Jones, Rogers said he didn’t know who he was.
“I don’t get caught up with what people say about us or about me,” Rogers said. “I just focus on what I can do for the community of Guilford County with the team that I have.”
A staff member told Triad City Beat that the group was standing outside because they had just finished a work meeting, and that no one had any idea who Jones was.
Allies speak out during council meeting
Mayor Nancy Vaughan, the former executive director of Guilford Green Foundation, told TCB that she supported the City Manager Jaiyeoba’s decision to uphold Jones’ termination.
“It wasn’t one post,” she said, “it was a number of posts.
Jones’ repeat offenses violating the public’s trust deeply troubled Vaughan.
“The one that I found most offensive was, during his job, he took pictures of the interior of a resident’s home and that is a huge violation of public trust,” Vaughan said.
After responding to a structure fire in 2021, Jones took pictures showing hoarding conditions and posted them on social media, Jaiyeoba’s letter reads.
Jaiyeoba also wrote to Jones that the net effect of these posts was to “dehumanize, delegitimize, disparage and disrespect those who are different than you. Organizational culture is defined in large part by what behaviors are tolerated. We simply cannot tolerate this kind of behavior from a leader of this organization.”
Inside city hall, council chambers brimmed with dozens of people eager to speak. During the public comment period, outbursts from protesters and counterprotesters alike rang throughout the room and many were escorted from the chambers, some for refusing to stop speaking when their time expired, others for swearing and yelling at speakers. When the doors opened, boos or cheers could be heard from the overflow section in the lobby.
Many who spoke in support of the LGBTQIA+ community did so with passion in their voices. They noted the increased discrimination that the transgender community is facing throughout the country now. Others called Jones and his supporters fascists. And still, others noted how even though the city did right by firing Jones, they’ve let the officers who killed Marcus Smith remain members of the Greensboro Police Department.
On the other side, supporters of Jones echoed the fired firefighter’s argument that his First Amendment rights were violated and rebuked counterprotesters who spoke passionately against Jones and his supporters.
“Why don’t we say that the First Amendment right for free speech is for everybody as long as it does not lead to violence?” asked Adrian Harris, a supporter of Jones.
Still, studies have shown that negative media of transgender communities can lead to negative outcomes for transgender people.
A 2019 study in which 545 participants were surveyed also found that more frequent exposure to negative media depictions of transgender people was associated with 18 percent increased odds of being depressed, 26 percent increased odds of experiencing anxiety, 25 percent increased odds of PTSD and 28 percent increased odds of experiencing global psychological distress.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, from 2017 to 2020 the rate of violent victimization of lesbian or gay persons (43.5 victimizations per 1,000 persons age 16 or older) was more than two times the rate for straight persons (19.0 per 1,000), and the rate of violent victimization against transgender persons (51.5 victimizations per 1,000 persons age 16 or older) was 2.5 times the rate among cisgender persons (20.5 per 1,000).
Jones himself never spoke during Tuesday’s council meeting.
“I’m just here to listen,” he told TCB.
But counterprotester Paulette Montgomery echoed sentiments heard throughout the night during her time at the podium.
“The crowd here tonight, from the packed chamber to the overflow seating and the protestors outside,” she said, “this is what community looks like. Happy Pride.”
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