Editor’s note: This article contains transphobic, homophobic and racist language and imagery.

On April 16, Capt. Dustin Jones of the Greensboro Fire Department posted an illustration of a white, heterosexual couple getting married with the words “Straight Pride, it’s natural, it’s Worked for Thousands of years and you Can Make Babies,” on Facebook. The image was overlaid with pink and blue vertical stripes.

Less than a month later, on May 12, Jones was fired from the department for “misuse of social media and disrespectful treatment of others,” according to a response letter by City Manager Taiwo Jaiyeoba obtained through a public records request.

Since his dismissal, Jones has been active and vocal on Facebook, calling the fire department and the city’s decision “unjust,” alleging his First Amendment rights were violated. In an interview with Jones on Thursday, he said that was fired because of his April 16 post.

But Jaiyeoba’s letter upholding the fire department’s decision to terminate Jones outlines not just one but five social media posts that ultimately led to Jones’ dismissal. 

What were the posts?

In 2021, Jones took pictures of the interior of someone’s home that showed hoarding conditions and posted them to his Facebook. In 2022, Jones commented on a video that featured Guilford County Sheriff Danny Rogers, calling him a “clown” and a “Freaking Joke.” On Jan. 27, Jones posted a screenshot of a news article about the police killing of Tyre Nichols with the caption, “Mmmmmmm……… will we see another George Floyd reaction? Will city’s burn??? ALL LIVES MATTER…..”

Other posts outlined in the letter include a picture of a keychain that reads, “If I ever offended you, I’m sorry… that you’re a little bitch” as well as a screenshot of the definition of Blackface in which Jones writes, “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……[shrug emoji].”

In another post, Jones shared a meme that shows Rachel Levine, a transgender woman and a pediatrician who serves as the US assistant secretary for health, above a photo of an assault rifle. The post reads, “IF THIS IS A WOMAN, THIS IS A FISHING POLE.”

According to Jaiyeoba’s letter, after many of the posts, Jones met with fire leadership who reminded Jones of the department’s social media policy and gave him warnings. The letter states that in 2021, Jones signed a coaching document that acknowledged that if he engaged in any misconduct or if his duty performance became unsatisfactory, that he could face further corrective action.

While Jones argued that the posts were made while he was off duty, Jaiyeoba states in his letter that Jones self-identified as a member of the Greensboro Fire Department on his profile as a result of his “numerous photos in the assigned uniform.”

“As a supervisor you were a representative of the City,” Jaiyeoba writes. “Statements by a supervisor that have the effect of disparaging and disrespecting team members, some of whom are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, interfere with the city’s interest in maintaining an efficient operation.”

What is Jones saying?

Despite his pattern of behavior, Jones said in an interview with TCB that he was surprised when he was terminated for posts that Jaiyeoba said “dehumanize, delegitimize, disparage and disrespect those who are different from [him].”

“I think that was one person’s opinion,” Jones said. “The city wrote the sentence, not the citizens of Greensboro.”

In recent weeks, Jones has started a campaign on Facebook asking people to share his story and donate money to a pooled fund. On Thursday, he told TCB that he’s in the “process of legal proceedings.” Jones would not give additional details about the proceedings.

Many people have reshared his story, echoing Jones’ sentiment that it is a violation of his first amendment rights. Jones told TCB that he has support from Black people and members of the LGBTQ+ community. He also said that he’s never discriminated against anyone based on race or “lifestyle choices.” In recent weeks, Jones’ story has been picked up by many right-wing conservatives, including Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, who has been vocally anti-transgender and anti-LGBTQ+.

“It’s time for normal people to take a stand and absolutely flood this hall,” Robinson said in an interview shared on Jones’ on Facebook in which he called on people to protest at city council. The next Greensboro City Council meeting takes place on Tuesday, June 6.

How this could impact the trans community

Studies have shown that negative depictions of trans people and discriminatory posts can have real negative impacts on people’s lives.

According to a survey by GLAAD, the world’s largest LGBTQ+ media advocacy organization, 84 percent of LGBTQ+ adults said that there aren’t enough protections on social media to prevent discrimination, harassment or disinformation. Additionally, 40 percent of LGBTQ+ adults and 49 percent of trans and nonbinary people reported that they don’t feel welcome or safe on social media. 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.

Jones’ transphobic posts also come at a time when there is an increasing number of anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ+ bills being passed throughout the country and here in NC.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, there have been more than 500 anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced so far in 2023. In North Carolina,multiple bills that target trans students have been introduced this year.

When asked about some of his posts, including the one featuring Rachel Levine, and whether he thought they were anti-LGBTQ+ or transphobic, Jones said that the post was about gun rights.

“The post wasn’t pointed towards trans,” Jones said. “The post was a gun rights post that was basically saying I can call my gun whatever I want to…. The post was not towards a trans person, it was about gun rights.”

When asked about his reasoning for posting his statements about the Tyre Nichols’ case, Jones responded by stating that his “attorney advised him not to.”

About his April 16 post, Jones said that he made it because he’s “proud to be a straight person.” When asked if he opposes LGBTQ+ specific events or Pride parades, Jones said his attorney has advised him not to answer any questions.

“You’re trying to bait me into answering questions in a way that you can twist it against me,” Jones added.

According to employment records, Jones began working for the Greensboro Fire Department in 2007. Over the years, he slowly moved up the ranks, being promoted to fire lieutenant in 2019 and fire captain in February 2021. As of May 12 when Jones was fired, he was making an annual  salary of $73,900.

Read the full termination appeal letter here.

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