A CEO who was filmed publicly mocking a male high school senior who chose to wear a dress to prom with his boyfriend has been fired.
In a video posted to various social media platforms on Saturday, Sam Johnson, the CEO of telemedicine company Visuwell, is seen ridiculing Dalton Stevens at the Harpeth Hotel in Franklin, Tennessee.
As Mr Stevens and his boyfriend, Jacob Geittman, took pictures outside the hotel, the couple says that Mr Johnson approached and mocked him for his choice of clothing – a floor-length red gown.
“Slander terms thrown towards me of like ‘You look bad,’ ‘You’ve got hair on your chest, you shouldn’t be wearing a dress,’ ‘You’re not a man,’ blah, blah, blah,” Mr Stevens told Fox 40.
“The fact that he thought he had the audacity to come tell me what I was supposed to wear and what I was supposed to do because of his standards.”
“You can have your thoughts and opinions, [but] keep them to yourself,” Mr Geittman said. “You don’t need to go up to a teenager in public on their prom night and publicly shame and harass them for what they decided to wear.”
In the video, shot by Mr Geittman, Mr Johnson can be seen following the teenager, telling him: “You look like an idiot.”
Mr Stevens, visibly upset in the video, tells him to “Get the f*** away from me.”
At the end of the footage, voices can be heard off-camera telling Mr Johnson to stop, saying: “It’s just prom. It’s kids, it’s a bunch of kids. Come on, dude.”
Mr Stevens can be heard saying: “I’m sorry, I’m gorgeous.”
The reply from Mr Johnson was: “Are you?”
After video of the incident was widely circulated over the weekend, including by celebrities such as Billy Porter and Kathy Griffin, Visuwell responded on Monday by announcing that the company’s board of directors had chosen to terminate Mr Johnson, saying that they unequivocally condemn the behaviour he exhibited.
“Visuwell’s culture emphasises respect, kindness, and compassion, especially for those from traditionally marginalised communities, and we maintain a zero-tolerance policy for intolerance of any kind,” a statement posted to Twitter reads.
“Mr Johnson’s actions contradicted the high standards we set for ourselves in promoting the health of those who use our platform.”
The company added that it would be taking concrete steps in support of the LGBT+ community over the coming weeks.
Mr Johnson told Newsweek that he denies the allegations as “entirely false” and says that the confrontation was not about the dress but about “obnoxious, loud behaviour by this group of teens”.
In his account of the incident, he approached the group to ask them to tone down the “vulgarities” around families and children present that day, including his own. He accuses the teens of making the incident about the dress and editing out parts of the exchange.
Warning: Strong language
“I have no ill will towards anyone or their personal choices, so long as it does not harm me or my family,” he told the publication.
In their account of events prior to the video, the couple says that Mr Johnson approached them and immediately began asking why Mr Stevens was wearing a dress.
Mr Stevens says that he views clothes are genderless and wants to raise awareness and challenge gender norms when it comes to clothing.
“I think clothing should just be taken as a piece of cloth and nothing more,” said Stevens. “Everybody should just wear what they want and shouldn’t be ashamed to wear anything because of societal standards.”
Of his choice of formal attire for the prom, he said: “I was very confident. I knew that I felt beautiful, and I felt great.”
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