On Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day — the same day President Barack Obama was making history as the first sitting president to call for gay equal rights in his inauguration speech — a Nashville man alleged he was fired from his job at the nonprofit all-ages downtown music venue Rocketown after wearing an "I Support Same-Sex Marriage" T-shirt to work.
On Instagram and via Twitter, Rocketown music venue manager Wes Breedwell posted pictures of himself Monday wearing the shirt, which bore the name of Connecticut band Hostage Calm on the front and the pro-gay-rights slogan on the back. In a caption, he stated, "Got fired from Rocketown today. Social media is what did it. So here is a picture to show my support for equality and free speech including social media."
In an emailed statement, Rocketown publicist Jacqueline Marushka said that "Rocketown does not comment on personnel issues, but, generally speaking, an employee would not be fired for expressing opinions on marriage."
Rocketown, the combination coffee bar, skate park, concert venue and youth ministry founded by contemporary Christian singer Michael W. Smith, was created as a safe place for teens to gather without the proselytizing stigma its clientele sometimes associates with church-related activities. Breedwell had worked there for seven years.
Along with a statement on Breedwell's behalf, Hostage Calm (which has played the club multiple times) emailed a photo, presumably of Breedwell's "employee discipline notice." Under a checked category for "lack of judgment," handwritten comments read, "You cannot wear a shirt to work on an office day or a show day supporting same sex marriage."
Below, in the "future action steps" section, the notice reads: "It is imperative that our beliefs are not personal or presented [at] work that contradict the mission. Future action will be based on the action but will include suspension or termination." An employee signature line — to acknowledge the infraction and agree to work to improve said behavior — is left unsigned.
According to Hostage Calm's statement, Breedwell told a band member via phone that his termination follows a "a long pattern of discrimination against him for not being Christian and for supporting marriage equality. ... [O]ver the seven years he has worked there, he's been denied opportunities for advancement and salary based on his non-Christian beliefs."
As of press time, Breedwell could not be reached for comment. When contacted by the Scene Monday night, Rocketown director of development and communications Lisa Bergen-Wilson said she would provide an official statement after conferring with the venue's board of directors. The next morning, she referred the Scene to Marushka, who sent the statement quoted earlier in this story.
"At Rocketown we are welcoming and accepting of all youth," Marushka's statement continues. "We reach out to all kids, are inclusive and very much care about acceptance of youth from different ethnicities, sexual orientations, financial backgrounds and religions. Our mission is to provide a safe and drug-free environment where kids are welcomed, accepted and loved."
That has done little to quell a firestorm brewing online, fueled by postings on Twitter, Facebook and other social media calling for a boycott and other measures. On Monday, the Tennessee Equality Project, the organization that monitors statewide issues concerning LGBT rights, issued a denunciation of the incident.
"TEP condemns this termination and stands in solidarity with the man who was fired for showing his support for our community," the organization stated. "It reminds us that allies are in the front lines of the fight for equality."
When contacted by the Scene, publicist Marushka wrote that "Rocketown will not comment further on this, because as the statement notes, it is not Rocketown's policy to discuss personnel issues."
Regardless, many have noted the irony of the incident on the day the president told a worldwide audience, "Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law."
UPDATE, 1:40 p.m. Jan. 24: Wes Breedwell issued this statement last night on Instagram:
My name is Wes Breedwell. I am not gay but do support those who are. It’s unfortunate that Rocketown chose to terminate me for what they consider lack of judgement [sic]. I have worked tirelessly for seven years to foster acceptance of all types of music and people. It was my hope that progress was being made, however, Monday brought a level of intolerance I did not expect. This is a tough time for me, I’m devastated about losing my job and I request you respect my privacy. On the advice of counsel, I cannot and will not grant requests for interviews. Lastly, please refrain from Internet bashing and respect everyones [sic] right to their opinions and beliefs.