Reporter Fired for Private Anti-Gay Marriage Email

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday December 9, 2009

A reporter who blasted a gay equality group in a private email the morning after marriage parity was defeated in Maine has been fired from his job at a local newspaper.

Larry Grard, an 18-year employee at Waterville, Maine's The Morning Sentinel, had not covered the marriage equality vote last month that saw gay and lesbian families in that state lose the right to marriage that the state legislature had approved earlier this year. However, when Grard came in to work the morning after Election Day and saw an email message from the Human Rights Campaign, a GLBT equality lobby group, saying that anti-gay animus accounted for the result, he took umbrage and fired off a note in response.

"They said the Yes-on-1 people were haters," Grard was quoted as saying in a Dec. 7 article. "I'm a Christian. I take offense at that. I e-mailed them back and said basically, 'We're not the ones doing the hating. You're the ones doing the hating.' I sent the same message in his face he sent in mine."

The person to whom Grard was referring was the HRC's deputy communications director, Trevor Thomas, who contacted the paper to complain about the email Grard had sent.

Sentinel editor Bill Thompson fired Grard the next week. According to Grard, Thompson told Grard that Thomas had demanded the paper terminate Grard's employment. "There's no wiggle room," Grard claimed Thompson told him.

Thomas disputes that. In a response to the story, Thomas said, "The day following the loss in Maine, HRC released a statement and shortly thereafter reporter Larry Grard responded with the following: 'Who are the hateful, venom-spewing ones? Hint: Not the yes on 1 crowd. You hateful people have been spreading nothing but vitriol since this campaign began. Good riddance!'

"At no time did I ask Larry to be fired," Thomas continued, "but instead had one email interaction with his editor where I said: 'I received the below email this morning after our national media release was sent to your team. ... It's frankly, just not acceptable coming from a news organization the morning after our defeat.'

"The editor did not contact me further," Thomas added. "The management team of the newspaper did let me know they had policies in place and were looking into the matter. It is my understanding they conducted their own review. I only learned Larry was fired from a reporter asking for comment."

Not only did Grard lose his job, the article said, but his wife, who also wrote for The Sentinel, was also informed that her services would no longer be needed by the publication.

The article said that Thompson did not respond to a message, nor did the Sentinel's executive editor, Scott Wasser.

Grard fell back on a common refrain in such instances, claiming that his firing was motivated by "anti-Christian bias." Said Grard, "A lawyer said to me, 'What if you'd agreed with [the Human Rights Campaign]? Would the company fire you for that? Of course they wouldn't have.'"

The Human Rights Campaign is not a religious organization, but strictly political, lobbying lawmakers for GLBT-inclusive legislation such as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act or the recently passed Matthew Shepard James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which was the first--and to date is the only--federal law to protect GLBT Americans.

Grard's firing has been contested and is headed for arbitration. "The [Portland Newspaper] Guild is defending the contract, which requires that there be progressive discipline in situations like this," said Tom Bell, the Guild's president.

The story was posted for comment at conservative chat site, where gay-themed news items are frequently discussed. The site's users, who refer to themselves as "Freepers," expressed the hope that Grard would sue the newspaper. "This guy should lawyer up. I don't know if Maine is a employment-at-will state, but firing somebody for what they say in a private email from a personally-owned computer might be actionable," one Freeper wrote, while another opined, "Hopefully he will soon own the paper and can fire every one of the liberal bastar*s. That will be sweet revenge."

Wrote a third, "I see a settlement large enough to shut that paper down," while still another suggested, "Rico vs HRC using a claim of tortious inference with a labor contract? Rico is a claim magnifier."

Others addressed the ideological aspects of the story. "After groups like the Taleban [sic] there isn't a less tolerant bunch than 'liberals,'" one Freeper wrote. Another contributed the remark, "Sounds like he has a legitimate claim on being discriminated against based on his religion."

Others took the incident as proof that gays were out to get heterosexuals, with one individual writing, "...the man used his personal email to respond. He didn't do it on a work computer. He has a God given right to his opinion. I just don't understand why the gay movement is so hateful and vindictive!"

Another posted an image of Hitler carrying a swastika-emblazoned flag, with the face of Barack Obama superimposed over Hitler's. There was no text included with the image to indicate how the image had any connection with the story at hand.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.