There are certain actions that create a “Chilling Effect.” It’s not that the actions are right or wrong, but like an invisible wave they hit nonetheless. Such is the case that has rolled across the land featuring Mount de Sales Academy and Flint Dollar, the school’s band director who was basically fired because he plans to marry his partner this summer. While it doesn’t matter which side of this emotional issue you sit, whether Dollar has the right to marry his partner or not or whether MDS is right or wrong in firing him, the “Chilling Effect” is not about right or wrong.
In stressing his right to be employed by MDS, Dollar may have created some collateral damage. MDS hired Dollar knowing his sexual orientation, but with the threat of a lawsuit hanging over its head and the controversy blowing from all sides, would the school do so again? Will the next openly gay instructor, no matter how brilliant, be considered for a teaching position? We don’t know the answer to that question. We do know that companies far more broad than MDS will be asking themselves the same questions before they make a hire. Is it discrimination? Of course it is. Can it be proven? Not really.
With any job, the people who hire and fire take a risk. No one really knows -- no matter the resume and listed skills -- if a new employee will work out or not, and while sexual orientation shouldn’t matter in a workplace setting where performance should be the criteria, the “Chilling Effect” on this and other issues -- can and does kick in. The trouble with the “Chilling Effect” is that it’s invisible. Even those impacted by it -- on either side of the interview table -- may not recognize it.
So is there a solution? Yes. People who have the responsibility to hire -- and the organizations that employ them -- should recognize there is a possibility they may have been corrupted by the “Chilling Effect” on this and other issues (there are plenty out there from skin color, gender and ethnic heritage). By recognizing these little biases, they can be addressed. Only when they lurk beneath, do they pop up to do us harm.
In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”