A Tennessee health care executive has been fired after he was shown harassing a gay teenager who wore a dress to prom in a viral video.
Sam Johnson was removed as CEO of VisuWell, a telemedicine company, after telling 18-year-old Dalton Stevens he looked like an “idiot” for wearing the dress.
The video, filmed by Stevens’ boyfriend Jacob Geitmann, took place at a hotel in Franklin, Tenn., where the couple and their friends stopped to take photos prior to Franklin High School’s prom, NBC News reports.
Stevens said he wore the dress because “clothing is really genderless,” but while they were at the hotel Johnson approached them and asked Stevens why he was wearing it.
The encounter isn’t shown in the video, but Stevens told NBC News that he told Johnson he looked good in the dress and really liked it, and wanted to make a point about gendered clothing.
“I explained that to him, and he continued to just call me names and just follow me,” Stevens said, alleging that Johnson called him “stupid” and made vulgar comments, including saying Stevens has “hair on your chest, you shouldn’t be wearing a dress.”
The viral video, recorded by Stevens’ boyfriend Jacob Geitmann, which takes place during the confrontation begins with Stevens telling Johnson to “fuck off.”
Johnson, who is seen visibly smirking throughout the video, follows Stevens and tells him, “You look like an idiot.”
Stevens tells Johnson to “get the fuck away from me” and moves to walk past him, between Johnson and Geitmann. Johnson then tries to strike Geitmann’s phone, but appears to instead hit Stevens as he walks past.
As adults out of frame ask Johnson to stop and Geitmann tells him he looks “like a moron,” Johnson shrugs, still smirking, and continues to watch Stevens.
“I’m sorry, I’m gorgeous,” Stevens can be heard saying.
“Are you?” Johnson replies.
Homophobic POS in Tennessee harasses a teenager for wearing a dress to prom pic.twitter.com/Ftt2a184jX
— Fifty Shades of Whey (@davenewworld_2) April 26, 2021
Geitmann posted the video to TikTok and it was reshared to Twitter, quickly going viral after it was reshared, including by LGBTQ ally and comedian Kathy Griffin, who called out Johnson’s employer, VisuWell, and said he seemed to be “dying to be online famous.”
Speaking to Newsweek, Johnson denied that he was harassing Stevens, instead saying they only shared part of the encounter and that he initially approached them because they were using vulgar language.
“We had just sat down for dinner at this restaurant that we frequent, and I was returning from the restroom when I was presented with their loud cursing,” Johnson said. “Making it about the dress was their idea, and they edited out most of the exchange.”
Johnson added that he has “no ill will towards anyone or their personal choices, so long as it does not harm me or my family.”
Police were called to the hotel by staff, with Franklin police Lt. Charles Warner saying they wanted Johnson to leave due to the confrontation in the courtyard.
“He denied any involvement in a confrontation,” Warner said. “Officers advised the man that he would need to close out his ticket and leave the premises, as requested by hotel management.”
Johnson left, but refuted that he did so because of police involvement, instead saying it was his own choice.
After intense criticism for his actions in the video led to a flood of comments on VisuWell’s official Twitter account, the company posted a statement on Tuesday, April 27, confirming that its board of directors had voted to remove Johnson as CEO.
“We unequivocally condemn the behavior exhibited by Sam Johnson in a recent video widely circulated on social media,” the company said in a statement. “After investigating the matter and speaking to individuals involved, the VisuWell BOD has chosen to terminate Mr. Johnson from his position as CEO, effective immediately. Gerry Andrady, our President and COO, will lead the company through this important time.”
VisuWell said its corporate culture “emphasizes respect, kindness, and compassion, especially for those from traditionally marginalized communities, and we maintain a zero-tolerance policy for intolerance of any kind.”
“Mr. Johnson’s actions contradicted the high standards we set for ourselves in promoting the health of those who use our platform,” they added.
VisuWell said it “[shared] the concerns that so many have expressed on this matter and look forward to announcing concrete steps we are taking in support of the LGBTQ community in particular over the coming weeks.”
Official Statement pic.twitter.com/cMYoAEbI9d
— Visuwell (@VisuWell) April 27, 2021
After some questioned whether Johnson still held a seat on VisuWell’s board of directors, the company issued an additional statement confirming that Johnson “is no longer employed by VisuWell in any capacity.”
“He no longer has a position on the Board of Directors or any informal advisory role,” VisuWell said. “His behavior was not representative of our values, which include respect and compassion for all.”
Johnson has since taken to his Twitter account to discuss his firing, claiming that he was a victim of “cancel culture pressure on my customers.”
His Twitter history includes Johnson, a former telemedicine CEO, complaining about “mask theater” in response to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as criticizing the U.S. Navy for a tweet showing a sailor wearing a mask.
Johnson also previously liked an anti-transgender tweet from far-right Republican congresswoman Lauren Boebert, as well as another in which someone called a gay child “a symptom of negligent, if not abusive parenting.”
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