zero tolerance

If This WWII Vet Was Defending Gay Soldiers When He Used The Word ‘Faggot,’ Should He Still Be Fired?

Should a corporate employee ever utter the words “faggot,” “nigger,” “dyke,” “spic,” or “wetback” while on the job? Certainly not. But how about when you are using one of those words in the course of discussing discrimination. That’s exactly what Freddy Schmitt claims he did with the word “faggot” — which got him fired from American Airlines at JFK, where the 82-year-old WWII vet had worked for 54 years. Known as “Papa Freddy,” Schmitt used the phrase “Back then, a faggot coulda saved my life” when discussing the upcoming repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Now, the ground crew worker certainly could have chosen a much better word to describe a gay person, and it’s clear that Freddy is actually in favor of gays serving openly in the military. He just expressed himself … horrifically. And age absolutely is not an excuse for not learning that some terms simply aren’t acceptable anymore; old white guys don’t get to call black men “boy,” for instance.

Schmitt had little to say about the remark in December that got him fired last month as a ground-crew worker following a suspension and two hearings. He just wishes he could have stayed on the job until November, when he was planning to retire with a milestone under his belt. “It would look nice, going out with 55 years,” Schmitt said. “After 54 years, all I want is to go out in good faith.”

Schmitt is appealing the termination through arbitration, but the process can take months, according to union officials. Nobody disputes that Schmitt — a baggage crew chief — used the term, or that the pugnacious Brooklyn native didn’t exactly grovel with remorse when reprimanded by a supervisor. But the context should be taken into account, say Schmitt’s former airline crewmates.

As punishment, not only does Freddy lose his job, but also his health benefits; he’ll keep his pension. And as much as I’d love to have somebody who supports our right to serve in the military, I also wouldn’t be inclined to give a pass to a 25-year-old who says something as backhanded as “Niggers built this great country into what it is today.”