A Tennessee executive was fired after he was seen on video allegedly harassing a teenage boy who wore a dress to prom Saturday night, saying the teenager looked like an “idiot.”
The student, Dalton Stevens, 18, said Monday that he decided to wear a dress to his senior prom in Franklin, about 20 miles south of Nashville, to show that “clothing is really genderless” and “it has no meaning.”
He said he was shocked when an adult began acting “homophobic” as he and his boyfriend, Jacob Geitmann, began taking photos with friends at a hotel before the Franklin High School prom.
Stevens said a man approached the couple and asked whether Stevens knew what he was wearing. The man, who has been identified as VisuWell CEO Sam Johnson, is alleged to have asked why Stevens chose to wear a dress.
“I think I look good in it and that I really like the dress, and I want to show that clothing is genderless,” Stevens said he responded. “And I explained that to him, and he continued to just call me names and just follow me.”
Stevens alleged that Johnson called him “stupid,” as well as vulgar names, in a homophobic manner and that Johnson told him that he has “hair on your chest, you shouldn’t be wearing a dress.”
Geitmann began recording at some point. Stevens can be heard telling Johnson that he chose what he wanted to wear and that Johnson can “f— off.” Geitmann can be heard in the video asking Johnson whether he thinks Stevens looks “disgusting,” and Johnson responds that he does.
Stevens then begins to walk away from Johnson, who follows him and tells him he looks like an “idiot.” Johnson then appears to swat his hand at Geitmann, presumably to knock his phone away, and inadvertently hits Stevens, according to the video and Stevens’ account.
It’s unclear what happened before the recording, which was viewed by NBC News and posted online by Geitmann. Geitmann was not immediately available for comment Monday.
VisuWell, a telemedicine company, tweeted Monday evening that it has a zero-tolerance policy for intolerance and that Johnson’s actions “contradicted the high standards we set for ourselves.”
“We unequivocally condemn the behavior exhibited by Sam Johnson in a recent video widely circulated on social media,” Visuwell tweeted. “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.”
Johnson denied that he was harassing the couple to Newsweek, claiming that the video was edited and that he initially went over because the group of teens was being loud and vulgar.
“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 told Newsweek. “Making it about the dress was their idea, and they edited out most of the exchange.”
Stevens denied being loud or cursing before Johnson approached him.
“We never had any type of vulgar language until this gentleman approached and started harassing us,” he said.
Franklin police said officers responded to the hotel after staff members called to report an unwanted person.
Hotel staffers told police that the man was involved in a confrontation with teenagers in their courtyard and that they wanted the man, seated at the hotel bar, to leave, police Lt. Charles Warner said.
“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 told Newsweek that he left the hotel of his own free will.
Police have since seen the video of the altercation but have not been asked to investigate, Warner said.
“There does not appear to be a record that they or anyone else, besides hotel management, contacted the police about the altercation,” Warner said. “If they do and would like to pursue this matter further, the department will investigate and assist them with all applicable next steps.”
The hotel did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Dia Morgan, Stevens’ mother, who was not present for the encounter, said her son was shaken up when she spoke him the next day.
“And then to know that someone found it necessary to come up to him and to do that much hatred,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking for a mother.”
Morgan said she spoke to her son about the language he used in the encounter, but she said she knows her son “has every bit of courage” that others would want to see in themselves.
“If you let people like this guy continue to do this, then that’s how you beat people’s spirits,” Morgan said. “I mean, I’m incredibly proud of my son.”