The CEO of a telemedicine company in Tennessee has been axed after he was captured on video apparently harassing a teenager who wore a dress to his senior prom — saying the young man looked “disgusting.”
Dalton Stevens said he chose to wear the dress to the high school event in Franklin, just south of Nashville, to show that “clothing is really genderless” and “it has no meaning,” according to NBC News.
But when Stevens and his boyfriend, Jacob Geittmann, began snapping photos with pals at a hotel before the prom, a man began acting “homophobic,” the teen said.
Stevens said a man, who has since been identified as VisuWell CEO Sam Johnson, asked him if he knew what he was wearing and wanted to know why he decided to be in 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 replied. “And I explained that to him, and he continued to just call me names and just follow me.”
Stevens accused Johnson of calling him “stupid” and hurling vulgarities in a homophobic manner — telling him that he has hair on his chest and “shouldn’t be wearing a dress.”
In video Geittmann began recording, Stevens can be heard telling Johnson that he decided what to wear and that the man can “f— off.”
When asked by Geittmann whether he thinks Stevens looks “disgusting,” Johnson is heard saying he does and then walks away.
He then appears to swat at Geittman, presumably to knock the phone from his hand, but inadvertently strikes Stevens, according to the footage and the teen’s account.
The video ends with off-camera voices pleading with a smirking Johnson to stop, with one telling him: “It’s just prom. It’s kids, it’s a bunch of kids. Come on, dude.”
Geittmann said Johnson began harassing his boyfriend with “homophobic banter” as they were about to leave the hotel.
“This man comes up, stands about an inch behind my boyfriend and asks ‘What are you wearing?’ and he’s like ‘A dress, why?’ and he’s like ‘Well why are you wearing that? You shouldn’t be wearing that,’” Geittmann told Newsweek.
He said that once hotel staff intervened, Johnson denied accosting the couple.
“He pretends like he has absolutely no clue what’s going on, he’s standing there, he’s like, ‘I’ve just been standing here the whole time, I don’t know what’s going on, I didn’t try to talk to them, I didn’t hit them, I didn’t try to smack his phone out of his hand,’” Geittmann said, adding that Johnson, who was visibly drunk, was thrown off the property.
In a statement Monday, VisuWell said: “We unequivocally condemn the behavior exhibited by Sam Johnson in a recent video widely circulated on social media.
“After investigating the matter and speaking to individuals involved, the VisuWell Board of Directors 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.”
The ousted CEO, meanwhile, denied that he was harassing the couple, claiming to Newsweek that the confrontation “wasn’t anything personal or involving a dress,” rather “about obnoxious, loud behavior by this group of teens.”
Johnson claimed he had approached the teens to ask them to “tone down the vulgarities around the families and children who were present,” including his own.
“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.”
“I have no ill will towards anyone or their personal choices, so long as it does not harm me or my family,” Johnson insisted.
He also claimed his family left the hotel of their own free will.