Kirchner’s courage should inspire others to come forward

Published 7:08 pm Thursday, September 12, 2019


Contributing columnist

Of course I am going to write about Phil Sammons and Mike Perros, but first I want to write about the heroine of this story, Jennifer Kirchner. Kirchner is the executive director of the Danville-Boyle County Convention and Visitors Bureau. She did something extraordinary at the fiscal court meeting and it seems to be lost in the telling of the tale.

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When Magistrate Sammons made his completely inappropriate comment about Kirchner’s legs, she didn’t just smile and look away, or laugh like many would do in that situation. No. She told Sammons he was out of line. She reminded him that she is a professional and was in the process of making an important presentation to the fiscal court. She pushed back.

Well done!

Women have long been in situations where men make derogatory comments that are overtly sexual or with just enough innuendo to make you question if you heard it correctly. We have traditionally been told to not make a scene. Don’t create conflict. We’ve been conditioned to think we would be fired, reprimanded, or must be forced to deal with passive-aggressive bullying.

This type of culture exists in Danville’s city hall. More than one female worker has come to me in confidence about inappropriate comments that have been made to them by men who work in the building. They are afraid to say anything for fear of losing their jobs or being bullied.

I doubt Kirchner was concerned about losing her job when she pushed back against Sammons and Perros. She stood up for herself, which is what more women are doing. I hope this will give the women in city hall the courage to come forward with their stories.

Now, let’s chat about the offenders.

According to The Advocate-Messenger article, Mike Perros, “mayor” of Danville, started the comments, playing off an earlier riff between him and Sammons. When Perros pointed out that Kirchner, like Perros, wasn’t wearing socks, Sammons said, “If he had legs like that, he wouldn’t have to wear socks.” Then there was apparently some school-boy banter where others in the room joined in on the laughter after Kirchner reminded the court that she was a professional. Why would that be funny?

The problem is Sammons and Perros thought they were being funny. The good ole boys club has long made jokes and comments about women, thinking they are clever. Women have laughed, seemingly, along with the good ole boys. What those boys didn’t, and don’t know, is that they aren’t funny or clever. And women aren’t taking it anymore.

Stop trying to be comedians, boys. It is condescending and disrespectful. But y’all know that, don’t you? You know who you can say things like that to and who you can’t. But Kirchner surprised you, didn’t she, Phil and Mike?

The judge executive called a news conference and condemned Sammons’s comments. Perros wrote an apology claiming he “inadvertently failed as a role model.” And Sammons called Kirchner twice to apologize, according to an article in The Advocate-Messenger. Kirchner, in this same article, stated that she didn’t want this to become a political issue. It isn’t political. It’s cultural. Sammons and Perros both thought they would get a quick laugh at Kirchner’s expense. It’s routine with some men of their age.

Magistrate Jamie Gay was able to get the meeting back in order and stop the comments and laughter. For this, we can all be thankful. At least there is one man on the fiscal court we can count on to be professional and to hold himself and his office to a high standard of respect.

Finally, men, stop trying to get a cheap laugh by demeaning women. It isn’t funny. We are mad as hell and won’t take it anymore. We will keep pushing back and speaking out.

Ladies, if you are in a situation where the men around you are saying inappropriate things and acting in an inappropriate manner, be like Kirchner and speak up. The more we talk to each other and come forward to get these incidents out of the shadows, the stronger our voices will be, and these jerks will lose their power.

City commission and fiscal court, hold your people to a higher standard and start challenging these Neanderthals in your governing body.

As for Sammons and Perros, it’s time for them to ride off into the sunset, leave our strong women alone, and stop embarrassing our community.

“A woman with a voice is, by definition, a strong woman.” — Melinda Gates

G. Elaine Wilson-Reddy, JD, is a professional educator, consultant and advocate. She lives in Danville.