Black leaders, including a former Atlanta fire chief who was fired for his personal beliefs and an Emmy Award-winning video producer, reject the assertion of liberal activists that support for the traditional definition of marriage is the equivalent of racism.

“It never crossed my mind that in the United States of America … the same faith and the same Constitution, the same living it out through patriotism that caused me to have such a wonderful life and career … [could] now cost me my career,” said Kelvin Cochran, a former U.S. fire administrator and former chief of the Atlanta Fire Department.

Cochran was fired in early 2015 as chief of the Atlanta department because of his support of the definition of traditional marriage as being between a man and a woman.

In an Oct. 10 presentation at The Heritage Foundation, Cochran and other panelists discussed religious liberty and racism.

A Colorado civil rights commissioner attacked Jack Phillips, the Colorado baker who refused to create a wedding cake for a gay couple because it went against his Christian beliefs. The commissioner contended that freedom of religion was also used to justify the Holocaust.

Phillips’ legal challenge to Colorado’s anti-discrimination laws is now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ryan Bomberger, founder and chief creative officer of the Radiance Foundation, an organization that helps “people understand and embrace their God-given purpose,” said that race and sexuality are entirely different.

“As a brown individual, I don’t have to come out of the closet,” said Bomberger, the author of the book “Not Equal: Civil Rights Gone Wrong,” published in 2016. “You can tell that I’m brown.”

He noted that researchers, among them Lisa Diamond, professor of psychology and gender studies at the University of Utah, have concluded that sexual orientation is “fluid,” whereas skin color is immutable.

He also said LGBT people never faced violent discrimination the way blacks did. He said blacks fought for equal rights with their blood.

“LGBT individuals were never enslaved,” Bomberger said. “They never had separate and unequal schools.”

He rejects the LGBT community’s claim to civil rights protections because they haven’t gone through what happened with blacks.

Ryan Anderson, senior research fellow in American principles and public policy at The Heritage Foundation, said people were abusing their freedom at one time by not letting blacks into hotels and restaurants, and that it was the right thing for the government to step in to remedy the situation.

“If your car broke down, it was unclear if you were black if you could find a mechanic to repair it and a hotel to rent you a room,” Anderson said.

The problem, he noted, is that now governments have added sexual orientation and gender identity as “protected classes” to laws originally written to protect blacks. The newer provisions are now being used to persecute people.

“This anti-discrimination law, it’s not being used as a shield to protect the same-sex couple,” Anderson said. “It’s being used as a sword to impose a sexual orthodoxy on the entire nation by imposing that sexual orthodoxy on Jack Phillips.”

Cochran, 57, explained how he was born into a family of six children and a single mother in 1960. “I realized that poverty was awful,” he said. “You know, being on welfare and food stamps was awful.”

While his family was poor, Cochran said he and his siblings were raised on “faith and patriotism,” with that faith and patriotism eventually leading to his childhood dream of being a firefighter being realized. But when he became a firefighter, he learned things weren’t so simple. In the Shreveport, Louisiana, firehouse, blacks had different beds and even different eating utensils to use.

Cochran said his mother raised her children with Christian values and the belief that all people have value. Those values made him want to make sure others didn’t go through the same prejudice he experienced if he ever had authority over others.

He said he was appointed to the highest position in his field, U.S. fire administrator, by then-President Barack Obama in 2009. He left that position in 2010 to become the fire chief in Atlanta.

In 2013, Cochran said, he wrote a book for a men’s Bible study that he self-published, and he included a few pages noting that the Bible designates marriage as between a man and a woman. In 2014, his book was brought to the attention of a gay Atlanta City Council member, and it was then shown to the mayor.

He was suspended for 30 days without pay, then fired, after a successful 34-year career.

Cochran said if society continues to go down a path where people can’t speak out for their beliefs, it could hurt children in the long run.

“Children in the United States of America who have that same belief, who want to be a firefighter when they grow up, who don’t want to be poor when they grow up, you can cancel that dream,” he said.