Vermont paper fires top editor for tweet against state’s third gender option on driver’s license

The Vermont DMV plans to offer a third gender option on driver's licenses. A tweet against the proposal led to the dismissal of Burlington Free Press editor. (Kena Betancur/AFP/Getty Images)

Jana J. Pruet

Denis Finley, the top editor of the Burlington Free Press, found himself out of a job after he tweeted against a proposal to add a third gender option on Vermont driver’s licenses.

What’s the story?

The Department of Motor Vehicles in Vermont may soon offer residents a third gender option on their driver’s license to those who don’t identify as a male or female, Vermont Public Radio reported. Oregon, California, and Washington, D.C. already offer a third option. The DMV’s new computer system will make this option available.

That news inspired a Burlington resident to praise the possible gender option in a tweet last week.

“This is awesome! // #VT Is One Step Closer To Offering A Third Gender On Driver’s Licenses,” the tweet said.

Finley shot off a response that caused a firestorm of comments, many tagged the editor’s employer.

“Awesome! That makes us one step closer to the apocalypse.”

The storm of tweets continued throughout the weekend, leading the Gannett-owned newspaper to open an investigation of Finley’s Twitter account.

The company fired the longtime journalist Monday evening, who previously worked as editor of the Virginian-Pilot.

Randy Lovely, Gannett’s USA Today Network vice president, told the Burlington Free Press that Finley’s tweet violated the company’s code of conduct and ethics policy.

“We encourage our journalists to engage in a meaningful dialogue on social media, but it’s important that the conversation adhere to our overarching values of fairness, balance and objectivity,” Lovely said.

Who is taking his place?

Burlington Planning Editor Emilie Stigliani has been named interim editor while the paper searches for a new editor.

“We are committed to finding a top-notch journalist who will lead the Free Press going forward,” Lovely said. “Burlington is a vibrant, engaged community and we have a newsroom that is connected to the community at all levels.”