• Four real estate brokers were fired from Coldwell Banker for their participation in a community calendar shoot in Glastonbury, Connecticut.
  • The controversy surrounds the involvement of a young boy in the calendar cover photo who stood nearly undressed holding a "Sold" sign.
  • The lesson for real estate agents may be the classic tale of "better safe than sorry" when it comes to public presentation.

There are some things in life that are categorically never a good idea. Hitting “reply all” before you’ve had time to cool off. Having too much to drink at a work party. Loading up your plate with garlic on a first date.

And as (former) Coldwell Banker real estate brokers in Connecticut learned the hard way — including a nearly unclothed small boy on the cover of a 2016 community calendar titled “Men of Glastonbury Chamber.”

Of course, selling calendars featuring shirtless (fully adult) dudes is nothing new and, in the eyes of the vast majority, also a fun and harmless endeavor. Take this article on “the most stunning 2016 calendar you’ve ever seen” filled with risqué photos of French firemen, which racked up more than 3 million likes. Many serve as fundraisers for a good cause, and the Glastonbury offering (a tradition that began in 2013) raises money for the local chamber.

“If the kid hadn’t been in the pic, it wouldn’t have raised any eyebrows,” said Rhonda Limpert Woods in a Facebook group discussing the controversy. “Firefighters, cops and even old ladies do these kinds of calendars all the time.”

But the Family Institute of Connecticut took issue with the portrayal of the strategically posed boy standing amid four muscular brokers, each holding a sign with classic real estate callouts: “For Sale,” “Coming Soon” — you get the idea. The sign held in front of the child’s waist read, “Sold.”

Untitled

A photo from the calendar.

Before the voices of dissent began to emerge, an article by the Hartford Courant reported that the calendar had the stamp of approval from the chamber president, Mary Ellen Dombrowski, who thought “the shots were tastefully done” despite showing men in “various stages of undress.”

The controversy mostly surrounds what the cover imagery suggests, even if it was produced with lighthearted intentions. Later the Courant also reported that the boy was wearing a bathing suit at the time the photo was taken, and that his father was one of the men pictured.

“It is exceptionally creepy to have the little boy in this photo, and it is not appropriate, IMHO [in my honest opinion], for a business calendar,” Melanie Jackson McLane added to the Facebook commentary.

In an Associated Press news video, members of the community share their somewhat varied opinions on the subject, with the phrases “crossing a line” and “inappropriate” painting a picture of the dissenting perspective.

One woman indicated that, while she didn’t personally take major offense to the display, she could see why others might be concerned.

Perhaps that’s where the biggest lesson lies for agents and brokers presented with comparable opportunities in the future — even some that may seem less egregious on the surface. Perception is reality. It doesn’t matter whether you find something to be humorous and inoffensive. What’s public is fair game, and the Internet is entirely unforgiving.

Email Caroline Feeney.

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