By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Jury selection is set to begin in the case of four firefighters who were forced to participate in the 2007 “Gay Pride” parade in San Diego. The men are suing the city saying they were forced to participate in the parade where they were subjected to sexually demeaning gestures and catcalls.
Capt. John Ghiotto, engineer Jason Hewitt and firefighters Chad Allison and Alex Kane filed a civil lawsuit alleging that their superiors forced them to attend the July 21, 2007 San Diego “Gay Pride” parade over their objections. They are being represented by the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Thomas More Law Center.
“You could not even look at the crowd without getting some kind of sexual gesture,” said one of the firefighters in a Law Center press release issued shortly after the event. “If any crew member were to hang up pictures at the station of what we saw, we would be disciplined.”
During the parade, the firefighters “were subjected to vile sexual taunts from homosexuals lining the parade route,” said the press release. Some bystanders went so far as to expose themselves to the firefighters as they passed by.
The men allege that they were told the day before the parade that they would be expected to participate. When they objected, they were threatened with disciplinary action.
According to an article appearing in the California Catholic Daily, the San Diego Fire Department has since adopted a new policy providing that only volunteers would be used to represent it in special events. The new policy says the department will seek unpaid volunteers to drive trucks at all special events. If no one volunteers, the department will then ask for paid volunteers, who would receive four hours of overtime pay.
“What happened to these dedicated public servants was inexcusable,” the firefighters’ attorney, Charles LiMandri, told the Daily. “The city should have known from past experience the kind of offensive activities that go on at this event. This was a clear case of sexual harassment in violation of state and federal law as well as the city’s own code of conduct.”
San Diego City Attorney Michael Aguirre, who has said he will personally represent the city during trial, told the San Diego Gay & Lesbian Times the parade “is a positive, joyous event, and not inherently sexual” and that the objectionable conduct about which the firefighters complained was “isolated and minimal.”
LiMandri, commenting to the San Diego Union-Tribune , said the firefighters’ supervisors were already aware from past parades of the kind of conduct to expect from parade-goers, but still insisted the four participate anyway.
“These guys were bombarded with hundreds of sexual advances,” LiMandri told the newspaper. He added, “You can’t force an employee to be in a political event.”
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