A Christian legal group is representing four San Diego firefighters in their legal claims against the city after they were allegedly ordered against their wishes to participate in the city's annual "Gay Pride" parade.
"These firefighters dedicated their lives to save the lives of others. They did not sign on to become unwilling props to a controversial political and social agenda," stated Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center (TMLC), which the four fighters have retained legal counsel from.
On July 20, the four firefighters in question – Fire Capt. John Ghiotto, Engineer Jason Hewett and firefighters Chad Allison and Alex Kane – were told by their superiors that they would be participating in the parade.
"This is a fun event," stated Fire Chief Tracy Jarman, who is an open lesbian, according to TMLC.
Although Jarman reportedly said all employees were "encouraged" to participate, when the firefighters objected to the order to drive the fire truck down the parade route, they were threatened with disciplinary action.
"'Participation' should be a voluntary act," argued Brian Rooney, an attorney and director of communications at TMLC, in a released statement. "[T]hese four firefighters had no choice in the matter and that is wrong no matter what one's sexual orientation."
In following their orders, the four firefighters were then subjected to three hours of vulgar sexual harassment by homosexual parade-goers who exposed their genitalia, mimicked sex acts and yelled obscenities at the four men.
"Even the homosexual community should be outraged and ashamed of the sexual harassment these firemen were forced to endure," Rooney added.
"To say that this parade was sexually charged is an understatement," commented Matt Barber, Concerned Women for America (CWA)'s policy director for cultural issues, in a statement.
Although most local papers reporting on the parade made no mention of the lewd and offensive behavior that characterized the parade, Barber noted that the event and other events like it "are simply pagan celebrations of hedonism and sexual deviancy."
Penny Harrington, director of legislation for CWA of California, expressed similar sentiments and said, "Simply put, the 'Pride' events are purely sexual in nature. Standard civic festivals like holiday parades do not include public nudity, fetishes and other fare inappropriate for the general public."
TMLC West Coast Director Charles LiMandri, who is representing the four firefighters, said what happened to them was "inexcusable" and that the city of San Diego should have known from past experience the kind of offensive activities that go on at the 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," the San Diego area attorney said in a statement.
Thompson, meanwhile, expressed sympathy for the men for not just what they had to endure during the parade, but also the shame they might have felt afterwards.
"These men should not have to explain to their families, friends and church congregations that their presence at a celebration of lewdness and obscenity in support of the homosexual agenda was because they were forced there by way of a direct order," the TMLC president stated.
"This is a clear violation of their constitutional rights, and the City must be held accountable. It should never happen again to any city employee."
According to The Associated Press, the firefighters' lawyers sent a letter Wednesday to the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing seeking right-to-sue notices, a first step toward a lawsuit.
Fire Chief Jarman issued a statement Monday saying she apologized to the men and planned to have the city's Equal Employment Investigative Office look into their complaints.
She said the fire department has participated in community parades and festivals, including 15 years at the gay pride parade, without a sexual harassment complaint.