- The Washington Times - Friday, August 10, 2007

San Diego firefighters who say they were forced to participate in a “gay pride” parade and verbally abused during it are charging their department with sexual harassment.

The four men say they faced disciplinary action if they did not follow the “direct order” to drive a fire engine while in uniform as part of the parade last month.

Capt. John Ghiotto, in a written complaint to the city’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing, said that “you could not even look at the crowd without getting some type of sexual gesture.”

A lawyer representing the firefighters said they were ordered against their wishes to participate in the three-hour parade, and were subjected to sexual taunts and obscene gestures from people lining the parade route. When the firemen refused to respond to the remarks, some in the crowd turned hostile and began shouting obscenities.

“If any of my crew or I were to hang up pictures at the station of what we saw, we would be disciplined,” Capt. Ghiotto said.



“The experience left me feeling humiliated, embarrassed and offended by this event,” he said. “These unsolicited and unwanted behaviors from a few individuals of the public towards us reduced our morale as well as the integrity of the workplace and destroyed our professionalism.”

The firefighters were also protested by conservative Christians when they returned to their station after the parade.

“This really struck deep because I am a Christian,” said firefighter Alex Kane. “I felt this was not fair because I do not live in an alternative lifestyle. I was ordered by my department to be in this parade against my own wishes and beliefs.”

A San Diego Fire Department spokesman declined to comment to The Washington Times, saying the matter could be litigated.

But in a statement to Fox News, San Diego Fire Chief Tracy Jarman said she apologized to the men. Chief Jarman, who is lesbian, said she is “deeply concerned and troubled by the allegations” and said all sexual harassment is “unacceptable, and is never tolerated.”

Chief Jarman said she will have the city”s Equal Employment Investigative Office review the complaint, which she called the first filed against the department over involvement in a parade or festival.

The firefighters are being represented by Charles LiMandri, the West Coast director of the Thomas More Law Center, a Christian public-interest law firm that offers free legal representation.

“What happened to these dedicated public servants was inexcusable,” said Mr. LiMandri, a San Diego lawyer. “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.”

Brian Rooney, spokesman for the law center, said the city’s employment department must approve the firefighters’ “right to sue” request before they can begin civil litigation in the courts.

“They are all husbands, many of them fathers, and they are all Christians who had to answer to their wives and their children and their congregations,” Mr. Rooney said.

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