- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 4, 2015

As a police officer, Eric Moutsos had no problem with working security at a gay-rights parade, but he did have a problem with kicking off the festivities by performing a choreographed routine as part of the department’s motorcycle squad.

As a result, Mr. Moutsos is no longer employed by the Salt Lake City Police Department. He resigned last year after the department ordered him to turn in his badge and his firearm in June, then placed him on administrative leave, for raising objections to the assignment.

In an interview with The Washington Times, Mr. Moutsos said he hasn’t changed his mind about the department’s role in the parade.

“It looks like we’re doing a type of a celebration in front of the parade,” Mr. Moutsos said. “I didn’t feel OK with being in front of that parade. And I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade, I simply didn’t want to be in one.”

After seven years on the force, he said he had often come to the aid of members of the local gay community. But as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he was uncomfortable with the message he would have sent by performing in front of the Utah Pride Parade.

“I’d feel the same way if this were an abortion parade. Even though it’s legal, I just ask not to be in front of the parade. But I will protect it,” Mr. Moutsos said.

He added, “I’ve protected the LGBT community several times, and I love them. I have no ill will or feelings toward anybody in the LGBT community, even the ones people are calling me a bigot. But I cannot advocate some of their messages.”

The 33-year-old father of four has since found a job elsewhere, but he said he was inspired to speak out for the first time last week after seeing similar cases involving florists, photographers and bakers who have been punished for refusing to provide services for same-sex weddings.

He’s hoping the Utah state legislature addresses the issue. Legislators in several states, including Arkansas, Colorado and Utah, have introduced bills this year aimed at finding a balance between religious-freedom rights with anti-discrimination laws.

Mr. Moutsos also said he’d like to set the record straight. After he was placed on leave in June, at least one media outlet reported — incorrectly, he says — that he had refused to work traffic control at the parade. Then a police spokesman told reporters that Chief Chris Burbank “wants to make clear that bias and bigotry will not be tolerated,” according to KSL-TV in Salt Lake City.

“They said they will not tolerate bigotry and bias. And they also said that it was a traffic post. So the way that it looked was that I didn’t want to protect someone who’s gay — which is false,” Mr. Moutsos said. “I will take a bullet for them.”

When he was assigned to the motorcycle squad, Mr. Moutsos said he told his supervisors he would perform in the parade if ordered but raised objections. A supervisor told him that the squad would be required to perform because the organizers had paid the standard $900 fee.

“At that point, I said, ‘So would we have to do this for any group that pays us $900?’ And he said, ‘Yeah,’ ” Mr. Moutsos said. “And so that’s when I used an extreme example — I’m not comparing it to the LGBT community — I said, ‘What if the Westboro Baptist Church or the KKK paid us money? How do we now have a leg to stand on?’ “

Mr. Moutsos said he then asked if a black officer would be required to perform motorcycle maneuvers in a Ku Klux Klan parade, but received no response.

“They didn’t have anything to say to me. And that’s when I said, ‘I don’t think the police should be [performing] in any of these parades. We need to be neutral because it looks like we won’t be able to say ‘no’ to any group, because — based on what? Based on feelings? Where’s your principle?’ ” Mr. Moutsos said.

He swapped posts with another officer who was assigned to work traffic safety for the parade. About an hour later, however, he says officers received an email saying there would be no trading, which shocked him.

“Trades are in our policy. We were allowed to trade even in that particular event, even in the pride parade,” Mr. Moutsos said. “People had already traded out of the day. There were some officers that got out of the parade that day. They just didn’t say why, but I was the one who said why.”

Since he had spoken up, he believes the department made him an example. It was a day he’ll never forget. “They took me home and they took all my equipment, and I was crying, my kids were crying, my wife was crying. And I felt like a criminal,” he said.

Chief Burbank did not return a message asking for comment, but he told KSL-TV last week that he stands by his decision.

“I will not tolerate bias, bigotry or hatred in the organization,” he said. “In order to be a police officer, you are to do the duties as assigned. And those duties cover a broad range of activities.”

“With police officers — and this is the problem across the nation right now — you have to be able to do your job and set your personal feelings aside in order to equally distribute law enforcement and good will from the police department no matter where you are in this country, to every individual regardless of their religion, their race, their creeds, what gender they are or what sexual orientation they might be,” Chief Burbank said.

Mr. Moutsos has since hired an attorney, Bret W. Rawson of Salt Lake City, but hasn’t decided whether to sue the department.

“Eric has made it clear that he wants to unite people, and obviously there are those that are interested in him filing a lawsuit, but at the end of the day, this has to be his decision and he’ll only do it if he feels like it’s the right thing to do,” Mr. Rawson said.

Since his story went public last week, Mr. Moutsos said he’s been heartened by some positive messages left for him on Facebook, including some from gay people.

“I’ve gotten a lot of support through my Facebook page from people who are gay around the country who have sent me private messages saying, ‘Not all gay people feel this way,’ ” Mr. Moutsos said.

“I think that needs to be said, that what’s happening is there’s a division. Not everybody who’s gay thinks the cake-maker or the florist or the fire chief or the policeman should be out of work,” he said. “They don’t feel that way. But that’s what the narrative is, and that’s what’s dividing our country further.”

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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