Monday, October 18, 2010

Court Sides with Fire Fighters Forced to March in San Diego Pride Parade

In 2007 a group of San Diego City fire fighters were ordered to participate in the annual Pride parade through the city's Hillcrest neighborhood, the center of the LGBT community. The firemen sued the city, claiming they were given no choice about taking part in the event and were subjected to sexual harassment and witnessed several incidents of sexually suggestive activity. The San Diego Chronicle reports:
The firefighters testified during the trial that the parade experience left them with headaches, anxiety, irritable bowel syndrome and other stress-related symptoms. They also testified that they were subjected to catcalls and saw barely clothed men simulate sex acts along the route on University Avenue in Hillcrest, which is home to a large gay population.
In 2009 a jury awarded plaintiffs John Ghiotto, Chad Allison, Jason Hewitt and Alexander Kane $34,300 in damages. The City filed an appeal and on Friday a judge again found in favor of the plaintiffs. According to the San Diego Chronicle, the city has not decided whether to appeal the ruling.

In the three years since the incident took place, attitudes have changed. At first the LGBT community was outraged and hurled accusations of homophobia. Since then, there have been bigger fish to fry, like overturning Prop 8, fighting to get Hate Crimes and ENDA passed and working to end DADT and DOMA. What strikes me about the coverage of this story is that there has been no emotionally charged reaction one way or the other about the judge's ruling.

Maybe the lack of outrage indicates a maturing of our community. Gone are the days when knee-jerk reactions are enough to call attention to our cause. Maybe as our community becomes more accepted in mainstream society, we've gotten to the point where we can step back and see ourselves with a little more perspective.

The suit brought by the firemen was charged with homophobia and claims of religious persecution. The men were represented by The Alliance Defense Fund, a group the Chronicle describes as a "legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith."

The bottom line for me is that regardless of your religious beliefs or whwere you stand on equality, you should have the right to "opt in" or "opt out" of an event like this. The City of San Diego changed their policy in 2008 so that participation of city employees in the annual Pride parade is now voluntary.

The city certainly tried to do the right thing by being supportive of its LGBT citizens, but it had no right to make it mandatory for these men to take part in something they found objectionable. While it may still be hard to accept, men can be the victims of sexual harassment and let's face it, sometimes we go a little too far in showing our Pride, especially in some of our larger cities. Even though the laundry list of symptoms the men complained of sounds contrived, the judgment in this case was the correct one.  
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