And Now This Message from your Local Fire Department – You’re Gunna Burn
August 7th, 2007
The City of San Diego, like most major metropolitan cities, sends a presence from its civic institutions to the various cultural events that occur throughout the city’s diverse communities. Cities have long known that this builds goodwill and trust and helps with overall crime prevention and city management.
One such cultural event is the annual gay pride parade, in which the San Diego Fire Department has participated for the past 15 years. Generally these events are enjoyed by the fire crew involved and is staffed by volunteer basis. This was also the case this year until the crew backed out on the last day due to a family death.
Rather than cancel their participation, the department directed the local unit located in Hillcrest to drive the truck in the parade.
“At the last minute the crew in that community was asked to step up and represent our agency in the parade,” [Fire department spokesman Maurice Luque] said. “We have a responsibility and we take it seriously to participate in these parades.”
This did not sit well with the firemen so ordered and they are now threatening a lawsuit. They claim that they were subjected to catcalls and that they were heckled when they refused to be friendly or respond to the crowd. While harassment is the purported reason for the objections of the fire crew, anti-gay bias seems to be the more evident cause reflected in comments by engineer Jason Hewitt:
“I was forced into a situation that would compromise what I hold true and what I believe in”
Those unfamiliar with the beautiful city of San Diego may not know that Hillcrest is “the gay part of town”. It’s similar to West Hollywood or to Greenwich Village or Chicago’s Boystown. Any firefighters working out of that station would have to assume that a great many of the citizens they serve and with whom they need to maintain relations are gay and lesbian.
But their attorney, Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center (an extremist anti-gay law group), described the event as “celebration of lewdness and obscenity in support of the homosexual agenda” and full of “debauchery“. They even (gasp) had to see “men hugging and kissing one another passionately”.
The message sent to the gay citizens of the Hillcrest district is clear: your local firefighters, those who will be called upon to save your life and property, despise you and think you are lewd, debased, and obscene. They consider your quest for liberty and equality to be “an agenda” and they consider waving at you to be beneath them. They want nothing to do with the local inhabitants and consider it a compromise to what they hold true to drive a fire truck in your midst.
This stunt by these fire fighters and their gadfly counsel has seriously harmed the relationship between the fire department and the residents of Hillcrest and indeed all of the gay and gay supportive citizens of the city. Frankly, if I lived there I would not be sure that a call for help would result in a reasonable response and I certainly would not expect any acts of bravery from fire fighters who think I belong in the flames of Hell.
UPDATE: as it turns out the fire crew would not have been able to avoid the parade in any case. The fire house is directly on the parade route.
The Union-Tribune has a copy of the EEO complaint made by the firemen. It seems they felt they needed a “crisis intervention team” to deal with their offended sensibilities. It is also quite clear that contrary to the claims of their counsel, none of their objections arose from the events of the parade but rather because they were required to participate at all. The “offense” was not based on the behavior of the citizens but because they had to go to a gay event.
“I asked Captain Ghiotto if he expressed my concerns to him and he stated I told him how we all felt and that Chief Pollard knows that afterwards that we are all going to write paper on this issue”.
The complaint is worth reading. It’s a montage of homophobia, gay panic, and assumed privelege. It’s clear to me that the complaining individuals believe they should not have to be subjected to the existence of gay persons – even in Hillcrest. The most obvious or innocuous of calls (“Hey, Honey”, or “look at the big firemen”) were viewed as insults, affronts, or harassment. And when they were blatantly rude to those watching the parade, they still felt entitled to deference from them.
Each of them were “offended” by the anti-gay protesters. Not because the protesters were angry, accusatory, or offensive in their treatment of gay people but rather because the firemen weren’t gay and therefore didn’t deserve to be lectured.
Had they been friendly or waved at the people who pay their salary, they might have had a different experience. Few citizens respond well to hostility and arrogance from city employees.
Having read their complaints, that final sliver of sympathy I felt for them has now melted away.