Editor’s Note: WARNING – Some content in this article is graphic.
Firefighters John Ghiotto, Chad Allison, Jason Hewitt and Alexander Kane
Four San Diego firefighters who claim they suffered sexual harassment when they were ordered by the city to participate in an obscenity-laden “gay” pride parade in 2007 are going to trial for a second time, and their attorney says this time he’ll seek to introduce photographic evidence of the illegal public sex at the event.
The firefighters are John Ghiotto, Chad Allison, Jason Hewitt and Alexander Kane and they filed a complaint after being ordered to participate in the July 21, 2007, parade promoting homosexuality and explicit sex.
“These men were sexually harassed in clear violation of San Diego’s sexual harassment code,” LiMandri said. “Further, the California Constitution’s freedom of speech provision prohibits compelled speech. What the firefighters were ordered to do was endorse what goes on at this parade through their participation in it.”
On a blog for a defense fund assembled for the firefighters, LiMandri said eight of the 12 jurors in the first trial this past fall agreed that the case documented sexual harassment, but that was one short of the necessary nine jurors.
“The city of San Diego subjected these firefighters to sexual harassment rather than take reasonable steps to prevent it as the law requires,” he said. “When these four firefighters requested to be excused from participating in the 2007 San Diego Gay Pride Parade, their request was denied by their superiors.”
Participant in 2006 San Diego Pride Festival
LiMandri said the firefighters had expressed concerns before the parade about the sexual harassment prevalent there and said they did not want to appear to be endorsing homosexuality, which violated their own religious beliefs.
Instead of recognizing the concerns, the city “informed my clients that if they did not march, they could face disciplinary action.”
“I maintain that the decision by the city of San Diego forced these four firefighters to march in a parade that clearly offended their deeply held religious beliefs,” LiMandri said. “This decision violated their freedom of religion and freedom of speech. Even though the city has purportedly changed its policy of using volunteers it has never admitted any wrongdoing. I believe it should be the private decision of an employee whether to march in a gay pride parade, not the decision of a city.”
He said the rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion are at stake in the case.
“The majority of jurors thought that we had made a strong sexual harassment case but the four ‘naysayers,’ as they were called, kept splitting hairs on obvious issues so as to hang the jury,” he said. “We have also received some helpful feedback from the jury that should aid us in our presentation of the case next time. Therefore, we are optimistic about the result on the retrial of this issue which is now scheduled for January 16, 2009.”
LiMandri said a second claim, for retaliation, was brought late in the case on behalf of one of the firefighters who was up for a promotion to captain. The promotion process was continued after the legal claim was raised.
He said the October trial left disturbing results, including a judge’s ruling that the firefighters’ freedom of speech was not violated.
“This was the case even though the courts have consistently held that participation in a gay pride parade is a form of constitutionally protected expressive conduct, and the right to speak on a controversial public issue includes the right not to be compelled to speak,” he said.
San Diego Fire Chief Tracy Jarman is an open lesbian
“What the trial court essentially ruled is that government employees do not have the same level of constitutional protection as private citizens when it comes to exercising free speech rights on public issues on the job,” LiMandri said. “Remarkably, the court further ruled that the firefighters’ personal beliefs about what goes on at the Gay Pride Parade are not a matter of public interest and thus enjoy no constitutional protection. According to this reasoning, any government employee can be ordered against their will to participate in any gay pride parade – even if it offends their sincerely held religious beliefs as devout Christians, Jews, or Muslims.”
Ghiotto, a captain at the time, said he suggested to supervisors that volunteers be used for the parade, but instead officials ordered him to take a crew.
“While moving down the parade route we were subjected to verbal abuse, (show me your hose, you can put out my fire, give me mouth to mouth, flick you fireman) sexual gestures, (showing their penis, blowing kisses, grabbing their crotch, rubbing their nipples, tongue gestures, flipping us off),” Ghiotto reported in a statement.
San Diego’s fire chief, Tracy Jarman, is an open lesbian who called the parade a “fun event” in which “all employees are encouraged to participate.”
“We were subject to this type of abuse and more throughout the parade route. You could not even look at the crowd without getting some type of sexual gesture. Even the Christian protesters were giving us grief for being a part of this. The experience left me feeling humiliated, embarrassed and offended,” Ghiotto said.
“If any of my crew or I were to hang up pictures at the station of what we saw, we would be disciplined!” he said.
LiMandri said the first trial judge banned the introduction of photographs of public sex, nudity and indecency from the parade. But the judge allowed the opposing side to present information about various officials participating as well as photographs of antique cars used in the event.
LiMandri told WND the original judge’s restrictions on evidence were severe and he would be battling if a new judge who will hear the case again would limit the information presented by the firefighters.
Especially of concern are the photographs assembled by the firefighters to document the public nudity, indecency and sex acts during the event.
He also said he will focus the testimony on the assault on the firefighters and not let the arguments turn to any issues of the “gay” community.
“That has nothing to do with this case,” LiMandri told WND.
According to published reports, one of the jurors, Helene Matthews, reported most of the jury felt there was sexual harassment, but the minority “dug in from the get-go and were not willing to change their minds.”
“Whether you’re gay, whether you’re straight, whatever, none of us should have to go into the workplace and be subjected to things that go against our morals,” Matthews told reporters at the time.