Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Last week a jury determined that four San Diego firefighters who were ordered to participate in a 2007 Gay Pride parade had been sexually harassed.

The four were awarded a total of $34,300 in damages—a figure that clearly suggests a “separate and unequal” calculus when it comes to harassment of straight employees by a sexually demonstrative crowd. One can hardly imagine any jury coming up with figures of this diminutive size if the roles were reversed—if, for example, four gay firefighters had been subjected, because of department orders, to demeaning taunts from an unsympathetic crowd.

Still, a positive verdict for the plaintiffs is better than no verdict at all—as was the case last October when another jury fell one vote short of the required nine votes to sustain a harassment verdict.

Plaintiff’s attorney Charles LiMandri also noted that a judicial ruling in the earlier trial had found that the firefighters’ freedom of speech hadn’t been violated—“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.”

According to plaintiff John Ghiotto, the firefighters (who had all objected to their last-minute assignment to this public relations “duty”) were subjected to verbal abuse and sexual gestures throughout the parade route—the most explicit of which exceeded even crotch-grabbing and requests for mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

Elsewhere in California’s culture wars, a student at Los Angeles City College, Jonathan Lopez, is suing a professor, John Matteson, for allegedly calling him a “fascist bastard” in class and not allowing him to finish a speech in favor of Proposition 8.

The incident took place in a public speaking class shortly after the November vote in favor of the constitutional amendment that defined marriage in California as between a man and a woman. According to Lopez, the speech professor also informed him that he should “ask God what your grade is.”

Lopez is being represented by the Alliance Defense Fund, a group that, alongside the Thomas More Law Center, represented the San Diego firefighters. In a letter to ADF a school dean observed that two students were “deeply offended” by Lopez’s speech and that one of them said, “this student should have to pay some price for preaching hate in the classroom.”

Lopez is reportedly asking for a jury trial—a good idea in view of the emerging gap between public sentiment and the views of our black-robed betters when it comes to matters like marriage, freedom of speech, and sexual harassment.

For many of California’s judicial legislators freedom of speech and sexual harassment are one-way streets. Maximum latitude is allowed to groups with “victim” status, whereas individuals without this prestigious moniker must carefully observe the “do not offend” signs erected by “victims.”

All awards, of course, (even those for only $34,300) are subject to judicial review.

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