By Kathleen Gilbert

SAN DIEGO, September 22, 2008 ( – Four San Diego firefighters who were commanded against their wills to drive a fire truck in the city’s “gay pride” parade, where they were subjected to explicit sexual advances, are now suing city officials for sexual harassment and violation of free-speech rights.

Tracy Jarman, the openly lesbian fire chief of the San Diego Fire Department, admitted in her testimony on Thursday that the environment the firefighters were subjected to “could be construed as sexual harassment.”  The four firefighters (John Ghiotto, Jason Hewitt, Alex Kane and Chad Allison) say they found the sexually explicit environment at the parade so vulgar and disturbing that each of them sought therapy after the event, Jarman testified.

One firefighter said, “You could not even look at the crowd without getting some type of sexual gesture,” adding, “If any crew member were to hang up pictures at the station of what we saw, we would be disciplined.” 

Charles LiMandri, attorney and West Coast director of the Thomas More Law Center representing the firefighters, believes the city should have known from past experience, “the kind of offensive activities that go on at this event,” which in this case involved X-rated catcalls, genital exposure, and simulated sex acts between two men. (See article

Assistant Chief Jeff Carle, who had ordered the firefighters to join the parade, testified Thursday that he, too, could see how the parade would offend.  He defended his actions, saying, “I was faced with not having an engine in the pride parade. I didn’t think it would be proper to be absent in that parade when we’re present in almost every other one.”

But the four firefighters are arguing that, unlike other parades, their forced participation in the “gay pride” parade constituted a violation of their First Amendment rights, since by attending they appeared to condone and support the largely political homosexual agenda. 

Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, said, “These firefighters dedicated their lives to save the lives of others. They did not sign on to become unwilling props to a controversial political and social agenda.”

Carle also testified that when the firefighters met with firehouse officials to draft a new policy preventing similar future incidents, Javier Mainar, the department’s other assistant chief, accused them of being hypocritical, saying they were only upset because it was men making the sexual advances, and not women.

The trial is scheduled to continue today.

See related coverage:

San Diego Firefighters Forced to Participate in “Gay Pride” Parade File Lawsuit Against City

Victory for San Diego Firefighters: No Longer Forced to Drive in Gay Parade