BY Advocate Contributors
March 09 2010 9:00 AM ET
When 22-year-old Michael Verdugo performed in a gay bondage flick called Rope Rituals in 1996, there was no XTube or Facebook. But when the out Hollywood, Fla., police officer became a contestant on HGTV’s Design Star in 2008, times had changed. Word spread quickly about Verdugo’s onetime X-rated role, and he was placed on administrative leave before ultimately being fired in January 2009 after eight years on the force. Verdugo challenged his termination, and an “an 80-year-old Republican” arbitrator recently upheld the police force’s decision, but he's planning a lawsuit. Now 35 and an interior designer, Verdugo spoke to The Advocate about “the fight of his life.”
Before news of the movie came out, you filed a successful antigay harassment claim against your HPD superior. Did that play a role in your firing?
The work environment changed after that; I made a complaint on a well-liked supervisor. From that day, my fate was sealed.
The HPD claims you were fired because you didn’t mention the movie on your job application. What’s your response?
I also forgot to put down on my application that I worked at a gym for three months. They found that out, and it was OK. If they found out I was in Hamlet and didn’t bring it up when hired, we wouldn’t be here right now.
So it’s simply about homophobia?
If it were a straight porn, I wouldn’t have been fired. The fact that it was bondage and gay freaked them out.
What’s the status of the suit?
I’m meeting with Lambda Legal, and I have the Democratic Party behind me in the state of Florida. We’re all getting together to file suit.