March 25 2010 7:05 PM ET
If the allegations in a sexual orientation discrimination lawsuit against a Northern California police department are true, even the numerical code for a police station security gate had antigay significance.
In February three Roseville, Calif., police officers filed suit against the city of Roseville and its police department, alleging harassment based on sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation. Observers say the charges are hardly exceptional in a profession historically hostile to minorities, women, and gays serving within the ranks.
Though only one of the officers in the suit self-identifies as gay, all three claim to have worked in a pervasively homophobic environment overseen by a police chief who has ignored the abuse — and has retaliated against those who have spoken out against it.
In a response to the complaint this week — and in subsequent comments to local media outlets — city officials slammed the suit as the result of unspecified personal agendas and categorically denied the allegations, which include a department captain setting a numerical gate code at the station to read “13-69” — a joke apparently meaning “unlucky cocksucker.”
“There’s just a culture of permissiveness. If somebody has an antigay ideology, they can and will say things that are really offensive, and they are never called on it,” says Darin DeFreece, a plaintiff in the case who oversees the department’s detectives unit. “So was I going to stick my head in the sand? I’ve never felt like I was the type of person who needs to champion a cause, but in this certain situation it was the right thing to do.”
DeFreece joined the department in 2000, was promoted to sergeant in 2005, and remains in his position. He said the harassment directed at him over the past several years has long been the result of questions regarding his own sexual orientation (DeFreece is married to a woman but describes his orientation as “fluid”) as well as his defense of a police scene technician who is not out at work but is known to have a partner who works in another police department.
The harassment became intolerable after co-plaintiff Kenneth Marler, a friend and colleague of DeFreece’s, joined the force in 2005 and immediately became a target. “I was in a workout room when a sergeant, who is a named defendant in this case, was complaining to a group of officers that we had a ‘fag’ coming to the department,” DeFreece says. “I was stunned. I had taken a few digs prior to that, but I could deal with it.”
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