A Cleveland firefighter is currently under investigation for hateful comments he made on a viral Humans of New York Facebook photograph of a 13-year-old gay boy crying, reports the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Guy Estergall, a 26-year firefighting veteran, saw the photo this week along with hundreds of thousands of others on Facebook. But unlike the majority of commenters — including Hillary Clinton and Ellen DeGeneres — he didn't have kind words to offer the teen, who's quoted as saying, "I'm homosexual and I'm afraid about what my future will be and that people won't like me."
"The kid needs psychiatric help, he's delusional," wrote Estergall among over 60,000 other comments. "We need to find a cure for his kind!"
When other commenters disagreed with Estergall, the Plain Dealer reports that he got into a heated discussion where he claimed that the "overwhelming majority" of pedophiles are gay. "You're mentally ill just like the kid and the rest of the homosexuals and their supporters," he chided his dissenters.
The Cleveland Fire Department has now launched an investigation to determine if Estergall's comments violated the department's social media policy, according to spokesman Larry Gray. "This type of action, these types of statements, are unacceptable and we will not tolerate things like this," he explained to Cleveland news station WEWS.
Estergall in't the only Cleveland first-responder whose questionable social media content is catching heat. Last week, a Cleveland police sergeant made anti-Muslim statements on Twitter, prompting an investigation, according to the Plain Dealer. That investigation hinges on on whether the sergeant's comments "reasonably tend[ed] to diminish the esteem" of his department or its personnel "in the eyes of the public."
But Estergall says he wasn't representing himself as a firefighter or public employee when he expressed his "opinion" that all gay people have mental disabilities, and says it does not affect his work. Speaking with the Plain Dealer, Estergall was incredulous:
"Do you think I go into a fire and say, 'excuse me, what's your sexual orientation?' Seriously? I couldn't care less about someone's sexual orientation. It means about as much to me as someone's eye color or whether or not they have five fingers on their left hand. It means the same to me when I'm at work."
Members of the public have expressed skepticism that it's possible for Estergall to leave his homophobia at the door, notes the Plain Dealer. LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland director Phyllis Harris summed up a sentiment repeated by several commenters who have now called for Estergall to be thoroughly investigated or even lose his job, saying in a statement:
"The inflammatory and offensive anti-gay comments made by Cleveland Fireman Guy Estergall ... call to question his ability to serve without bias. As a public servant, Mr. Estergall's professional duties demand compassionate and appropriate responses when assisting all community memberes in need."
The Community Center's concerns might prove further justified by the fact that this week's incident is not the first time Estergall has publicly made homophobic comments. At least once prior, he claimed that all gay people are "sick and twisted" in March comments on a Human Rights Campaign Facebook post, the New York Daily News uncovered. Estergall explained to the newspaper that his beliefs come from religious conviction and the former psychiatric description of homosexuality as a "mental illness," that was officially changed in 1974.
Estergall continues to carry out his regular duties as a Cleveland firefighter and has currently not received any formal reprimand.