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Utah: Police officer says he didn’t refuse to work gay pride parade

Utah Pride Pride Festival
Utah Pride Pride Festival
Photo credit: Facebook (used with permission)

A Salt Lake City police officer, who was placed on leave after refusing to work Sunday’s gay pride parade, feels his rights were violated by the police department when the action was enforced. On Monday, an attorney for the police officer released a statement claiming the gay pride conflict defamed his client and that he didn’t refuse to work the parade.

Initially, the unnamed officer was one of 30 officers assigned to provide traffic control and security for the annual Utah Pride Parade on Sunday in Salt Lake City. After the officer reportedly refused to work the assignment, he was put on leave. Lara Jones, a spokeswoman for the department, told KSL, “We don’t tolerate bias and bigotry in the department, and assignments are assignments…To allow personal opinion to enter into whether an officer will take a post is not something that can be tolerated in a police department.”

The conflict made national news and took attention away from the actual event. The department didn’t comment on the reason the officer refused to work the parade, but his lawyer, Bret Rawson, provided some clarity on the situation. Rawson wrote in a statement, “The officer simply felt that the level of participation required in the event could be perceived as endorsing or advocating in favor of the LGBTQ community, a position which made him uncomfortable, given his personal and religious beliefs.”

He went on to say that his client “never refused to do his job” and was surprised when he was put on leave. Rawson believes the same “constitutional protections” afforded to individuals who decide to participate in the parade should’ve been extended to the police officer, who now has his career in limbo do to the media attention the conflict has endured.

The police department was an active participant at pride events on Sunday. They had a community outreach and recruitment booth at the price festival and had participants who addressed public safety issues relating to LGBT residents. Although Jones is unable to comment on the pending litigation, she told the Tribune before the pride parade festivities, “We have gay men and women that serve in the police department. One officer’s situation does not reflect the vast majority of officers that work in the Salt Lake City Police Department and certainly not [Police Chief] Chris Burbank’s.”