More Homophobia in Newport Beach?

Recently, the spotlight was shown on Corona del Mar High School and the Newport-Mesa Unified School District. Unfortunately, that wasn’t for good reasons. But now, a new controversy is brewing in Newport. And this time, it involves the police department.

“It was like being back in high school. You’re either in the ‘in’ crowd or the ‘out’ crowd. The rumor mill is crazy,” testified Steven Fong, a former Newport Beach police officer now working with Huntington Beach. “I want to help people. I didn’t feel like that’s what I would be able to do in Newport … the department got in the way of that.”

Like everyone involved in the lawsuit, Fong said he was reluctant to testify against his former employer and colleagues because, working within the same county, he’s sure to bump into them.

Newport Beach, its police department and its former Chief Bob McDonell are being sued by Sgt. Neil Harvey, a 27-year veteran who claims that he has been discriminated against and not promoted because of false rumors that he is gay. [...]

Larry Lennemann, Harvey’s lawyer, sought to convince jurors that the small Newport Beach police department is a place of haves and have-nots, where loyalty trumps the truth over fear of retaliation and where getting ahead relies more on favoritism than performance.

Harvey has never been considered “one of the guys,” and is ridiculed by his superiors and subordinates alike for being too “nitpicky” in editing police reports, his lawyer said.

Think that sounds bad? Hold on, there’s more.

Much of officers’ dislike for Harvey came from the belief he was gay, his lawyers claim. Fong said co-workers gave him that impression immediately.

Sgt. John Hougan also testified about the rumor.

Hougan named 23 former and current police officers, including the current chief, who he said used homophobic slurs against Harvey or insinuated that Harvey is homosexual.

A favorite joke among officers is comparing Harvey to Lt. Jim Dangle, a fictional gay lieutenant from Comedy Central’s “Reno 9-1-1” TV show, Hougan testified.

Why is this allowed? Does Prop H8 now give folks carte blanche to discriminate? Or do we need to be more vocal in saying no to bigotry?

Don’t LGBT people in Newport Beach have a right to be protected by their police department just as much as straight people? And don’t LGBT officers working for the Newport Beach Police Department deserve the same kind of respect that straight officers automatically get? Apparently Sgt. Harvey isn’t actually gay himself, but if Sgt. Harvey’s story is true then it looks like that hasn’t prevented him from experiencing fierce homophobia in the precinct office.

Maybe if there’s one silver lining to the Prop H8 aftermath, it’s that hate can no longer hide in the closet. Whether it’s school administration that doesn’t want its students to perform plays “with homosexual content” or city police departments that would rather not protect and serve all its taxpaying residents, we need a more open discussion on the discrimination still strong in our society. And hopefully, we’ll start seeing positive change… In Newport Beach, in Orange County, statewide, and nationwide.