A former Salt Lake City police officer who was put on leave and later resigned after he objected to riding in the motorcycle brigade at the front of a gay-pride parade spoke out for his religious rights.
“I felt that by being an actual participant in the parade, I would be perceived to be supporting certain messages that were contrary to who I am,” Eric Moutsos told the Deseret News. “I will protect their parade. But I just don’t want to be in the parade.”
In June 2014, the Salt Lake City Motorcycle Squad was assigned to participate in the Utah Pride Parade, performing choreographed maneuvers as they led the parade route. Eric Moutsos, a member of the exclusive unit, was scheduled to ride but requested to swap assignments because he felt uncomfortable in the role at the front of the parade.
Moutsos, a 33-year-old Mormon, sent an internal email asking to be reassigned to traffic duty, but his request was denied. Moutsos said he then conceded that he would ride in the parade, but two days later was put on leave. The story became public after police issued a news release stating an unnamed officer had been put on leave for refusing the gay-pride parade assignment. Gay rights supporters immediately labeled the officer a bigot, and the story became worldwide news. Moutsos quit a short time later, believing he could no longer work in Salt Lake City.
At first, Moutsos wanted to remain anonymous. But he recently changed his mind due to the Utah legislature’s debate over a bill to balance anti-discrimination rights with religious freedoms.
“These issues need to be addressed. There are so many good people, no matter what it is you believe,” Moutsos told Deseret News. “I think what’s happened here is that we’re just getting more divisive on this issue. [Some might say] just because you may disagree with somebody means that you hate them. And that’s just not true. Because I love people. I’ll take a bullet for you. I’ll protect you. But I will not advocate certain things in people’s lives.”
Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank said he stood behind his decision to put Moutsos on leave and faulted Moutsos for resigning before internal affairs investigators had the chance to resolve the issue.
“It has nothing to do with religious freedom, that has to do with the hatred of those individuals and what the parade stands for, which is about unity and coming together,” Burbanks said. “How can I then send that officer out to a family fight that involves a gay couple or a lesbian walking down the street?”
But Moutsos said he was offended by the notion that he would treat gays and lesbians differently as an officer. He said he has several gay and lesbian friends and worked security at gay and lesbian events in the past. The Los Angeles Times noted that Moutsos made local headlines in 2009 for his positive handling of an incident involving two gay men who were detained for kissing at Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City.
“We can 100 percent disagree and still 100 percent love,” Moutsos said.
— by Sarah Padbury