California lifeguard sues over Pride flag at beaches

Lifeguard facilities around Los Angeles are among the public buildings that supervisors say must display the Pride flag during June (Mark RALSTON)
Lifeguard facilities around Los Angeles are among the public buildings that supervisors say must display the Pride flag during June (Mark RALSTON)

A California lifeguard who took down LGBTQ Pride flags because he did not want to work "in these conditions" is suing his employers claiming religious discrimination.

The lawsuit comes just days before Pride month, which begins Saturday, when public facilities in California routinely fly the multi-colored flag.

It also comes as the United States gears up for a contentious presidential election in which issues that fall under so-called "culture wars", like gay and transgender rights and reproductive freedoms are a frequent rallying cry for conservative supporters of Republican Party challenger Donald Trump.

Jeffrey Little, who has worked for Los Angeles county for over two decades, earning more than $200,000 last year, is an evangelical Christian, who according to the suit filed in federal court last week, feels the flag represents values that are at odds with his own.

"The views commonly associated with the Progress Pride flag on marriage, sex, and family are in direct conflict with Captain Little's bona fide and sincerely held religious beliefs on the same subjects," the suit says.

County supervisors in Los Angeles voted last year to fly the flag at public buildings during Pride month, including at lifeguard facilities on Will Rogers Beach, a spot favored by members of the LGBTQ community, where Little was routinely stationed.

Little told supervisors last year that he wanted to be exempt from the requirement to fly the Pride Progress Flag, which has horizontal multicolored stripes and a triangle with black, brown, blue, pink and white to represent people of color, transgender and non-binary people.

The suit says Little's bosses assigned him to beaches with flagpoles that would not accommodate the banner which would not therefore be flying the flag, but when he arrived he found several nearby.

He learned that these flags had been dropped off by a senior member of staff with orders that they be hoisted.

"I was confused... why they were flying as I was under the impression that I would not have to deal with working in these conditions," he wrote in a complaint filed to the county in June last year, which is appended to the lawsuit.

He then took down the three flags, sparking a direct order from his supervisor to ensure they were properly hoisted throughout Pride Month.

The suit, which seeks unspecified damages including for emotional distress, asks the court to order Los Angeles County to give Little a standing exemption from raising the Pride flag.

A representative for the Los Angeles County Fire Department, which oversees lifeguards, said Wednesday the department cannot comment on personnel issues or any ongoing litigation.

Little is being represented in the suit by attorneys from the Thomas More Society, a conservative legal group whose website shows it is involved in suits challenging abortion rights and same-sex marriage.

Flags are a common, and often revered, feature of everyday life in the United States, with the Stars and Stripes routinely flown on public buildings and from people's homes.

States and cities also have their own banners and various groups use specific flags to signify identity or support for certain issues or beliefs.

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