We were accused of being sensational when we broke the story, but that tone only reflected Lehman's feelings at the time.
“You sing like a girl” was the heading to the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus’ press release early Sunday morning. This statement was pertaining to the “homophobic taunts” that were heard while choir members were taken off the field after they were left standing silent because the proper music had not been cued for their performance
This instantly got our attention at SDGLN and we immediately put out a story based on this statement. Also in the release by Executive Director Bob Lehman, were accusations of “homophobia within the San Diego Padres Association”, “anti-gay discrimination,” and above all, “hate crimes.”
The SDGMC was so distraught they called for a full and “transparent investigation” into the Padres as well as the Major Baseball League. This was a powerful claim, especially since the Padres have made it their goal to be inclusive.
We reached out to the Padres, but didn’t get an immediate response, but when we did they were very helpful and forthcoming.
Initially SDGLN’s headline was “Breaking: San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus booed off stage, not allowed to sing at Padres Game.” We quickly changed it to “heckling” as the release stated after speaking with Mr. Lehman only a few minutes after posting it (Facebook does not allow an embedded headline of the story to be changed once it's posted).
He clarified that the “booing," may have been coming more from the people disappointed that the choir didn’t sing the National Anthem rather than bigoted fans.
So where then did the “homophobic taunts” come from? Lehman in his statement claims that his crew endured them as they were, “escorted off the field to the heckles of baseball fans shouting homophobic taunts including “You sing like a girl.” This mass of hecklers shouting alleged vitorol was the topic of the sub headline. Some called it inflammatory.
We at SDGLN and all of Hale Media's affiliates will always report the facts as we know them. Based upon Lehman’s release, these were the facts; the conflicts would come later. As a journalist it is difficult to write a story where one party says one thing and another party claims another. It's a conflict journalists live with everyday.
We update when we know more, and that is exactly what we did.
SDGLN spoke to Bob Lehman to understand where exactly this story has gone; from it’s beginning to its present state.
He believes that there is still much work to be done within the sports community and obstacles that were set before and during the scheduled performance had his red flags raised.
We asked Lehman about what he thought of our initial coverage and if he thought it was too sensational.
“Tim, you can’t explain everything in a short story about why we felt that way,” he said. “I lived in San Diego for thirty years. When I got out of the military, and I marched in my first Veteran’s Day Parade here in San Diego, the Marine Colonel who was in the reviewing stand, turned his back to me.
I had to start a Stonewall Citizen’s Patrol because gay men were being beaten with bats. I had to fight for my marriage several times. There were people saying, you know, I was over-reacting. No I’m not. Walking off that field, somebody made a slur, and you can see the hate online, there’s a reason we feel that way.”
I explained to Lehman that when I wrote the story, it wasn’t my intent to sensationalize it, rather bring the accusations of homophobia to the forefront; it was a strong accusation and the people of San Diego, especially the LGBT community needed to hear it.
“All you had was a press release and you responded to it how you interpreted it. I’ve seen reports and some are mostly pro-chorus and there are some that are negative. This was caused by the feeling that a lot of LGBT Americans feel towards Major League Baseball, and professional sports in general. That’s what I’m trying to erase.”
"The mainstream press, they get it,” he adds. “These are mostly non-LGBT people who understand where we were coming from and why we felt this way.”
Lehman in an effort to bridge the gap between the LGBT and sports community had breakfast with the Padres' CEO, Mike Dee, and says he understands why Lehman is as concerned as he is.
“The next step,” Lehman says, “he and I are going to meet with Pride together tomorrow [Wednesday] to go through their issues. And then after that we are going to do a meeting with community leaders. He’s being very proactive on this, and there’s a lot of good that’s going to come out of this. He realizes that his organization still needs to learn a little bit about the LGBT community, and he’s ready to move forward and make this something good for the community, and the Padres.”
Lehman is also fighting to get the young man responsible for the technical mishap re-hired. Art Romero (DJ Artform) was at the helm of the sound station and uploaded the wrong file, he panicked and reached for another CD which said “anthem,” the one with the woman’s voice which he played and did not stop. Romero apologized publically, "It was a very unfortunate mistake but it was just that, an error. In no way, shape or form directed any type of hate, bad intent or discrimination towards the chorus or anyone involved."
Romero was fired that evening, but Lehman would like for the Padres to give him another chance, “That’s not the result that we wanted," he said.
Lehman has had to endure many injustices in his lifetime, from Don't Ask Don't Tell, marriage inequality to violent homphobia. The mishap at the Padres game, he believes, might be a blessing in disguise and he hopes that it will turn into something positive.
"I think there are good sports teams out there who care about the LGBT community and I want people to feel that way in San Diego," he said. "The reason we had to prove that there was no malicious cause of this, because I had guys who were on the field who felt that. I had community leaders tell me the same thing.
It doesn't matter what I believed because I can't override a hundred-thousand video views and all of these Facebook posts by saying, 'oh I heard it was this.' so the investigation had to be done, and then people could say, 'hey, I know it was a Major League Baseball investigation, but..' it starts to get a lot more validity to it so the community can say, 'yeah it was an accident.' I'm not going to believe the internet rumors, I'm not going to believe the gossip from different papers."
This little story that grew from a small press release has gone global. SDGLN was one of the first to bring it to you in San Diego with tens of thousands of shares and likes within its first ten minutes. Whether some in the community deemed it too sensational or over-the-top, the end result was fast and exact.
We will always bring the community, not just locally but globally the news as it affects us, and if one small headline unintentionally gets people talking and correcting problems, then we have done our job to ensure we are bringing you much more than news, we are making change.
And as Bob Lehman says, “A lot of good is coming out of this.”