Jay Brome spent two years trying to get into the California Highway Patrol academy, patiently going through the application process, taking the written test and waiting for his dream job to come through.
“I really wanted to make a difference, I wanted to look back in 30 years and feel that I did something that made a difference,” Brome said.
There was only one problem: Brome is gay, and when his classmates and co-workers discovered this he was subjected to two decades worth of discrimination, abuse and ridicule, he says.
“There was bullying or name-calling – ‘fag,’ ‘gay,’’ Brome said. “I had an instructor that told me ... to take my skirt off and start acting like a man.”
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The abuse began at the academy in West Sacramento, where he says that during an exercise a cadet pointed a training gun at his head and said, “I know you’re gay, tell me you’re gay or I’ll pull the trigger.”
Eventually, Brome retired after a 20-year career during which he says it became apparent that gay men in the CHP were routinely targeted for abuse and given no support from supervisors.
“I had to leave because of the cumulative effects, and the fact that I wasn’t getting backup,” Brome said in an interview with The Sacramento Bee. “What was happening was I would drive around in my patrol car and for no reason I would just be crying, tears just running down my face.
“I was getting these urges to kill myself, and it was this sudden urge while I was driving my patrol car and it just said, ‘Pull out your gun and shoot yourself.’ ”
Now, Brome is waging a legal battle against an agency that he says is structured to protect offenders and drive out gay officers.
His attorney, Gay Grunfeld, filed a 55-page brief Nov. 29 in the 1st District Court of Appeal in San Francisco arguing that a jury should be allowed to hear his claims. An earlier lawsuit filed on Brome’s behalf by a different attorney was dismissed last March on the grounds that it was filed beyond the one-year statute of limitations.
But Grunfeld argues that the dismissal was ordered in error, and that Brome was subjected to continued harassment and discrimination throughout his career.
“The harassment began during Officer Brome’s academy training, where he faced homophobic slurs and physical threats, and followed him from assignment to assignment – from the CHP’s San Francisco area office, where his career began in 1996, to the CHP’s area offices in Contra Costa and Solano, where he worked from 2008 until the psychological toll of the CHP’s hostile work environment became so intolerable that his doctor ordered him to take medical stress leave on Jan. 15, 2015,” Grunfeld wrote in her brief.
The CHP declined to comment on Brome’s case, but said in a statement that it has a policy to provide equal employment opportunities.
“It is the policy of the CHP to provide equal employment opportunities for all persons without regard to race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, age, sex (includes sexual harassment, and gender identity), physical or mental disability, political affiliation/opinion, marital status, sexual orientation, or medical condition,” spokeswoman Fran Clader wrote in an email statement. “Equal opportunity in employment practices will be made on the basis of merit, efficiency, and fitness consistent with state civil service and merit system principles.”
Brome’s complaints are not isolated.
Ken Stanley spent 30 years in the CHP, and sued the department after what he says was a series of homophobic taunts aimed at him because some of his colleagues decided he was gay.
“I’m straight, I’m not gay,” Stanley said. “But some of the other sergeants I worked with didn’t like me, so they took it upon themselves to portray me as gay by posting pictures in the sergeant’s office.”
The pictures – one superimposed his face over a nude photo of a pregnant Demi Moore that appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair in 1991, another adorned a greeting card with his photo placed next to singer George Michael – were only part of the abuse, he says.
“I had somebody put a bloody tampon in front of my office one night,” said Stanley, who left the CHP and filed a discrimination lawsuit that ultimately was dismissed.
“It’s your typical macho environment (where) to other less-educated individuals in the workforce there can be no greater insult according to them than portraying somebody as gay,” Stanley said. “One would think that we would be well beyond that, but the culture just permeates.
“They’re the equivalent of the Catholic Church, where they deny everything.”
Others have come forward with similar complaints, with four former CHP officers producing declarations in support of Brome and his legal efforts.
“I observed plenty of homophobic behavior towards and about gay men at the CHP, including myself,” one former colleague of Brome’s wrote. “Before I came out, a previous squad partner remarked more than once that he could not stand ‘queers,’ after we had pulled over multiple motorists who happened to be gay.’ ”
Brome, who now lives in Vallejo and runs a used clothing store, contends that even when he was recognized for his service as an officer, he ended up facing discrimination. While he was in the Solano area office he was named officer of the year in 2013, he says, an honor that traditionally included having his photo displayed on the briefing room wall. His photo didn’t make the cut, he says.
The problems he encountered went beyond that, Brome says, endangering his safety while he was on the job, with officers failing to provide backup as he was out on patrol.
“I had four fatalities in Contra Costa County, and I was the only officer on scene ...” he said. “This is unheard of. I had to do the investigation, I had to worry about the body, I had to control the scene.
“I had to lay out the flares, I had to impound the car, I had to deal with family members, I had to get statements and follow up and go to the hospital. No one came.”