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Gay officer sues Wash. Township


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Gay officer sues Wash. Township

Courier Post

By TIM ZATZARINY JR., Courier-Post Staff

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

WASHINGTON TWP.- Michael Kurz wanted to come out to a close friend.

The Washington Township police officer chose to confide in a co-worker. That decision, almost five years ago, would come back to haunt Kurz, he said. The friend, Kurz said, quickly outed him to other officers over drinks at a restaurant.

"The entire department knew by the end of the week," Kurz recalled in an interview Monday.

Once they knew he was gay, other officers lobbed homophobic insults and slurs in his direction during briefings and training sessions, Kurz alleges in a lawsuit filed late Monday in Superior Court.

When he got sick of the harassment, Kurz went to his superiors. But, Kurz said, they have done nothing while an internal investigation into his allegations has dragged on for seven months.

Neither Police Chief Chuck Billingham nor township Solicitor John Eastlack responded to requests for comment Monday evening.

Kurz's employment discrimination lawsuit, filed on his behalf by attorney Clifford Van Syoc of Cherry Hill, names the township as the sole defendant.

But it alleges several township officers were part of the ongoing harassment, including Cpl. Frank Gurcsik, whom Kurz said outed him to his colleagues.

In the fall or winter of 2002, during a briefing, a supervisor was discussing the use of disinfectant hand wipes to prevent the spread of blood-borne pathogens, such as hepatitis and HIV.

Gurcsik, according to the lawsuit, twice blurted out, "Hey Mikey, these are for professional use only!"

Contacted Monday, Gurcsik declined comment, citing his department's ongoing investigation.

Kurz, a 10-year veteran, is the 85-member department's only openly gay officer. He said he was hesitant to report a fellow officer, even though the comments made him furious.

The last straw, he said, came this past March, when he learned that during a discussion about emergency lights on civilian vehicles, another officer asked, "Are homosexual cops going to be allowed to have rainbow light bars?" -- a reference to the symbol for gay pride.

Kurz, a polite 34-year-old with a crew cut and glasses, said he met with a sergeant who forwarded his concerns to a captain. The captain assured Kurz there would be an internal investigation, he said.

"I really thought they would take immediate action and severely discipline these people," said Kurz, a township resident.

But that hasn't happened.

"Nobody in that police department's hierarchy has sat me down and said, "Here's what we're doing,' " Kurz said.

In his lawsuit, Kurz seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, as well as as a court order requiring the police department to address his allegations.

But Kurz said his lawsuit isn't about money.

"I'm very, very happy with who I am," he said. "I know for a fact there are people out there who are just like me and they'd like to have some sort of affirmation that if they come out of the closet and something goes haywire, they have some protection through the courts.

"I want to be a model for every other guy in South Jersey who's closeted in a police department."

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