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San Diego Padres under fire for mishandling gay chorus' national anthem

San Diego Gay Men's Chorus sings the national anthem at a Padres game on Sept. 1, 2015.
San Diego Gay Men's Chorus sings the national anthem at a Padres game on Sept. 1, 2015.
Bob Lehman via YouTube

The San Diego Gay Men's Chorus is criticizing the San Diego Padres for mishandling the group's scheduled performance of the national anthem.

The chorus said on its Facebook page that 100 of its members gathered to perform the song before the game Saturday against the Los Angeles Dodgers when the Padres instead played the recorded voice of a woman singing the anthem. Their statement said no attempt was made to stop the recording and that the group received "homophobic taunts" while being escorted off the field.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mvSFul9Dksc

Bob Lehman, executive director for the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus, said he heard comments like “You sing like a girl” and “Never sounded better.” 

“Being a gay chorus, occasionally you’re going to hear stuff like that, and it’s never good and it hurts, but after being embarrassed in front of 40,000 people, our friends, our family and on national TV, it really hurt. It was a big slap in the face on top of everything else that had just happened,” Lehman told KPCC. 

Lehman said he left the stadium with his family right after the incident, and no one from the Padres organization approached the chorus to discuss what had happened after they were escorted from the field. He later received a short email from someone in the sales department, followed by a call from the organization's CEO, Mike Dee. 

Chorus members called for the Padres and Major League Baseball to investigate whether anyone intentionally played a woman's voice "with the purpose of denigrating and/or ridiculing gay men.”

“It was supposed to be a huge, exciting day for all these guys. For some of them, this was probably one of the biggest days of their lives to sing the national anthem live at the Padres and the Dodgers live on national TV with 40,000 people, and it turned into a nightmare,” Lehman said. 

Lehman said Dee called him with the findings of an investigation into the incident. Lehman said the mistake was made as a result of the failure of a third-party contracting company to load the chorus’ music into the stadium’s computer system. The employee in charge of the booth that night — who normally does not run the tech booth — failed to turn the music off and intervene in the situation. Lehman said that the Padres ended their relationship with the third-party contractor involved and disciplined the employee. 

The Padres issued a statement Saturday night saying a mistake was made that prevented the chorus from performing and that "we apologize to anyone in the ballpark who this may have offended." The Padres said they'd reached out to the chorus "to express our deep regret for the error.”

Billy Bean, an MLB vice president for social responsibility and inclusion, tweeted Sunday that "it was very unfortunate that there was a technical error" that prevented the chorus from performing but added that the Padres "have supported our inclusion message at MLB without hesitation." Bean, a former Padres player, revealed he was gay in 1999, four years after his final major league season.

Billy Bean tweet

The Padres have extended an invitation for the chorus to return, but Lehman said that he has mixed feelings about the idea.

“For us to go back and sing, is that more for the Padres or is that for us? There’s got to be real actions following what happened here,” Lehman told KPCC. 

Actions like the Padres making a bigger effort to support the LGBT community, Lehman said. To him, the most troubling thing was that after the incident occurred, so many people believed right off the bat that the incident was initiated purposefully by someone within the Padres organization.

“I know we’re accepted and welcome in San Diego, and a part of the overall community. I don’t doubt that. I know that for a fact,” Lehman said. "The Padres just have a little catching up to do. Hopefully that’s what this is going to help happen.”

This story has been updated.