Pasadena city officials placed Public Health Director Eric Walsh on temporary paid administrative leave Thursday after they learned of controversial statements he had made about homosexuality and evolution in online videos and audio clips.
In sermons uploaded to various websites, Walsh, a Seventh-day Adventist preacher, calls evolution “a religion created by Satan,” compares Disney to a “dark empire” of superstition and witchcraft, and criticizes homosexuality.
Walsh’s comments came to the city’s attention after he replaced Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black as Pasadena City College’s commencement speaker, said city spokesman William Boyer.
College officials said they replaced Black because they found stolen photographs of him and an ex-boyfriend engaged in sexual acts on Internet gossip sites, according to the school newspaper, the PCC Courier.
“With the porno professor and the sex scandals we’ve had on campus this last year, it just didn’t seem like the right time for Mr. Black to be the speaker,” PCC Board of Trustees President Anthony Fellow told the Courier.
Fellow was referring to former professor Hugo Schwyzer, who invited adult film stars to speak in a class on pornography and admitted to affairs with his students.
In a letter to the school newspaper, Black accused college administrators of attempting to shame him for his sexuality. He urged students to speak out, and soon a member of the group Students for Social Justice found some of Walsh’s videos online.
“We very quickly realized that there were a lot of communities that would be offended by Dr. Walsh,” said Sarah Belknap, a fourth-year student and member of Students for Social Justice.
The group compiled a list of Walsh’s controversial public statements, then published excerpts on Facebook and emailed them to media outlets.
“We were just so shocked that he was saying these things,” said Kelly Camacho, another student in the group. “This was even worse, to have this person as [Black’s] replacement, of all people.”
Walsh has since stepped down as commencement speaker because of a scheduling conflict, according to the college. School officials did not respond to calls and emails requesting comment Thursday evening.
Walsh, an associate pastor at Altadena Seventh-day Adventist Church, was hired as the director of Pasadena’s Public Health Department in 2010, Boyer said. He also served as the city’s public health officer and oversaw the creation of a dental clinic that served low-income patients, as well as those with HIV/AIDS who could not get care elsewhere, Boyer said.
His department was also responsible for restaurant inspections, public health initiatives and declaring public health emergencies. In 2012, Walsh earned about $193,600 in wages and $56,900 in benefits, according to data from the state controller’s office.
Boyer said the city placed Walsh on leave because time is needed to review the online sermons and conduct an inquiry into his ability to lead the department.
On Wednesday, the college’s Board of Trustees apologized to Black and voted unanimously to reinvite him to speak at commencement. Black hasn’t responded.
With just a week left until graduation on May 9, the college still has no commencement speaker.