It was supposed to be Dan England’s first time singing the national anthem for such a huge audience, but his dreams were suddenly cut short.
England stood on the field of the San Diego Padres on Saturday night with the rest of the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus, all dressed in matching suits. A close friend had even flown down from Montana to witness his big day, on a special “Pride Night” hosted by the team.
As he prepared to sing, he was interrupted by a female voice who sang the Star-Spangled Banner instead—just after the announcer said the chorus would be performing. The hundred men stood silently, stunned.
“We didn’t know what to do we were in shock,” England told The Daily Beast.
On a video recording taken by his friend, the chorus stands still, until they’re ushered off the field. As they walk off, some fans reportedly shouted “You sound like a girl” at the men.
“Being a gay man, it’s a jeer someone would say to you as a homophobic slur,” chorus executive director Bob Lehman told The Daily Beast. “It was something that should’ve been the greatest days of our lives, but it turned out to be just the opposite.”
“What was shocking to me was that they didn’t do anything to correct it,” England said. “You have a hundred men standing on the field and a woman is singing the national anthem. Something is wrong.”
Lehman, a Padres fan of 30 years, planned to watch the game after singing.
“I’ve got my Padres jacket,” he said. “That night I had my Padres shirt in my little gym bag to change into, and it didn’t work out that way.”
“I took my pride towel and I threw it in the garbage and walked out.”
Lehman said the Padres organization contacted him in January about inviting the Gay Men’s Chorus to sing at Pride Night, which they had already done the prior September.
They gladly agreed and were excited, until Lehman received a call a few days before the show confirmed their call time and asking all the singers to have tickets to the game ready. This, Lehman told The Daily Beast, had never been discussed before.
“That would cost our chorus $3,000,” he said.
The Padres didn’t respond to his calls or emails until the day before the event, he said. On Friday, they informed Lehman the tickets wouldn’t be required.
“We thought it was behind us, and then this happened,” Lehman said. “Unfortunately, that was in the back of my mind. When it happened… It was like, ‘Did they do this on purpose?’”
The Padres organization told The Daily Beast that the ticket policy is the same for all groups and performers: required.
“This group was treated no differently from any theme game group,” communications director Shana Wilson told The Daily Beast. “This was also the case for the group last year, however, on the day of the game, they had several additional members of the Chorus arrive who did not have tickets, and we made an exception and granted access for those members to allow them to sing.”
The evening after the event, Lehman said the Padres’ CEO called him and apologized. The investigation suggested the third-party contractor had played music from the night before. In a statement, the organization called the incident an “unintentional mistake” and said they terminated the contractor involved.
“I told [the CEO] even that night, I can tell people that, but the community as a whole thinks it’s on purpose, so there’s a bigger problem than that,” Lehman said.