March 22, 2011 | by Chris Johnson
Va. B&B rejects gays, couple claims

Russell Williams and David Schaefer (photo by Meghan Moore)

A legally married gay man claims that a Virginia bed and breakfast denied him and his spouse a reservation for a room because they are of the same gender.

Russell Williams, 56, of Hanover, Pa., said his spouse, David Schaefer, 54, tried to make reservations in late February at Stafford House in Fairfax, Va., as part of a trip for the wedding of their nephew. However, they say they were  denied a room over the phone on the basis of their relationship.

“So they, in that conversation — they ascertained that this was two men,” Williams said. “It’s a husband-and-wife operation. The wife was on the phone with David, and she said, ‘Well, we don’t accept non-traditional couples.’”

Williams, who married Schaefer five years ago in Boston after being together 35 years, said his spouse tried to “push back a bit” on the Stafford House owner, but she remained firm in denying the reservation. Williams, a racehorse breeder, said the owner also told Schaefer, a physician, that unmarried opposite-sex couples would be unable to obtain a reservation.

“There were no harsh words,” Williams said. “Apparently, the husband is a minister and it’s a religion-based policy that they have. And that was that. I guess we’ll stay at the Marriott.”

Stafford House didn’t respond to multiple requests from the Washington Blade to confirm the allegation that an owner denied the couple a reservation.

Virginia has no LGBT-specific non-discrimination law, nor one that protects same-sex couples against discrimination in public accommodations.

Williams said facing this discrimination reminded him of the mistreatment that racial minorities in the United States once faced in similar situations.

“The first thing that popped into my head was now I knew how black people felt 50 years ago,” Williams said. “It was bizarre. David felt the same way.”

Virginia State Del. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), the only openly gay member of the General Assembly and a candidate for a Virginia State Senate seat, called the alleged discrimination faced by Williams and Schaefer “an embarrassment to Virginia.”

“It’s surprising, in spite of our lack of protections and laws, that this would happen in Fairfax County,” Ebbin said. “It’s another outrage that makes me want to redouble my efforts in support of equality in Virginia.”

Ebbin said a change in law to prohibit discrimination of all types would be the best way to remedy the situation. In the 2011 session of the General Assembly, Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax) introduced legislation that would amend the Virginia Human Rights Act to include safeguards for LGBT people against unlawful discrimination.

“Clearly, we need to change the laws to prohibit discrimination of all types,” Ebbin said. “Unfortunately, we’re still at the building-block level.”

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, also expressed frustration that no legal protections exist to protect LGBT people from discrimination in public accommodations.

“These kinds of things should not be happening in this day and age, and the frustrating part is that they happen all too frequently in areas all across our country,” Sainz said. “It’s even more frustrating when they happen right across from the nation’s capital — in a city that is virtually within walking distance of the nation’s capital.”

Sainz said the incident “makes clear the need for uniformity of laws nationwide that protect all Americans, specifically on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.” But Sainz also said the situation speaks to the need for state non-discrimination legislation in Virginia because he said states have always been “first and strongest” to protect LGBT families.

Williams said although he felt he faced discrimination, he doesn’t think sympathizers should retaliate against the owners of Stafford House.

“I would not want to see the people at the B&B persecuted,” Williams said. “I think it’s wrong and I think they’re ignorant, but I hope that — and I’ve talked about this with a lot of friends — gay people should not retaliate against this kind of thing. I think we should just go ahead and do what we have to do to get our civil rights and make sure that people comply.”

LGBT advocates said they felt drawing attention to this issue can help with efforts to pass laws to prevent such discrimination in the future. Ebbin said such examples can help build the case in the Virginia General Assembly to pass non-discrimination laws.

Del. Adam Ebbin (Blade photo by Michael Key)

“We constantly hear complaints from Richmond that there are no documented cases of discrimination,” Ebbin said. “Every incident like this helps us make it more clear to my colleagues that we need to move forward on protecting LGBT people along with all others.”

Sainz added he believes more LGBT couples throughout the country face this kind of discrimination, but few make the incidents public because they’re embarrassed.

“My suspicion is more incidents like this take place than we hear of because people are embarrassed, and so they don’t want to shine the light on these kinds of situations,” Sainz said. “I think that this couple bringing attention to this issue is the right thing to do.”

UPDATE: Following the posting of this article, Donna Stafford, an owner of Stafford House, told the Washington Blade that the bed and breakfast has changed its policy and will no longer bar anyone from making a reservation.

“We were in the process of [changing our policy] even before your article came out,” Stafford said. “We’re not going to put restrictions on anyone that stays.”

In a separate email, Stafford noted that the prior policy of Stafford House was within the letter of all relevant state and local housing laws.

ADDITIONAL UPDATE: In a joint statement, Williams and Schaefer told the Blade on Wednesday via email that following Stafford House’s announced change in policy, they booked a room at the facility and plan a stay shortly.

“Pursuant to your update we have reserved a room at the Stafford House and plan to stay there this weekend,” they wrote. “Tolerance doesn’t require agreement about everything and if they learned that across the river in Congress the whole country would be better off.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

41 Comments
  • I’m disappointed that the article touches so briefly on the fact that unmarried heterosexual couples are also banned.

  • I say we flood them with reservations and then cancel them all just hours before the deadline.

    Of course there is always trip advisor.

  • Meredith – I’m not sure how that is relevant, given the fact that the couple in question IS legally married.

    • Chris, They are not legally married in the state of VA, so that information is important to the story

    • Chris,
      The article points out that the couple was legally married in Boston, which is outside of their home state. The State of Virginia does not allow legalized same sex marriages, hence the Bed and Breakfast stated it ‘did not accept unmarried same sex couples.’ It doesn’t accept unmarried couples and Virginia doesn’t recognize homosexual marriage, so they covered all their bases with that statement I guess…

      Thank you Meredith for pointing this out.

      • I’m aware of this. However, we are not talking about whether or not the marriage is legally recognized in the state of Virginia. It is still a marriage. Equating it with an unmarried couple is a disgrace.

  • uh…Duh! This is Virginia. Ok, granted northern Virginia tends to be a bit more tolerant and this was in Fairfax, but is this really a surprise??

  • I just looked up Stafford House on bedandbreakfast.com. No mention of the “No Gays” policy however the rooms look like they were decorated by Liberace.

    I know Costco sells BedandBreakfast.com gift cards in Virginia. Maybe pressure needs to be put on Costco and BedandBreakfast.com to drop the Stafford House over the discriminatory “No Gays” rules.

  • I just looked up Stafford House on bedandbreakfast.com. No mention of the “No Gays” policy however the rooms look like they were decorated by Liberace.

    I know Costco sells BedandBreakfast.com gift cards in Virginia. Maybe pressure needs to be put on Costco and BedandBreakfast.com to drop the Stafford House over the discriminatory “No Gays” rules.

    .

  • This state is so backward we didn’t even get smoke free restaurants here until 2 years ago. Our governor and Attorney General are downright homophobes, and AG Cuccinelli made a point to attempt to deny all Virginia State Universities the right to include discrimination towards gay people as a protected basis in their campus policies in one of his first acts in the job.

    Sadly, I don’t expect to see LGBT people protected from discrimination in housing or employment in this state, much less from anti-gay business practices any time in my lifetime. You might recall it took the Supreme Court to overturn Loving v. Virginia in 1967 that challenged the Virginia state law that people of different races were barred from getting married. Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving were sentenced to a year in jail for violating this miscegeny based-law.

  • Hard to believe this is happening today and yes, it is shades of Jim Crown all over again. The federal government made sure the states afforded civil rights to all then – looks like that battle must be rejoined.

  • David in Houston

    Meredith, I couldn’t find anything on their website that indicates that the owners are religious OR that unmarried couples are banned. I seriously doubt they’re going to ask every single straight couple if they’re married or not. It’s none of their business. They are not a church. They have to accommodate everyone, regardless of sexual orientation.

  • Disgusted American

    This country disgusts me more and more everyday…..Freedom this,and Freedom that…blah blah blah…..Liberty & Justice for all…yea, Right…..sure……NOT! They are JUST pretty words that make this Hypocritcial Lying country sound better then it is in actual reality. Avoid Va.

    • You are always free to go live overseas. We may not be a perfect place, but we are far better than most. Go spew your hatred elsewhere, see what happens to you.

  • Patrick Schiller

    This really sucks, but it is Virginia. They have one of the worst constitutional amendments banning same-sex unions. What did this couple expect was going to happen? Under Virginia law, these guys are nothing to each but strangers.
    Go visit states that honor and will treat your marriage as an equal. Screw Virginia.

  • Just went to bedandbreakfast.com and posted a review of the Stafford House’s discriminatory policy.

  • Jonathan in New York

    I just called Stafford House to confirm this policy. The wife got on the phone with me, and as if reading from a script, said that this was no longer the policy. I said, “So you used to not allow same-sex couples, and now you do?” and she said, “Yes, that is correct.”

    • Good work, Jonathan! If David feels like being Exemplary Gay Men A and B, maybe we’ll stay there after all. If we can make friends without becoming anyone’s mission to convert. We don’t like proselytizing with our pancakes.

  • I find this story hard to believe.

  • They will stay at a Marriott. Great isn’t there a Motel 6 nearby? Marriott is a Mormon owned company and that’s one Crutch I certainly won’t support.

  • I don’t know why my fellow gays like B&Bs anyhow. You usually get a lumpy bed in a room that reeks of cheap air freshener and mildew.

  • Personally I am glad to hear that they have subsequently changed their policy. As much as I wish people to be more accepting, some people take their time. Whether it was this article or otherwise it sounds as if the owners have changed their policy. Regardless of why they changed their policy, they did do so and deserve recognition for it. Our progress on some many civil rights issues has come as foes of yesteryear become our allies of tomorrow.

  • Honestly people- can we PLEASE stop terrorizing people who don’t want our business? Yes they may be assholes but just walk away. The alternative is having Bob and Betty Sue Bible Bangers wanting to book the entire Island House in Key West for their family and screaming discrimination when they say no.

  • “Virginia has no LGBT-specific non-discrimination law, nor one that protects same-sex couples against discrimination in public accommodations.”

    And neither will Maryland if ‘Equality’ Maryland is successful in ramrodding HB 235 through the legislature.

    LGB? Fer shuuuuuuure!

    Couples with a T? Single Ts? Not so much.

  • Shouldn’t we be more upset that we lost out idol Liz Taylor?? Hello!!!

  • It’s painful to hear that something like this can still happen. Reading about this incident, members of the Michigan Lake to Lake Bed and Breakfast Association (laketolake.com) board of directors intend to have a chat with our members in the hope of making sure that couldn’t happen here.

    • One important note is that the B&B in the article is not a member of the bed and breakfast association of Virginia. Most of the wonderful B&B owners i have met both in VA in other parts of the country enjoy hosting people for many lifestyles, cultures and personalities. It is one of the rewarding aspects of Innkeeping. It has certainly made my life interesting. Safe Travels.

  • Come on down to Virginia Wine Country here in Charlottesville Virginia! Not only will we book you into our B&B, but we’ll greet you with a glass of wine, walk you through our vineyard, stuff you with wonderful local cheese. give you a discount (all B&B guests receive this) on our wine tour serve you a wonderfully locally sourced breakfast and more! We’ll take anyone who enjoys being pampered!

    Arcady Vineyard B&B

  • I live in Fairfax and I'm still an optimist

    It seems as though not everyone has had a chance to read the update to this article. The B&B changed their policy and the couple that was trying to book a reservation is now staying there. I think this is a great story. This is a tale about someone who has changed their stance on prejuidice, and about someone who suffered prejuidice taking the high road and forgiving and accepting the olive branch extended to them. I hope that gay couples will stay at this B&B, be wonderful patrons and cause the owners to be forever grateful that they changed their minds.

  • It’s Virginia, what do you people expect? Redneck/Hillbillie Central.

  • I hate to say it but what do you expect? We are talking about Virginia. I live in Arlington and I’m gay, I’ll admit- I’m not surprised at all. I find the northern Virginia erea inside the beltway (Arl County/City of Alex) to be the same as DC sort of. But once you go outside of the beltway forget it.

  • I’m sorry to hear Russell and David were not welcomed at a Virginia B&B, but more disturbed that this may paint all Virginia B&Bs with the same brush. (I am happy to hear the B&B changed their discriminating policy.) We invite and welcome everyone to our B&B on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Come and enjoy our WineDown Hour, full gourmet breakfasts, 1000 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets, feather-topped beds, spa bathrooms and the beautiful Eastern Shore. We’re waiting for you.

  • Thank you for the invite Lisa. Husband and I checked out your site and added it to our favs. We will consider you on our next trip.

  • I’m glad you were able to find our site -www.innatonancock.com – especially since I didn’t include it in my message. We look forward to meeting you.

  • I’m glad you were able to find us – The Inn at Onancock – especially since I didn’t include it in my message. We look forward to meeting you.

  • As a gay man, I find it disturbing that this B&B continues to be slaughtered after they have changed their policy. Let it go people and move on. Your energy can be best used somewhere else. If you don’t like the inn and their policies, then do not stay there.

    I also find it more disturbing that Lisa would take advantage of this situation to promote her inn. All of these comments offer a chance to learn, but should not be used to advertise individual inns. I could have advertised MY B&B, but took the high road instead.

  • Any gay couple is welcome at MY inn in Mountain City, TN, with a view of Virginia…..I don’t care what the legislators in the state capitol say, ALL are welcome here. I don’t want ANYONE to think discrimination is the norm for B&Bs. It is not. Innkeepers who don’t care for the gay lifestyle probably make up a tiny percentage of our industry, far less than the general population. I have told innkeeper wannabees that IF they have such a strong preference they should ONLY open their homes to personal friends! There are so many people these days who think their opinion is the ONLY one! Whether it is alcohol consumption (we’re in a dry town), the 10 Commandments in the courthouse (in the face of a suit they hung the atheist’s material on the wall, too) or thinking theirs is the only religion and the only lifestyle….. people need to get over themselves. It’s good business and it is the right thing to do.

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