Chances are you heard the term “gay slur” used in connection with a small D.C. restaurant and hookah bar last week. If you did, the headline-seeking zealots at the national gay rights litigation group Lambda Legal were responsible.
“Responsible,” however, is no longer a term appropriately associated with the organization. As detailed by Bil Browning on his Bilerico Project site, published the day after a press release was issued by the group, it turns out Lambda knew or revealed only a portion of the story.
Unfairly tarnishing the reputation of a local business before all the facts are known led Browning to ask the question that titled his piece: “Why Is Lambda Legal ‘Cyber Bullying’ a Small Business?”
Lambda Legal’s either incomplete knowledge of the facts or intentional omission of information created the impression the group was attempting to fuel an online firestorm.
Dru Levasseur, the Lambda attorney handling a complaint filed with the D.C. Office of Human Rights on behalf of a transgender patron, bluntly stated, “The business’ reputation is not our concern. Lambda Legal has no obligation to investigate the allegations before doing media work or filing a case,” he told Browning.
It seems that “doing media work” is the group’s tactical weapon of choice.
What has become clear is that Lambda Legal apparently considers harming a local business mere collateral damage when waging a larger war and nationalizing an incident. “Discrimination against LGBT customers is a widespread problem that often goes unaddressed in businesses across the country,” Levasseur noted.
While the circumstances surrounding the incident at the center of the controversy nearly a year ago remain unclear, the attention-getting element is not in dispute. An employee at the establishment, fired when the situation was brought to the attention of management the same evening, generated a guest check that included a keyed table identification of “Gay Bitches” which was presented to the complainant and eight friends. A photo of the original check, which was replaced by the manager when brought to his attention and he waived the bill in apology, was retained by one of the guests and was publicly released.
Thousands were spurred to share the image on social media, resulting in numerous news stories and television reports locally, nationally and abroad. Lambda also distributed a graphic of the check that included an exhortation to “tell” the venue “discrimination is against the law.” Rather than await the results of the OHR investigation, Lambda resorted to launching a broadside against the business that sparked a large volume of angry online postings overwhelming the business and including calls for a boycott.
Lambda Legal staff never spoke to the owner or the manager on duty the evening of the incident. Had they done so they would have discovered that management was both greatly concerned and had undertaken immediate remedial action. They might have also learned that several gay employees are among venue staff, that the business is popular among gay patrons and is a frequent host of same-sex marriage receptions and other community-related events.
Whether the incident is a violation of the D.C. Human Rights Act and an ill-advised bad-tempered customer reference rises to the level of discrimination will be determined by OHR. Based on the details currently known, it is almost certain that the complaint will be dismissed.
Whatever the actual circumstances and regardless of the outcome, it appears that it may not have been a “best moment” for either the offending former employee or at least some members of the guest party.
Karma is ultimately the real “bitch” in this situation. As additional information has spread via social media, Lambda Legal is increasingly the object of scorn in the court of public opinion. Perhaps next time they will be more concerned with fairness and facts and less obsessed with belligerently badgering a business.
They owe their client, our community and a local business an apology.