June 19, 2014 at 8:17 am EDT | by Mark Lee
Can a business undo damage done by gay zealots?
gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo courtesy of Lambda Legal)

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.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

  • too bad, bigots-you made your hate filled bed, now you will lie in it

  • Mr. Dostal, you might want to read Mark Lee’s piece.

  • Mark Lee…Did you have a point? I read your rant but didn't understand what your concern is or was. Are you saying this didn't happen? Or it shouldn't matter?

  • Ummmmmm, Gays are not the only movers and shakers of DC. There will be more people that will go to the restaurant and patronize They’ll settle and that will be it! Nothing further more to see here!

  • Boo hoo. Mark Lee butt hurt?

  • They dont do anything most organizations do to get what they want because no one plays fair in the media and politics. Wont survive if you soley went by the rules. It is an uneven playing field.

  • If Mr. Lee is correct, that the business took immediate action against the offending employee, then we should be celebrating the business and its management, not condemning them.

  • If Mr. Lee is correct, that the business took immediate action against the offending employee, then we should be celebrating the business and its management, not condemning them.

  • If Mr. Lee is correct, that the business took immediate action against the offending employee, then we should be celebrating the business and its management, not condemning them.

  • Maybe we shouldn't give Lambda Legal any credence anymore!

  • So let me get this straight–a restaurant horribly insults it’s paying customers with an in your face, anti-gay statement and Lambda Legal is the bad guy for bringing this matter to the public’s attention?!! Mark Lee, you are an idiot and an apologist for blatantly discriminatory behavior. So what if the restaurant fired the waiter? These customers had to endure this garbage and they deserve to be heard. I’m glad Lambda put this story is out there because it sends a message to other restaurants in town that they had better make sure their employees are not mistreating members of the gay community or any other group!!

  • They owe their client, our community and a local business an apology. – Mark

    Hits and misses, Mark.
    Every person and organization makes mistakes, sooner or later. I hate to throw any of our peeps under the proverbial bus. Lambda Legal’s reputation for LGBT advocacy through litigation speaks for itself. Lambda Legal’s ‘hits’ will stand for all time as strong and historical links in a chain of constant and rapid LGBT progress.
    Moreover, I don’t think we have to remind LL of its few ‘misses’ in that longstanding history. No professional firm has the kind of successes Lambda Legal has had without a great capacity for internal, critical review.
    Even diligence aside, publicly blowing ones toes off in trigger-happy target practice tends to focus professional minds, too.
    What Lambda Legal does owe its client and Lambda Legal– and certainly, no one else– is a constant re-evaluation and appropriate sharing of all the dynamics of any given case. Let’s hope they’re doing that now… for all of LL’s LGBT rights cases to come.

  • This would be more compelling from a different source. Mark Lee would just as blindly defend the business as Lambda has the patrons, no matter what the business did.

  • Cdog makes some important points.

    This was an egregious act of homophobic discrimination, harassment and injury by a business of public accommodation. All public accommodations owners are responsible for the discrimination and/or acts of animus of their employees. There is no question about that at all.
    Poor BUSINESS management created this injury, not merely a rogue waiter who Mark (and others) spin as being somehow disconnected from the establishment’s management responsibilities.
    The management’s prior LGBT-friendly performance does not matter a whit to its failure to avoid the injury its employee perpetrated upon the patrons. Are its employee required to agree to an ethical code of conduct?

    Whatever their internal practices, the fact remains that the management obviously did not take sufficient care to prevent LGBT patrons from being egregiously harassed and demeaned.
    The more I think about this, the more I realize Lambda Legal is on the right side of this issue– robustly defending LGBTs against egregious, unfair treatment.
    We ought to join Lambda in that cause, too. Let’s call out homophobic and transphobic discrimination– and too often, related racism– wherever we see it. That includes businesses of public accommodations or private clubs and entities. The era of whites-only/ Jews-need-not-apply country clubs should be long over for members of any minority class.
    Though the Boy Scouts of America is a private entity, allowed to discriminate against anyone it chooses– AG Eric Holder, the nation’s top cop, recently blasted the Boy Scouts for its ongoing bigotry and discrimination against LGBT scout leaders. Rightly so. In that vocal objection, Eric Holder sets an example for us all.
    Just like Holder and Lambda, we can call out homophobic, transphobic and racist discrimination in our local businesses and private entities, too.
    In Ward 5, just in the past few weeks, the Brookland Listserv’s management engaged in blatant discriminatory censorship of LGBT news and civic announcements regarding Capital Pride, DC Black Pride– and now, it seems, even Councilmembers who support such Pride events. Apparently all the Capital Pride/ Pride Month news and announcements — and perhaps Ward 5’s burgeoning LGBT population — have sent them into a censorship tizzy.
    That Listserv’s anti-LGBT discrimination goes beyond Pride topics too. This week the Brookland moderators even deleted a citywide appeal by Police Chief Lanier for the public’s help regarding a LGBT-related crime upsurge in MPD’s neighboring Sixth District.
    So Marriage Equality will not soon end the homophobic and transphobic discrimination we know too well. Opposing discrimination wherever it exists should remain a civil rights concern for all of us.
    The great civil rights leader, Julian Bond, has repeatedly noted that learning from and modeling African Americans’ struggle and tactics for human and civil rights is now part of all Americans’ birthright. Bond also emphasizes the three primary means used in that historic struggle… education, registration and litigation.
    Lambda Legal is, and has been, an integral part of historic LGBT civil rights litigation efforts. We ought to be grateful for that.

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