The general manager of the Westin Atlanta Airport Hotel has apologized to a group of five gay and lesbian guests who say a hotel security officer asked them to leave the hotel’s cocktail lounge in April because it was “reserved for families and others.”
In a May 19 letter responding to a written complaint to the hotel by D.C. resident K. David Weidner, one of the gay guests, hotel manager Bill Henderson said the security officer asked them to leave the lounge because they “brought in food from the outside.”
“Because food sales are a core business for us, we reserve our outlet space for guests who want to purchase our food and beverages,” Henderson said in his letter.
But Weidner, the co-founder and president of a D.C.-based consulting firm, told the Washington Blade that his two gay male and two lesbian friends who were with him distinctly recall the security officer stressing that the lounge was “reserved” for families and other patrons whom he declined to define.
Weidner said he and his group had just returned from attending a funeral in Montgomery, Ala., for a mutual friend. He said he and the two males with him were dressed in dark suits and ties and the two women wore black dresses.
“We decided that before we changed clothes and refreshed ourselves we wanted to toast our dear friend whom we’d just buried in Montgomery,” Weidner told Henderson in a May 19 letter complaining about the security officer’s handling of the situation.
Weidner told the Blade he brought in $6 worth of crackers and chips he bought from the hotel’s sundry shop located steps away from the cocktail lounge. But he said he has no recollection of the security officer raising the issue of food when he asked his group to leave the lounge and directed them to a nearby dining room that Weidner said had “dirty tables” and no servers.
Before being asked to leave the lounge the group ordered a round of drinks, which a friendly server brought to their table, Weidner told Henderson in his letter. “But she was barely out of sight and we had barely a chance to toast our departed friend when a gentlemen approached our table and identified himself as the director of security,” Weidner said in his letter.
“He said in a rather direct and impolite tone that ‘we would have to remove ourselves from the table, as this area is reserved for families and others.’”
According to Weidner’s account, the security official then said they could enjoy their beverages in a nearby room called the “Revivals” area, which the group later described as a poorly lit space with two dirty tables.
“The five of us looked at each other – we were absolutely stunned,” Weidner said in his letter. “I asked the director of security to define ‘families and others.’ He replied that our party was ‘not welcome to sit at this reserved space, but that we would be welcome in the Revivals area,” Weidner said in his letter to Henderson. “He never did explain what ‘families and others’ meant.”
In response to an inquiry from the Blade, Katie Roberts, an official with a public relations firm representing the Starwood Westin Hotels chain, said the company has a strict policy of non-discrimination and is especially welcoming to the LGBT community.
“The interaction with Mr. Weidner’s group was most unfortunate and poorly handled by the Westin Atlanta Airport associate, but it was in no way discriminatory,” Roberts said in a statement.
“The only reason Mr. Weidner’s group was asked to move to another area was because they had brought in food from the outside into an area where the hotel serves food,” she said. “Starwood has zero tolerance of discrimination of any kind.”
Roberts noted that the Starwood hotel chain works closely with and supports “LGBT rights organizations” and is pleased that the Human Rights Campaign Foundation has recognized Starwood for “nine straight years as one of the ‘Top Employers’ for LGBT equality.”
Weidner said he’s skeptical about the explanations offered by the Westin Atlanta Airport Hotel and its PR firm, and noted that hotel officials did not respond to his requests for an explanation and an apology until the Blade began making inquiries to the Westin.
Upon learning that the city of Atlanta has a human rights law that bans discrimination against LGBT people, Weidner said he’s considering filing a discrimination complaint against the hotel.
“We understand your disappointment and assure you your experience was the exception to our usual guest experience,” Henderson told Weidner in his letter dated June 1. “We have reviewed your comments with our Director of Security to insure the officer is retrained and your experience is not repeated.”
But PR official Roberts told the Blade in a follow-up email that a female restaurant manager approached Weidner and his group first, informing them that they could not bring their own food into the lounge and would have to move.
“Although they did not verbally refuse to move, they remained in the lounge,” Roberts said. “That is when Security was contacted, and the Security officer stated he also mentioned that outside food consumption was not allowed in that area,” she said.
According to Roberts, the security officer told hotel officials “he did not tell the guests they had to move because it was being reserved for ‘families and others.’”
“My goodness, this is heating up,” said Weidner when asked about Roberts’s account of what happened. “Curious…curious,” he said in an email. “The fact that they are responding in this way leads me to speculate there is more going on here than ‘snacks.’”
He disputed the claim by Roberts that the security officer brought up the issue of food being brought in by his group.
“He only told us we were not welcome to stay in the bar because it was reserved for ‘families and others,’” said Weidner.
Louisiana lawmakers fail to overturn Edwards veto of Trans sports bill
Edwards further said that the bill was “mean” because it targets “the most emotionally fragile children in the state of Louisiana.”
BATON ROUGE – Louisiana lawmakers failed to override Gov. John Bel Edwards’ (D) veto last month of a bill that would have barred trans girls and women from participating on athletic teams or in sporting events designated for girls or women at elementary, secondary and postsecondary schools.
The measure, Senate Bill 156 authored by Sen. Beth Mizell titled the ‘the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,’ in the Governor’s eyes, “was a solution in search of a problem that simply does not exist in Louisiana,” Edwards said in his veto statement;
“As I have said repeatedly when asked about this bill, discrimination is not a Louisiana value, and this bill was a solution in search of a problem that simply does not exist in Louisiana. Even the author of the bill acknowledged throughout the legislative session that there wasn’t a single case where this was an issue.
The Republican majority state House chamber failed to override the Governor’s veto after voting 68-30 to override it, according to the state legislature’s website.
The vote narrowly missed the 70-vote threshold needed in the lower chamber to override the veto.
Two-thirds of both the House and Senate must vote to override a governor’s veto, according to the local Baton Rouge newspaper The Advocate.
The Governor reacted to the news that his veto withstood Republican efforts to overturn it in a press conference Wednesday.
Edwards noted that in his view he had “rejected a play” that had no place in Louisiana.
“I would rather the headlines going out from today be that Louisiana did what was right and best. We rejected a play out of a national playbook that just had no place in Louisiana. That bill wasn’t crafted for our state, I mean go read it and look at the arguments that were made. None of that applies here,” Edwards said.
He further said that the bill was “mean” because it targets “the most emotionally fragile children in the state of Louisiana.”
“We have to be better than that,” Edwards said. “We have to be better than that.”
Federal court blocks West Virginia Law banning Trans youth sports
“It hurt that the State of West Virginia would try to block me from pursuing my dreams. I just want to play.”
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A judge of the United States District Court, Southern District of West Virginia ruled Wednesday that 11-year-old Becky Pepper-Jackson must be allowed to try out for the girls’ cross-country and track teams at her school, blocking West Virginia from enforcing a law that bans transgender girls and women from participating in school sports.
The ruling came in the lawsuit challenging the ban filed by Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of West Virginia, and Cooley LLP.
“I am excited to know that I will be able to try out for the girls’ cross-country team and follow in the running shoes of my family,” said Becky Pepper-Jackson, the plaintiff in the lawsuit. “It hurt that the State of West Virginia would try to block me from pursuing my dreams. I just want to play.”
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice signed H.B. 3293 into law at the end of April. It was one of hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills pushed in state legislatures across the country in 2021. During legislative debate, it was not endorsed by any mainstream sporting or health organizations. A similar law in Idaho was blocked by a federal court in 2020, and a federal court in Connecticut recently dismissed a challenge to policies that allow all girls, including girls who are transgender, to participate on girls’ sports teams. Legal challenges are underway against similar laws passed in other states.
The Supreme Court recently refused to disturb Gavin Grimm’s victory at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, where he prevailed in challenging his school’s anti-transgender discrimination against him. This decision — which is binding precedent in West Virginia federal court — said that federal law protects transgender students from discrimination in schools.
“This is great news for Becky, and while our work is not done yet, today’s ruling jibes with similar rulings in other courts across the country,” said Avatara Smith-Carrington, Tyron Garner Memorial Law Fellow, Lambda Legal. “It is our hope that courts recognize and address discrimination when they see it, and nowhere is it more visible than in these stark attacks against trans youth.”
“Becky — like all students — should have the opportunity to try out for a sports team and play with her peers,” said Josh Block, senior staff attorney with the ACLU LGBTQ & HIV Project. “We hope this also sends a message to other states to stop demonizing trans kids to score political points and to let these kids live their lives in peace.”
“We’ve said all along this cruel legislation would not survive a legal challenge, and we’re encouraged by the court’s decision today,” said ACLU-WV Legal Director Loree Stark. “We hope trans kids throughout West Virginia who felt attacked and wronged by the passage of this legislation are feeling empowered by today’s news.”
“We are extremely gratified — for Becky, and for all trans youth — at the court’s recognition that the law and the facts clearly support treating people who are transgender fairly and equally. Discrimination has no place in schools or anywhere else,” said Kathleen Hartnett of Cooley LLP.
Conservative groups attack proposed Alabama capital city’s LGBTQ law
Allege law requires Christians to violate their religious beliefs
MONTGOMERY – The Alabama capital’s City Council is being urged to reject a proposed ordinance that would make sexual orientation and gender identity protected classes under the law. Matthew Clark, the Executive Director of the conservative Alabama Center for Law and Liberty sent a letter on behalf of his group and six allied organizations asking the Council to abandon a vote implementing the ordnance.
According to the letter, the groups allege that the law would require Christians to violate their religious beliefs or face fines under certain circumstances. Prominent among the other signatures is Mathew D. Staver, Chairman of Liberty Counsel which the Southern Poverty Law Center lists as an extremist anti-LGBTQ hate group.
The SPLC, which has its headquarters in Montgomery, writes; “The Liberty Counsel has also been active in the battle against same-sex marriage and hate crimes legislation, which it claimed in a 2007 news release to be “’thought crimes’ laws that violate the right to freedom of speech and of conscience” and will “have a chilling effect on people who have moral or religious objections to homosexual behavior.” In that same release, the Liberty Counsel falsely claimed that the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyo., had nothing to do with homosexuality, but instead was “a bungled robbery.”
In the letter Clark noted; ““As we read the ordinance, churches could be fined if they refuse to allow transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice, and they might be fined if they refused to let same-sex couples use their facilities for weddings,” Clark said. “They could also be fined if they declined to hire non-ministerial personnel, such as facility managers or secretaries, whose sexual orientation or gender identity contradicts the tenants of the church’s faith.”
“Christian schools, small business owners, and homeowners are also in the crosshairs. Schools could face liability if they decline to let transgender students use the locker rooms of their choice,” Clark said. “Small business owners like Jack Phillips [referring to Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission] could face liability. And homeowners who list their homes on Airbnb could be fined if they declined to let a same-sex couple engage in sexual activities in their home that violate the tenants of their faith.”
Clark then warned the City Council that if it passes the ordinance, litigation could result and the City would likely lose.
The Montgomery Advertiser reported last month that City Mayor Steven Reed said a council vote in favor of the LGTBQ nondiscrimination ordinance that’s now being drafted in Montgomery would send a message.
“There are signals that communities can send, and this is an important signal not only to those residents that live here right now but people all over the country that have maybe one idea of Alabama and Montgomery, and we want to show them that there’s a different reality here,” he said.
Reed and his team have been working with the Human Rights Campaign and other advocacy groups to draft an ordinance that would expand protections for LGBTQ residents in the state’s capital city. The proposed measure, which would specifically target discrimination in government, employment and housing based on sexual orientation or gender identity the Advertiser reported.
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