Gay advocacy group threatens public protest over men's eviction from Hazard pool

equality federation threatens public protest

kward1@herald-leader.comJune 14, 2011 

The Kentucky Equality Federation says it is planning a public protest because two gay men with intellectual and developmental disabilities were kicked out of a recreational center run by the city of Hazard on Friday.

The federation, which advocates for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex, says the two were discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.

The city's attorney, however, said the facility does not discriminate, and "there is a dispute as to the facts of what transpired."

The men, who were not identified, had been swimming at the Hazard Pavilion with a group from Mending Hearts Inc., which provides care to people with mental retardation and developmental disabilities.

"The Pavilion staff immediately entered the pool area and asked my clients and their staff to leave the Pavilion," Shirlyn Perkins, executive director of Mending Hearts, said in a news release issued Monday by the Kentucky Equality Federation. She said her staff "were informed that 'gay people' weren't allowed to swim there."

Perkins said Mending Hearts staff members argued that their clients were being discriminated against, but the Pavilion staff member "stated that what he was doing was in the Bible and he could do it."

"My clients, whom already feel ridiculed and different, left the city-owned facility crying and embarrassed for trying to participate in 'normal' activities that everyday 'normal' people do," Perkins said.

Ollie Adams, co-owner of Mending Hearts, said a staff member told her that the Pavilion employee told the group to leave after one of the men sat on the other's knee and put his arm around him while sitting outside the pool. "There was no kissing and hugging," Adams said.

Paul Collins, the city's attorney, said that he is still investigating, but based on initial information, "there seems to be a wide disparity between the versions of the events."

Collins said a lifeguard said he saw the two men repeatedly hugging and kissing in a corner of the pool.

"The staff at the Pavilion report to me that they do on some regular basis caution or warn individuals about excessive public displays of affection and that these warnings are given regardless of sexual orientation," Collins said.

City Manager Carlos Combs said that while Pavilion staffers try to stop public displays of affection, the city's policy is that "we don't discriminate against anyone."

Will Taylor, the Equality Federation's assistant regional director for Southern Kentucky, said he is planning a protest of city hall and the Pavilion unless "an official apology" is issued and "immediate corrective action" is taken.

"As a public community service, the Pavilion has a responsibility to provide equal treatment to all members of their facility and to properly educate their staff accordingly," Julia Oiler Spiegel, a representative of the federation, said in the news release.

Reach Karla Ward at (859)231-3314 or 1-800-950-6397 Ext. 3314.

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