Fayette public schools place hold on purchases from Hands On Originals

ssloan@herald-leader.comMarch 28, 2012 

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This is the design for front of the proposed T-shirt.

PHOTO COURTESY GAY AND LESBIAN SERVICES ORGANIZATION OF LEXINGTON

The leader of Fayette County public schools said Wednesday the district will place a temporary hold on purchases from local T-shirt company Hands On Originals, which has been accused of discriminating against the organizers of Lexington's gay pride festival.

Also Wednesday, the school system, city government and University of Kentucky told the Herald-Leader how much business they have done with the company.

Mayor Jim Gray also weighed in, saying, "People don't have patience for this sort of attitude today."

Controversy arose Monday when the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization, which organizes the June festival, filed a discrimination complaint with the city's Human Rights Commission. The GLSO alleged in its complaint that Hands On Originals had submitted a bid to produce T-shirts for the event but then, upon being told it had been selected and learning more about the nature of the event, refused to fill the order "because we're a Christian organization." The company said it would find another company that would honor its price.

The T-shirts for the fifth annual event were to include a stylized number 5 on the front, with "Lexington Pride Festival" and the event's sponsors on the back.

The complaint has sparked criticism of the company, including the creation by community members of a Facebook group encouraging a boycott that now has more than 1,200 members. A protest has been scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday in downtown's Triangle Park. Both the Facebook group and protest have been organized by people other than the GLSO's leadership.

On Wednesday, Fayette County public schools Superintendent Tom Shelton said his administrators "will make our staff aware that a complaint has been filed."

"And if any purchase orders come through before the complaint is resolved, we will temporarily hold them until we find out about any final action being taken," he said.

Since July 2010, the Fayette County Public Schools has paid $28,548.41 to Hands On Originals for various orders. That amount includes only purchases made by the schools themselves, and not booster groups or parent-teacher organizations.

Hands On Originals co-owner Blaine Adamson issued a statement Monday, saying Hands On Originals "both employs and conducts business with people of all genders, races, religions, sexual preferences and national origins.

"However, due to the promotional nature of our products, it is the prerogative of the company to refuse any order that would endorse positions that conflict with the convictions of the ownership," he said. He has not returned messages and emails seeking further comment.

The company's actions rankled Gray, who said Wednesday, "I'm against discrimination. Period.

"It's bad for business and bad for the city," said Gray, who is gay. "I support the Human Rights Commission in a full and thorough investigation. ... I expect they'll move quickly and we'll let them do their work."

The city has paid $53,585.27 to Hands On Originals since July 2010. Most of that amount, $42,959.10, was related to Spotlight Lexington, a festival held in conjunction with the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

The University of Kentucky has paid the company roughly $200,000 since July 2011. The company's contract with the university, though, expired last week, said UK spokesman Jay Blanton. It had been one of three vendors for that type of merchandise. Its future relationship with the university is uncertain since the contract has expired.

"Given the complaint, we are reviewing whether a (request for proposal) should be issued in the future for a third vendor for the university," Blanton said.

Aaron Baker, president of the GLSO's board of directors, said he was pleased to hear the responses of the publicly funded organizations. He said it shows there "is concern in our community when there's evidence of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity."

Baker said he met with the city's Human Rights Commission Wednesday and signed the complaint, which was submitted online Monday. That begins the process of an investigation, which generally takes about six months.

Scott Sloan: (859) 231-1447. Twitter: @HeraldLeaderBiz

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