T-shirt maker at odds with fairness law

March 30, 2012 

It's encouraging — but not surprising — that some local institutions are reconsidering their relationships with a T-shirt maker that refused to fill an order for Lexington's gay pride festival.

For almost 13 years, Lexington has had a fairness ordinance that outlaws discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations based on sexual orientation.

Just as a business that's open to the public can't refuse to serve someone because of race, it also can't withhold goods or services because of sexual orientation.

The only exemptions are private clubs, boarding houses where the proprietor lives and religious organizations which do not receive more than 50 percent of their funding from government sources.

It's odd that a business as popular and well established as Hands On Originals would not have understood its obligations under the law. The company bid on the order to make T-shirts for the annual gay pride festival but then, when it won the bid, refused to fill the order "because we're a Christian organization." The company said it would find another company that would honor its price.

Understandably, that didn't satisfy the festival's organizers who filed a complaint with the local Human Rights Commission.

A whole lot of Christians were offended, as well, by the implication that Christianity condones bigotry.

Since then, both the Fayette County Public Schools and University of Kentucky have said they'll take the discrimination charge and its eventual outcome into consideration when deciding about future T-shirt purchases.

Fayette County schools superintendent Tom Shelton has put a temporary hold on orders until the complaint is adjudicated. UK has had contracts with three T-shirt vendors, but the one with Hands On Originals recently expired.

The discrimination complaint will be considered as UK decides whether to issue a new request for proposals, a UK spokesman told Herald-Leader reporter Scott Sloan.

Meanwhile, the court of public opinion will also have a say, especially if boycott organizers succeed.

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