Protest of Hands On Originals draws about 60

ssloan@herald-leader.comMarch 30, 2012 

About 60 people attended a demonstration against local T-shirt company, Hands On Originals, which has been accused of discriminating against the organizers of Lexington's gay pride festival.

Those in downtown's Triangle Park held signs and encouraged honks of support, saying they hoped to educate the public about the issue.

"It's been nothing but positive," said Andrew Lucas, one of the organizers of the event. "It was perfectly peaceful, no drama. I'm quite in awe of everything that's going on."

Lucas said about 60 people showed up for the demonstration, and many motorists honked their horns in support as they drove past the park. There was no counterdemonstration, he said.

"We couldn't have asked for it to go any better," he said.

Lexington's Sue Bonner took an hour to attend in the morning, despite her daughter being in town from California.

"I told her to go back to sleep," said Bonner, who is involved with advocacy group Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.

Bonner and others there said they were surprised by the company's actions. The issue is rooted in a complaint filed with the city's Human Rights Commission by the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization, which organizes Lexington's annual gay pride festival in June. The GLSO alleged in its complaint that Hands On Originals declined to produced T-shirts for the event "because we're a Christian organization."

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.

Adamson has not returned messages and emails since seeking further comment.

The controversy led to stern comments from Lexington Mayor Jim Gray on Wednesday against the company's refusal, as well as a decision by the Fayette County Public Schools to hold off on new orders from Hands On Originals until the complaint is resolved. The school system has no pending orders with Hands On Originals.

The issue has created raucous public debate on talk radio stations and also led to Facebook groups both supporting Hands On Originals' actions and another urging a boycott. Both groups had more than 2,000 members each by Friday afternoon.

As of early afternoon, Friday's demonstration had not yet had any visits from people with opposing views.

In fact, the only incident of the day was a vehicle collision at the corner of Main Street and Broadway where the protest took place.

Three people intending to join the demonstration were turning left on to Main Street toward Victorian Square when they were hit by an oncoming car.

"I just got out of the car and grabbed a sign," said Jenna Watkins, who said there were no injuries. But the vehicle was in bad shape. "Vehicle juices were spewing everywhere," she added.

Also in attendance was Aaron Baker, president of the board of directors of the GLSO. The GLSO did not organize the event.

"It just confirmed our impression that Lexington's a very fair-minded city," Baker said of the positive reactions from passing vehicles.

Baker said the GLSO has received a number of offers in recent days from other printers to handle production of the shirts. The GLSO had intended to print 500, but that's likely changing.

"I think we're going to order a few more now, because I think people will be interested in having the controversial T-shirt," he said. "Of course, it's such a non-controversial T-shirt."

The T-shirt design features a stylized number 5 on the front, with "Lexington Pride Festival" and the event's sponsors on the back.

Baker said the GLSO has not yet discussed in great detail what they feel would lead to a satisfactory conclusion of their complaint.

But in general, he said, "Ultimately, the owners of Hands On Originals need to recognize that discrimination is not OK and need to make a commitment not to continue that."

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

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