According to a release on the Kentucky Equality Federation’s website, the two men were removed from the Pavilion, a city-owned recreation facility, because of their homosexuality. The names of the two men are not being released, but their removal was an action Federation President Jordan Palmer called “outrageous,” adding his organization is currently planning a response.
“This is completely outrageous, The Pavilion is owned by the City of Hazard and paid for by our tax dollars,” said Palmer. “Rest assured Kentucky Equality Federation will not tolerate discrimination in any form and our Southern Kentucky volunteer management, as well as our Discrimination, Hate Crimes and School Bullying Committee have planned a peaceful response.”
The two men who were removed from the Pavilion are clients of Mending Hearts, Inc., an agency that works to support people with developmental and intellectual disabilities. Mending Hearts co-owner Ollie Adams told the Herald the men were part of a group from her organization at the Pavilion Friday afternoon who were swimming in the pool when a break was called.
“They got out (of the pool), got in their chairs where they can smoke, and one of them sat down on the other one’s knee, with his arm around his neck,” Adams said.
That’s when Adams said a staff member with the Pavilion asked the men to leave, saying “we own this place,” and can tell anyone they want to leave. Adams said she was informed the staff member told the men “to go home and read their Bible and go to church.”
“I don’t really know what he meant by that,” Adams said. “All they were doing was sitting there.”
Adams said she believes the men were removed from the Pavilion because of their sexual orientation, and simply wants her clients to be treated like everyone else.
“We just want them to have the same rights as everyone else,” she said. “They have rights the same as your or I, and we don’t want them discriminated against.”
But according to Hazard City Attorney Paul Collins, there seems to be “a wide disparity” in what has been reported about the facts of the case thus far.
Collins said he is currently investigating the incident and has interviewed staff at the Pavilion, including a lifeguard on duty at the time who said the men were engaging in public displays of affection while swimming in the pool.
Collins said while the City of Hazard has no policy that would prohibit people of any sexual orientation, race, creed or religion from participating fully in the services offered at the Pavilion, there are guidelines meant to regulate conduct around the pool, including the barring of what he called excessive public displays of affection.
“I’m only beginning to investigate, but have already been told by an eye witness who was an observer, a great deal of hugging and kissing and that sort of thing was going on in the pool,” said Collins, who noted that he also learned 30 to 40 people were around the pool at the time and hopes to also speak with other eye witnesses. He added that this policy barring excessive public displays of affection is “uniformly applied.”
“Whether they’re a boy and girl, or another type of couple doesn’t matter,” he said, and anyone engaging in public displays of affection while at the Pavilion should be asked to stop, per the rules of the facility.
Hazard Mayor Nan Gorman said it is her understanding that people are asked to leave fairly often due to the rule barring excessive public displays of affection, no matter their sexual orientation. She said the Pavilion should have a family atmosphere and displays of affections, whether they be from heterosexual couples or otherwise, shouldn’t take place there.
“People have little children up there, it’s a family [facility],” she said. “People don’t want to see it.”
Meanwhile, Collins said he plans to continue an inquiry to determine what happened on the day in question.
“We’re looking into this on our own, and attempting to determine what transpired,” he said. “Thus far in the very early phase of interviews ... it's already apparent that there is a wide disparity between what the press is reporting on the one hand, and what I have determined by talking to one eyewitness thus far on the other. We’ll proceed and try to get to the bottom of this.”
Administrators with the Kentucky Equality Federation say the only way to avoid a public protest of City Hall and the Pavilion is to issue an apology.
Josh Koch, director of public relations for the Kentucky Equality Federation, said Tuesday morning that President Palmer is attempting to contact the men who were removed from the Pavilion, and has also been fielding several calls since the story broke. He said an apology should be made to the two men immediately, and the Federation is currently working to determine if and when a protest will be held. In the meantime, he said, the area is apt to receive some unwanted national media attention as a result of the incident.
“If they’re going to issue an apology – they owe one to those men – if they haven’t by now or do not soon, there is going to be a lot of unwanted attention from the national scene,’ said Koch. “The time for an apology is now. This situation is really sad. It should not have come to that.”