Former UK vendor accused of discriminating against organizers of Lexington gay pride festival

By Kayla Phelps 

Organizers of Lexington’s gay pride festival have filed a discrimination complaint against Hands On Originals, a former vendor that UK has paid roughly $200,000 since July 2011.

GLSO signed an official complaint Wednesday with the Human Rights Commission for Hands On Originals’ refusal to print T-shirts for the fifth annual Lexington Pride Festival.

Aaron Baker, president of GLSO, said the group gathered quotes from a variety of local companies and decided Hands On Originals had the best price. Committee members called the company back and gave descriptions of the design. Baker said one of the company’s owners started asking questions about their organization and what it was promoting.

“The Pride Festival T-shirt printing quote would not be honored due to the fact that the T-shirt company is a Christian organization,” GLSO’s official complaint said.

Baker said the T-shirt design never used the word “gay,” and instead said “Lexington Pride Festival” with the number five, representing the number of years the festival has taken place.

He said the company referred GLSO to another company that would honor the quote.

“This is really the first time we have run into this sort of problem,” Baker said. “My reaction was, ‘What does this have to do with anything?’ This has nothing to do with printing T-shirts or not printing T-shirts.”

During this fiscal year, UK has done around $200,000 in business with Hands On Originals. However, UK spokesman Jay Blanton said in an email to the Kernel that the company’s contract with UK expired last week.

UK has contracts with two other companies that do the same sort of business. Within these contracts, a non-discrimination and equal opportunity clause is included.

The clause states that a “contractor is subject to and shall comply with all applicable federal, state and local laws and regulations governing equal employment opportunity and affirmative action.”

Sexual orientation and gender identity aren’t specified in UK’s clause but fall under Lexington ordinance 201-99, known as the Fairness Ordinance, which the complaint was filed under.

In 1999, sexual orientation/gender identity was added to the ordinance to protect against discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations, said Raymond Sexton, interim executive director for the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Rights Commission.

“Everyone has equal enjoyment of goods and services of businesses operating in Fayette County,” he said.

Few public accommodation cases are filed each year, and they are mostly employment related, Sexton said. He said he couldn’t recall the last time there was a sexual orientation public accommodations case.

“This is still untested after 10 years,” he said. “There haven’t been any big judgments, so it should be interesting to see if and how it plays out.”

Allie Huddleston, director of OUTsource, a campus organization that promotes diversity for GLBTQQA students, said she wants to start a dialogue between community members.

“I hope people gain an understanding of one another,” she said.

Huddleston, who is also a host of OUTLoud! Queer Student Radio on WRFL, said she wants Hands On Originals to understand why people are so offended.

“I think as a business, they have that right,” she said. “But it doesn’t make sense for them to refuse good money.”

Hands On Originals did not return a Kernel’s phone call and message as of Wednesday night, but the company issued the following statement to the Lexington Herald-Leader this week:

“Hands On Originals both employs and conducts business with people of all genders, races, religions, sexual preferences and national origins,” said Blaine Adamson, an owner of the company. “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.”

Catherine Brereton, a junior double major in English and gender and women’s studies, is a Gaines Fellow for 2011-2012 school year. As part of the fellowship, she organized a service project honoring the LGBT community.

She said regardless of whether someone is a member of the LGBT community, she thinks the decision is morally wrong.

“If they have a right to do that, where does it end?” she said.

To discriminate at that level would open the floodgates to many other issues, Brereton said.

“It’s homophobia,” she said. “They can dress it up however they want.”

Blanton said that UK is reviewing the case to determine the future of a third vendor.

Baker, the president of GLSO, said numerous organizations have started to raise awareness about the issue.

A “Boycott Hands On Originals” Facebook page was created and now has more than 1,000 fans.

According to a Herald-Leader article, Fayette County Public Schools Superintendent Tom Shelton said Wednesday that a temporary hold will be placed on Hands On Originals.

The school district and Lexington city government have done $28,548.41 and $53,585.27 in business with the company, respectively, since July 2010, according to the article.

Baker said he is shocked that the company’s decision not to print the T-shirts was based on Christian beliefs.

“At our meeting, I looked around the table and counted the numerous people who go to Christian churches,” he said.

Baker said members are working with the Human Rights Commission on its investigation. He said he hopes that this issue will raise awareness to local community members.

“We aren’t seeking monetary damages, we just want to raise awareness that this type of discrimination is occurring in Lexington,” he said. “We don’t feel it is acceptable. We just want the entire community to be aware it is going on and make their own decisions about doing business with the company.”

Sexton said the case is still in its earliest stages and the target timeline to reach a decision is about 180 days.