Two women from South California have filed a lawsuit against a Hawaiin bed and breakfast, believing that the owner broke the state’s anti-discrimination law when she denied them a room because they are a lesbian couple.
Diane Cervelli and Taeko Bufford traveled to Hawaii to visit a close friend and, based on its proximity to their friend’s home, decided to stop at the Aloha Bed & Breakfast. When they called to book a room the owner, Phyllis Young, asked the couple if they were in fact lesbians. They answered truthfully, says the suit, and the owner then refused them a room.
Cervelli and Bufford duly filed a discrimination complaint with the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission. During the investigation Young is said to have admitted that she turned the couple away because they are lesbians, adding that same-sex relationships are “detestable” and that they, in her opinion, “defile our land.”
The lawsuit, filed with the First Circuit Court of Hawaii, says that Diane Cervelli and Taeko Bufford were denied a room in the commercial B&B simply because of the owner’s anti-gay beliefs. This denial of services runs contrary to Hawaii’s public accommodations law which prohibits any inn or “other establishment that provides lodging to transient guests” from discriminating based on sexual orientation, race, sex, gender identity or expression, religion, ancestry or disability. Aloha Bed & Breakfast is apparently claiming that the state’s antidiscrimination laws do not apply.
“I can’t tell you how much it hurt to be essentially told, ‘we don’t do business with your kind of people.’ We don’t want anyone else to experience that and made to feel like they have no place in society. It still stings to this day,” Cervelli said. “We aren’t asking the owner to change her beliefs; we just want her to follow the law applicable to all Hawai’i businesses and not to deny us the same roof over our head that she provides to every other paying customer. We worked hard to save money to be able to visit our friend and her baby. We thought the days when business owners would say ‘we’re open to the public–but not to you’ was a thing of the past.”
“When you open the doors of your business to the public, Hawai’i law absolutely forbids you from discriminating against your customers. You can’t roll up the welcome mat when you see a lesbian or gay couple, just as you can’t refuse to do business with Jewish customers, African-American customers, or disabled customers,” said Peter Renn, staff attorney at Lambda Legal. “No business owner is above the law. If you choose to open a business, then you must play by the same rules that apply to everyone else–you don’t get to pick and choose the laws that you like.”
Lambda Legal is also said to be looking into whether the bed and breakfast is even licensed to operate given that it does not appear to be on a list of approved bed and breakfast properties.
According to The Guardian Aloha B&B owner Phyllis Young has declined to comment on the case and is referring all questions to her legal team at the Alliance Defense Fund. Attorney Jim Hochberg for the AFA says he has not seen the complaint yet.
We will update you on this case as more information becomes available.