A church is prohibiting gay and transgender couples from attending its annual Sweethearts Banquet at the federally owned Hale Koa Hotel, even though state law bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in public venues.
In response to a Civil Beat inquiry, Kelley Hupp, the Hale Koa Hotel’s director of resort operations, said in an email the hotel would revise its policies regarding events held there “to prevent this type of situation from reoccurring.”
Representatives of gay rights organizations said the restriction on attendance is improper.
“If you’re going to open your doors to the general public you can’t pick and choose your customers,” said Peter Renn, a senior attorney at Lambda Legal’s western regional office. Lambda Legal is a nonprofit that advocates for LGBT rights.
The ad doesn’t specifically invite church members to attend the Feb. 10 event or request that attendees be Christian.
“That’s a pretty unrestricted invitation except for one minority group,” Renn said.
“Is it discriminatory? Yes. Is it legal? Barely,” said Michael Golojuch, chair of the LGBT Caucus of the Democratic Party of Hawaii.
The Hale Koa Hotel is a military facility owned by the Department of Defense. The hotel is located on a stretch of federally owned land in Waikiki, so it’s unclear whether state law applies.
Hupp wrote that the church’s advertisement was not “approved” by the hotel. She said the ad was not a breach of contract, but that the hotel will revise future contracts to avoid a similar situation.
Unlike Hawaii law, there are no federal statutes prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation in places of public accommodation.
The Hawaii Civil Rights Commission, a state agency that processes formal complaints and enforces state laws prohibiting discrimination, is reviewing the event and advertisement after being contacted by Civil Beat.
It’s also unclear whether the organization holding the public event at the church or the facility providing the venue would potentially be held accountable for any discrimination.
Renn said the organization putting on the event would likely be liable because “they’re the ones turning people away at the door if they’re a same sex couple,” he said.
As a military facility, the Hale Koa Hotel sets specific eligibility guidelines for who can use its facilities. There are a variety of forms of eligibility, ranging from active duty to retired service members and Department of Defense civilian employees. Nonprofits like the Ark of Safety can hold events at the hotel as long as the event is sponsored by an eligible individual.
Legality aside, Golojuch says both the church and the Hale Koa Hotel have opened themselves up for public scrutiny.
“They’re on the wrong side of history,” he said of the church.
Golojuch said the election of Donald Trump as the next U.S. president has “emboldened” organizations that discriminate against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
William Hoshijo, the executive director of the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission, said he hasn’t seen any complaints regarding services to same sex couples come through the commission since the Hawaii Marriage Equality Act passed in 2013.
He has, however, seen formal complaints regarding gender identity discrimination involving work places and public accommodations.
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