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Women accuse Victoria bar of kicking them out for being gay; bar says not so

By By CAMILLE M. DOTY - CDOTY@VICAD.COM
Sept. 3, 2011 at 4:03 a.m.
Updated Sept. 4, 2011 at 4:04 a.m.


Human rights groups

Equality Texas - A public education program on policy issues and their effect on Texas citizens. Visit www.equalitytexas.org.

American Civil Liberties Union - National organization advocating individual rights, by litigating, legislating and educating the public on a broad array of issues affecting individual freedom. Visit www.aclu.org

Human Rights Campaign - The largest national lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization, Visit www.hrc.org.

Three women say a Victoria bar ejected them because of their sexual orientation.

One of the women said an employee of Cactus Canyon, 3613 N. Navarro St., told them to leave on Aug. 24 because "this is a country western bar, not a gay bar."

"I got kicked out of Cactus for no reason," Victoria resident Estefana Diaz said. "We were holding hands - that's it."

One of Cactus Canyon's owners, Roger Gearheart, of Odessa, denied the women were asked to leave because of their sexual orientation.

"Those people weren't kicked out because they're gay. They acted inappropriately to each other," Gearheart said. "We don't discriminate."

He also said he wanted to be clear his bar does not discriminate and the women could return as long as their behavior is appropriate.

Gearheart was not in the bar at the time, but stands behind his employee's decision that the women's behavior was not in good taste.

"No one wants to see that whether you're gay or straight" he said.

Diaz, Sara Resendez and Ashley Medlin, also of Victoria, said they have patronized the club many times before without any problems.

Diaz said she and Resendez, her girlfriend, arrived at the bar at 11 p.m and were kicked out 30 minutes later. Diaz said she and Resendez were affectionate, but not more than usual.

"I've kissed girls at the bar before. I didn't know what was different that night," Diaz said.

Resendez also didn't understand being ejected and asked, "What did we do?"

Their friend, Kelly Alexander, also was offended.

"It really bothered me," she said.

Medlin said she was asked to leave and never come back.

She called the police to file a discrimination report after she was ejected from Cactus Canyon. The officer told her the bar had the right to refuse service.

Lisa Graybill, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union, said no anti-discrimination laws regarding sexual orientation exist on a state or federal level.

"Whether it's discrimination and illegal are two different questions," Graybill said.

Graybill said cities such as El Paso, Dallas, Fort Worth and Austin have anti-discrimination public accommodation ordinances.

Victoria would have to enact its own ordinance to restrict a business from refusing to serve people based on sexual orientation.

Mark Menn, Victoria service area lieutenant with the Texas Alcoholic and Beverage Commission, said he does not know of any complaints against Cactus Canyon regarding discrimination.

If a bar violates a city's anti-discrimination ordinance, the TABC has the authority to suspend a permit upon conviction for a violation of civil rights or discrimination under local ordinances, state or federal law.

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code Public Appropriateness, Sec. 11.611, reads a bar license may be suspended for up to 60 days or denied a renewal of its permit if it is convicted of violating an individual's civil rights based on race, color, creed or national origin.

Councilman Gabriel Soliz said the city defers to state and federal authority. He said he has never been approached to address this issue.

"If a group of individuals want to talk about it, we can go from there," Soliz said.

Even without an ordinance, Graybill of the ACLU said those evicted have action they can take.

"Customers can vote with their feet," Graybill said.

Medlin said she and her friends plan to do just that. "I think we're going to boycott Cactus."

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