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Gay couple question bar's motive for telling them to leave (w/video)

By Carolina Astrain
Dec. 24, 2013 at 6:24 a.m.


THE LAW

Sec. 22.12. BREACH OF PEACE. The commission or administrator may suspend or cancel a package store permit after giving the permittee notice and the opportunity to show compliance with all requirements of law for the retention of the permit if it finds that a breach of the peace has occurred on the licensed premises or on premises under the control of the permittee and that the breach of the peace was not beyond the control of the permittee and resulted from his improper supervision of persons permitted to be on the licensed premises or on premises under his control.

Source: Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission

A gay couple continues to question why they were pulled from the Cactus Canyon dance floor Saturday.

They were told by management that it was against the club's policy for two men to dance to country music together, but they have since learned no such policy exists.

"I don't like that we were lied to," said Justin Meyer, 21 of Victoria. "The confrontation never would have happened if they hadn't lied about the policy."

However, a bar manager said the couple was told to leave because they were disruptive.

On Saturday night, James Douglas, 30, of Karnes City, questioned whether the club actually had a policy or whether the company was discriminating against them.

Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, said the line between a private company's and an individual's rights in cases like this largely depends on city ordinances.

"Austin has accommodations that would have prohibited that type of discrimination," Harrington said. "But a lot of it depends on the facts of the case as it emerges."

The city of Victoria has no accommodations.

During his four years as city attorney, Thomas Gwosdz said the city has not considered regulating who would be able to come onto a private business' property.

"The city has not gotten involved with that," Gwosdz said.

The incident started as the closing notes of "Cowboys and Angels" ended, when a member of club management informed Douglas that dancing with his boyfriend, Meyer, was against the club's policy and posed a safety risk for the country music night club.

"Why?" Douglas asked the manager. "Why is it not OK for me to dance with my boyfriend when there are girls here who dance together all the time?"

Douglas said he assured management they would be able to fend for themselves in the event of an attack.

Robert Dillender, director of operations for Cactus Canyon in Victoria, said the couple was asked to leave because they were being disruptive, not for dancing.

Dillender said no such policy exists barring same sex couples from dancing together.

"We've never kicked anyone out of the club for dancing," Dillender said.

"Our obligation to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission is to maintain the peace."

How the company interprets that obligation is under review, Dillender said.

"We apologize for the misunderstanding," Dillender said.

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission enforces the state's liquor laws and issues liquor licenses to clubs.

After being told they could not dance to country music, Douglas closed his tab and went outside, where Meyer asked management for proof of the bar's policy.

The general manager denied Meyer's request.

Meyer then raised his voice and poked the manager in the chest, Dillender said.

But no poking took place, Meyer said.

From there, the manager told the couple they would be arrested if they returned to the club, Douglas said.

"We didn't want to create a problem," Douglas said. "We just wanted answers as to why we couldn't dance together."

The couple left the club soon thereafter.

News reports of the country bar ousting spread nationwide and caught the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said Tom Hargis, ACLU-Texas director of communications.

The organization plans to reach out to the couple, Hargis said.

"We encourage all people to stand up for their individual rights," Hargis said.

Two-Step Nightclub and Lounge President Bryant Price said his club in Victoria has no policies against lesbian or gay patrons.

"We don't do that at our club," Price said. "We have a number of gay and lesbian people who come into our club."

The Texas Civil Rights Project has sued a few places in El Paso and Austin, claiming discrimination, with cases resulting in settlements, Harrington said.

Discrimination against gay couples in private businesses is not uncommon.

A gay couple was told to leave a taxi after kissing in October in Chicago, according to a report by the Chicago Tribune.

In Oklahoma, a Wal-Mart janitor asked a gay couple to leave the store while they were buying cookies, according to a report by the Express-Star in Chickasha. The janitor was later fired.

Wild West, a country-Western bar in San Antonio, kicked out a gay couple for dancing and cited the same safety reasons provided by Cactus Canyon, according to QSanAntonio.

And in some places, discrimination has gone the opposite direction.

Last year, the Copenhagen Post reported a straight couple was kicked out of a gay bar for kissing.

In the Cactus Canyon incident, during their initial confrontation, the manager told Douglas it was acceptable for them to dance together for genres like rap or hip-hop - just not country music, Douglas said.

"So you're telling me it's OK for me to bump and grind on my boyfriend to the song 'Bubble Butt,' but we can't dance a two-step?" Douglas responded.

Meyer said he has gone to Cactus Canyon since he was 18 years old.

"I'm just kind of shocked," Meyer said. "They know my face, I've been here hundreds of times, and it was just really hurtful that we couldn't dance together."

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