By JANET CAPPIELLO
LOUISVILLE, Kentucky – A storm of protest has erupted in a small, eastern Kentucky city after a complaint that a worker at a city-owned pool cited the Bible as authority that “gay people” weren’t allowed to swim there and forced two mentally disabled gay men to leave.
“They left the facility crying,” Jordan Palmer, president of the gay-rights group Kentucky Equality Federation, said last week. “You don’t treat people that way, especially someone that is developmentally challenged. … I’m so appalled by that I can’t put it into words.”
The two men had gone on June 10 to the Hazard Pavilion recreation center in Hazard with a group called Mending Hearts Inc., which works with intellectually and developmentally disabled adults, according to a complaint filed with the federation by Mending Hearts.
The group is calling for the pool worker to be transferred to another department. A protest was scheduled for Saturday at the center, which Palmaer said has attracted the attention of local churches and liberal websites. A message left with KEF requesting an update on the protest has not yet been returned.
The group’s actions have led to angry e-mails, with at least one threatening that if the protest is held, Palmer “will leave with a bullet in his head,” Palmer said.
The federation said in a news release the men were sitting together beside the pool when one of them apparently sat on the other’s knee and put his arm around him. Mending Hearts Executive Director Shirlyn Perkins said in its complaint that “the Pavilion staff immediately entered the pool area and asked my clients and their staff to leave the Pavilion. My staff asked The Pavilion staff why … and they were informed that ‘gay people’ weren’t allowed to swim there.”
The complaint went on to say that a male pavilion staff member “stated that what he was doing was in the Bible and he could do it. … My clients, who already feel ridiculed and different, left the city-owned facility crying and embarrassed for trying to participate in ‘normal’ activities that everyday `normal’ people do,” the federation quoted the complaint as saying.
A telephone message left for Perkins was not returned Wednesday.
Hazard Mayor Nan Gorman, 83, said the city is sorry about the incident, an investigation is under way and no decisions have been made about the employee. Gorman says the city has been inundated with protest calls from around the country.