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 intellectually disabled gay men to leave.
"They left the facility crying," Jordan Palmer, president of the gay-rights group Kentucky Equality Federation, said Wednesday. "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 Friday 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 and is planning a protest Saturday at the center that has attracted the attention of local churches, liberal websites and at least one blogger from Oklahoma who is planning to attend, Palmer said. 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 (sic) 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.
"I've had people call from everywhere," Gorman said. "You'd think we've had a murder scene up here, a massacre."
Gorman took over as the city's first female mayor in January after the death of her husband, who had been mayor for 33 years. She said the city of 4,800 is not intolerant, and that the city pool once hired a gay lifeguard.
"We're all aware of tolerance here. We're not completely shadowed here by the mountains," she said.
But she acknowledged that "of course you have all kinds of people working when you have 100 or so people," and said since she didn't witness the incident, she wasn't sure what had happened.
"We know enough we don't allow people to show affection in our pool, whether it's a man or a woman or two women or two men," she said. "... I'm sorry this happened. It blackens something that we hold very precious and that's our name."
Charlotte Sizemore, executive director of the recreation center, said she didn't want to comment because she "didn't see what happened that day."
"They don't want us to talk about it but we're not biased," Sizemore said. "... We've had homosexual employees. ... It's just kind of blown out of proportion just a little bit."
Sizemore said a pool membership costs $250 a year and can be used by a family up to seven people. She said Mending Hearts is given a steep discount.
"We are getting all kinds of phone calls," she said. "We're sorry it happened. We're just fair to everybody. ... We never have any trouble here, period."