Lesbian couple files discrimination suit against Honolulu bed and breakfast

Diane Cervelli and Taeko Bufford

Diane Cervelli and Taeko Bufford

HONOLULU — Lambda Legal on Monday filed a discrimination lawsuit in the First Circuit Court of Hawaii on behalf of a lesbian couple rejected by a commercial business establishment, the Aloha Bed & Breakfast, because of the owner’s personal anti-gay beliefs.

The couple, Diane Cervelli and Taeko Bufford, claim the Honolulu inn denied them public accommodation because of their sexual orientation.

Diane Cervelli and Taeko Bufford

Hawaii’s public accommodation law prohibits any inn or “other establishment that provides lodging to transient guests” from discriminating based on sexual orientation, race, sex, gender identity or expression, religion, ancestry or disability.

“When you open the doors of your business to the public, Hawaii law absolutely forbids you from discriminating against your customers,” said Peter Renn, staff attorney at Lambda Legal.

“You can’t roll up the welcome mat when you see a lesbian or gay couple, just as you can’t refuse to do business with Jewish customers, African-American customers, or disabled customers,” said Renn.

“No business owner is above the law. If you choose to open a business, then you must play by the same rules that apply to everyone else—you don’t get to pick and choose the laws that you like.”

According to the suit, Cervelli and Bufford were traveling to Hawaii to visit a close friend and her newborn baby. The friend recommended Aloha Bed & Breakfast based on its proximity to the friend’s residence.

In their first call to the business, the owner wanted to know whether Cervelli and Bufford were lesbians. When they answered truthfully, the owner refused to rent them a room because they were a lesbian couple.

Cervelli and Bufford filed discrimination complaints with the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission, which conducted an investigation and found reasonable cause to believe that illegal discrimination had occurred.

During the investigation, the inn’s owner, Phyllis Young, admitted that she turned the couple away because they were lesbians.

Young explained her personal belief that same-sex relationships are “detestable” and that they “defile our land.”

In another development Monday, the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission moved to intervene in the lawsuit as a plaintiff in order to protect and enforce the state anti-discrimination law, which Aloha Bed & Breakfast claims does not and cannot constrain its conduct.

“I can’t tell you how much it hurt to be essentially told, ‘we don’t do business with your kind of people.’ We don’t want anyone else to experience that and made to feel like they have no place in society. It still stings to this day,” Cervelli said.

“We aren’t asking the owner to change her beliefs; we just want her to follow the law applicable to all Hawaii businesses and not to deny us the same roof over our head that she provides to every other paying customer.”

A copy of the complaint is here.

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