FORT SMITH, Ark. — Organizers with the River Valley Equality Center, an LGBT advocacy group in Fort Smith, Ark., said their planned fundraising event at a local restaurant was cancelled after a local newspaper article publicized the event and called attention to the group’s mission.
Sarah Sarrubo, vice-president of the RVEC, said the group had been working with the staff at the Sisters Gourmet Bistro in Van Buren, Ark., since December to plan the Feb. 23 event.
But after a photo of the River Valley Equality Center appeared on Feb. 3 in the local newspaper along with a small article advertising the benefit, organizers said they received a message the following day from a restaurant employee informing them that their event was cancelled.
Sarrubo said the caller stated that Sisters was unaware RVEC planned on having a live band and comedians at the event so the restaurant was cancelling it.
But in an interview with a local television station, restaurant owner Richard Hodo instead claimed “there were no reservations to hold any kind of fundraiser,” and then added that he had informed the RVEC that he “does not support their cause.”
“I do not care, but I don’t support their lifestyle and their cause,” Hodo told KHBS/KHOG-TV. “This is a private club and I have the right to refuse service to anyone.”
Sarrubo told LGBTQ Nation on Friday that when she spoke to Hodo on Monday, “he stated that he was not going to hold our benefit at his restaurant, he stated that he was embarrassed that his name was in the paper with our LGBT group, and he also stated that he would also turn down an event for the KKK if they asked to have one at his restaurant.”
Sarrubo said there had been no issues between her group and Sisters in planning the event, and she believed local publicity linking Sisters to an LGBT-related event triggered Hodo’s reaction.
“I believe we have experienced open and flagrant discrimination,” Erin Fowler, RVEC president, told local media.
Sarrubo said the group is working to locate another venue to reschedule the event.