A D.C. gay man claims he and several friends were asked to leave a Westin Hotel lounge in Atlanta.
The general manager of the Westin Atlanta Airport Hotel has apologized to a group of five gay and lesbian guests who say a hotel security officer asked them to leave the hotel’s cocktail lounge in April because it was “reserved for families and others.”
In a May 19 letter responding to a written complaint to the hotel by D.C. resident K. David Weidner, one of the gay guests, hotel manager Bill Henderson said the security officer asked them to leave the lounge because they “brought in food from the outside.”
“Because food sales are a core business for us, we reserve our outlet space for guests who want to purchase our food and beverages,” Henderson said in his letter.
But Weidner, the co-founder and president of a D.C.-based consulting firm, told the Washington Blade that his two gay male and two lesbian friends who were with him distinctly recall the security officer stressing that the lounge was “reserved” for families and other patrons whom he declined to define.
Weidner said he and his group had just returned from attending a funeral in Montgomery, Ala., for a mutual friend. He said he and the two males with him were dressed in dark suits and ties and the two women wore black dresses.
“We decided that before we changed clothes and refreshed ourselves we wanted to toast our dear friend whom we’d just buried in Montgomery,” Weidner told Henderson in a May 19 letter complaining about the security officer’s handling of the situation.
Weidner told the Blade he brought in $6 worth of crackers and chips he bought from the hotel’s sundry shop located steps away from the cocktail lounge. But he said he has no recollection of the security officer raising the issue of food when he asked his group to leave the lounge and directed them to a nearby dining room that Weidner said had “dirty tables” and no servers.
Before being asked to leave the lounge the group ordered a round of drinks, which a friendly server brought to their table, Weidner told Henderson in his letter. “But she was barely out of sight and we had barely a chance to toast our departed friend when a gentlemen approached our table and identified himself as the director of security,” Weidner said in his letter.
“He said in a rather direct and impolite tone that ‘we would have to remove ourselves from the table, as this area is reserved for families and others.’”
According to Weidner’s account, the security official then said they could enjoy their beverages in a nearby room called the “Revivals” area, which the group later described as a poorly lit space with two dirty tables.
“The five of us looked at each other – we were absolutely stunned,” Weidner said in his letter. “I asked the director of security to define ‘families and others.’ He replied that our party was ‘not welcome to sit at this reserved space, but that we would be welcome in the Revivals area,” Weidner said in his letter to Henderson. “He never did explain what ‘families and others’ meant.”
In response to an inquiry from the Blade, Katie Roberts, an official with a public relations firm representing the Starwood Westin Hotels chain, said the company has a strict policy of non-discrimination and is especially welcoming to the LGBT community.
“The interaction with Mr. Weidner’s group was most unfortunate and poorly handled by the Westin Atlanta Airport associate, but it was in no way discriminatory,” Roberts said in a statement.
“The only reason Mr. Weidner’s group was asked to move to another area was because they had brought in food from the outside into an area where the hotel serves food,” she said. “Starwood has zero tolerance of discrimination of any kind.”
Roberts noted that the Starwood hotel chain works closely with and supports “LGBT rights organizations” and is pleased that the Human Rights Campaign Foundation has recognized Starwood for “nine straight years as one of the ‘Top Employers’ for LGBT equality.”
Weidner said he’s skeptical about the explanations offered by the Westin Atlanta Airport Hotel and its PR firm, and noted that hotel officials did not respond to his requests for an explanation and an apology until the Blade began making inquiries to the Westin.
Upon learning that the city of Atlanta has a human rights law that bans discrimination against LGBT people, Weidner said he’s considering filing a discrimination complaint against the hotel.
“We understand your disappointment and assure you your experience was the exception to our usual guest experience,” Henderson told Weidner in his letter dated June 1. “We have reviewed your comments with our Director of Security to insure the officer is retrained and your experience is not repeated.”
But PR official Roberts told the Blade in a follow-up email that a female restaurant manager approached Weidner and his group first, informing them that they could not bring their own food into the lounge and would have to move.
“Although they did not verbally refuse to move, they remained in the lounge,” Roberts said. “That is when Security was contacted, and the Security officer stated he also mentioned that outside food consumption was not allowed in that area,” she said.
According to Roberts, the security officer told hotel officials “he did not tell the guests they had to move because it was being reserved for ‘families and others.’”
“My goodness, this is heating up,” said Weidner when asked about Roberts’s account of what happened. “Curious…curious,” he said in an email. “The fact that they are responding in this way leads me to speculate there is more going on here than ‘snacks.’”
He disputed the claim by Roberts that the security officer brought up the issue of food being brought in by his group.
“He only told us we were not welcome to stay in the bar because it was reserved for ‘families and others,’” said Weidner.
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