In case you hadn't realized, last week was anal sex week in Olympia.

That, at least, was the publicly proclaimed assessment of Lou Novak, a prominent apartment-building owner. Novak's eagerness to express his views within earshot of HIV-positive citizens, including two children, who traveled to the state capital last week to lobby for greater AIDS prevention and care funding not only provoked a confrontation that led to an investigation by Capitol security, but has also provoked a minor firestorm among legislators.

Here's what happened: Every budget year, Lifelong AIDS Alliance, an advocacy and support group for people living with HIV/AIDS, organizes an AIDS Awareness and Action Day in Olympia. This year was no exception. A record 180 participants, representing 41 of the state's 49 legislative districts, lobbied 123 legislators to press for better funding for care and prevention of AIDS on Wednesday, February 23, according to a press release issued by the group.

That much was par for the course. But what happened along the way, to a small group of participants, was not.

A handful of advocates were exiting the main legislative building when they say they passed a man who loudly offered his troglodytic opinion of their activities. The leader of the contingent, Susie Saxton, executive director of CareBearers, a hospice organization in Yakima, was wearing a red "AIDS Awareness Day" T-shirt. She was accompanied by two other adults, as well as a 13-year-old girl and a 16-year-old who had contracted HIV from his mother, who had herself become infected through a blood transfusion during kidney surgery in the late 1980s.

"Looks like its anal sex week," the man said as they passed him, according to Saxton. After the two young people repeated what the man had said, Saxton decided she could not let the incident pass. "I needed the kids to know that these things are not acceptable," Saxton says. She says she was particularly upset because the 16-year-old in her charge had already been victimized by discrimination: His family, after their AIDS status had become know, had been forced to relocate to Yakima from another rural community to escape harassment.

Saxton engaged the man, pointing out that the group was there to advocate for public health funding and asking him if he might not be ashamed of making such a derogatory comment, particularly in front of children. The man said he was not ashamed, Saxton recalls, and repeated his "anal sex week" comment.

"That was the statement, it was a killer, and he repeated it twice," Saxton says. When the man refused to give his name, Saxton, who hoped to identify him later, says he gave her the finger as she took his photograph.

The incident ended after Capitol security was called to the scene by a lobbyist accompanying the man. Security officials are compiling an incident report about the encounter, but that document had not yet been released publicly as of Monday evening. However, a draft version of the report confirmed the basic outlines of Saxton's account, according to several Olympia sources, who said it also named Novak as the man in question.

Because Novak is the first vice-president of the board of the Rental Housing Association of Puget Sound, a landlords advocacy group, the incident could have significant political repercussions. Word of the incident quickly spread among legislators. "This sort of behavior from anyone who comes to Olympia is a tragedy not only for the individual but for the institution. It's a black eye for us all," says Representative Ed Murray (D-Capitol Hill), who is sponsoring, for the tenth consecutive year, a bill outlawing discrimination against gays and lesbians in housing and other matters.

As Murray points out, the fact that Novak is a landlord encapsulates why legislators need to pass his bill. The bill, HB 1515, which passed the House handily, is currently bottlenecked in the Senate, where Democrats hold a narrow 26-23 majority. One Democratic legislator, Senator James Hargrove of Hoquiam, has already indicated he will vote against the bill, while several others are said to be wavering. No Senate Republicans have yet indicated they will support the legislation.

"We've heard from some legislators that we don't need House Bill 1515. This indicates how much we need a bill like this," Murray argues.

Senator Alex Deccio, a Republican from Yakima and the ranking minority member on the Health and Long-Term Care Committee, is also said to have been upset by the incident, according to several sources.

In an ironic coda to the story, Novak was in Olympia that day to testify against a transportation-funding bill sponsored by Representative Dave Upthegrove (D-SeaTac), an openly gay legislator, which was being discussed in the House Transportation Committee, chaired by Murray, also gay.

The incident could also have repercussions for Novak as well. While he could not be reached for comment, Rental Housing Association board member Chris Benis, the group's attorney, said RHA officials were aware that an incident had occurred. He stressed that the group wanted to make clear that it opposes discrimination and had written a letter, signed by RHA President Cathy Jeney, to Deccio, Murray, Upthegrove, and House Speaker Frank Chopp. The letter states that Novak intends to write a letter of apology "to all persons who were offended by his actions." He added that the RHA was waiting for the official incident report to get a better sense of exactly what transpired before deciding whether to take any further action.

sandeep@thestranger.com

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