Citing the owner's moral objections, a Kent-based print shop refused to print flyers last week advertising the debut of a Capitol Hill bar on the grounds that it caters to a gay clientele. But that decision appears to violate state law, according to the ACLU of Washington and a local civil rights attorney.
"You can't discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation," says David Ward, a lawyer for Legal Voice. Ward says the bar owners may have a case against the printer, and the ACLU has volunteered to help them. "It's important that if someone violates the law, they be held accountable," he says.
On June 13, Seattle resident Mike Reis and his partner, Mark Hurst, placed an order with Access Printed Media for 2,500 flyers to promote their soon-to-open gay bar, Diesel. "It's been a decadelong dream of mine to open a bear bar on Capitol Hill," says Reis, who ordered the flyers—which depict a cartoon man leaning against a 1950s-style gas pump—to distribute at events on Gay Pride weekend. Reis says they chose Access Printed Media because they "wanted to support another local business."
But on June 14, they received an e-mail canceling their order. "After careful consideration, my boss has decided that we won't be able to print for your bar," wrote Sarah Wheeler, an employee of Access Printed Media.
She added: ":/"
"Not that we're against homosexuals at all," the e-mail continued, "but because knowing that our printed products will be advertising and promoting the kind of lifestyle that goes against our morals is something that he can't bring himself to do."
"We were horrified," says Reis. "I felt sickened, furious, humiliated. Obviously, they do have a problem with homosexuals, but they couldn't even pick up the phone and call us."
Reached by phone, Wheeler acknowledged that the Diesel flyers depicted "nothing inflammatory whatsoever." She reiterated that the decision was "nothing against homosexuals themselves. We're just not morally able to promote that kind of a lifestyle."
Access Printed Media has no written document that outlines the business's morality-related printing policy, Wheeler continued. But she did say that the business once refused to print an advertisement for a tarot reader, also for moral reasons. "We're a small business owned by a small conservative Christian family," she said. "I'm sorry, but we have values and we can print whatever we want."
While the company can turn down orders, it can't legally discriminate against customers based solely on their sexual orientation, says Doug Honig, spokesman for the ACLU of Washington. State law "requires businesses open to the general public to serve all customers equally," explains Honig. "The ACLU would be glad to hear from the bar owner and provide assistance if he wishes to pursue the matter."
After this story first appeared on Slog, The Stranger's blog, the printer published a note on its website (www.accessprinted media.com) stating that the allegations of discrimination were "grossly exaggerated" and the original employee e-mail to Reis and his partner was "unauthorized." The note continued, "Please forgive us for any harm or upset we have caused. We respectfully ask that all inquiries to this matter be put to rest. We mean no harm, and we ask that you do not harm us. We only seek to live in peace."
However, no one from Access Printed Media has denied that the company refused to print flyers because they were "advertising and promoting the kind of lifestyle that goes against our morals"—not even in the internet mea culpa that appeared on their website.
"We would not tolerate it if a business were being denied services because its customers are Jewish, African American, or Latino," says Josh Friedes, director of Equal Rights Washington. "We should be equally vigilant when services are being denied to LBGT establishments. People need to think about where they spend their dollars."
Reis and his partner scrambled to find another company that could fill their order on a tight deadline, eventually settling on Gotprint.net. He says Diesel will open at 1413 14th Avenue sometime this summer.