In early 2012, a Lexington, Kentucky printing company called Hands On Originals refused to produce t-shirts for the LGBT pride festival. Later that year, the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission determined there was probable cause to investigate a charge of discrimination. This week, a hearing examiner recommended that the Commission rule that Hands On Originals did, in fact, violate the nondiscrimination law.
According to the recommended ruling, Hands On Originals’ “refusal to provide goods and services of public accommodation” to the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization (GLSO) “constitutes unlawful discrimination against the members of the GLSO on the basis of sexual orientation and sexual identity.” The order permanently enjoins the company from future discrimination on the basis of sexuality and requires it to “participate in diversity training.”
Hands On Originals argued from points of both religious freedom and freedom of speech that it had a constitutional right to not print the t-shirts advertising the Lexington Pride Festival because “it’s advocating pride in being gay, in being homosexual, and I can’t promote that message.” “It is something that goes against my belief system,” explained Blaine Adamson, Hands On Originals’ Managing Owner, who is represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).
But the ruling explains that the ordinance was passed specifically to shield “persons deserving of protection from the humiliation and other effects” of discrimination. Counter to Adamson’s claims, openly expressing “pride” in an identity cannot be separated from simple self-identification: “Those members of protected classes who outwardly express pride in their own religion or sexual orientation do so because of their self-identification of being within that classification of persons.” Thus, refusing to print the Pride t-shirts “was inextricably intertwined with the status of the sexual orientation of members of the GLSO.”
ADF lawyer Jim Campbell argues that “no one should be forced by the government — or by another citizen — to endorse or promote ideas with which they disagree.” But the ruling explains exactly why that’s not the effect of the law:
The Fairness Ordinance does not require the Respondent to display any message, and does not require the Respondent to print promotional items including t-shirts. The Fairness Ordinance only mandates that if the Respondent operates a business as a public accommodation, it cannot discriminate against potential customers based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Moreover, the ordinance minimizes the harms of discrimination “by pronouncing where the Respondent’s rights end and the Complainants rights begin.”
The Commission must still approve the recommended ruling before it becomes final.