Gay party-goers cry foul after Joule hotel bar turns them away at the door

Posted on 19 Aug 2010 at 8:57pm

Joule general manager admits that doormen were enforcing a gender ratio, but says practice isn’t anti-gay

John Wright  |  Online Editor wright@dallasvoice.com

Cordey Lash
Cordey Lash

Gay patrons of the Joule Hotel’s PM Nightlife Lounge allege that they were discriminated against by door staff who denied them entry to the upscale downtown bar last weekend.

However, the general manager of the Joule Hotel said the gay patrons were turned away due to capacity issues and blamed the incident on a “breakdown in communication.”

The gay patrons said doormen at the PM Nightlife Lounge were enforcing a “gender ratio” on Friday night, Aug. 13 — allowing straight couples in while refusing entrance to gay men who weren’t accompanied by women.

The gay patrons said they were registered guests of a joint birthday party for three friends. One of the three hosts, all of whom are gay, said the party was booked in advance for more than 200 people.

Despite being on the guest list, gay patrons said they were made to stand outside in the searing heat as straight couples passed them by, and some eventually left without going in.

“There are very few times in life where I’ve felt like I was discriminated against. That was clearly one,” said Cordey Lash, who left after being denied entrance.

Chris Heinbaugh, the openly gay chief of staff for Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, said he was eventually allowed in to the PM Lounge — but only after confronting the general manager, who walked by as he was waiting in line.

Heinbaugh said he spoke with the general manager, Brendan Carlin, again by phone this week.

“I’m satisfied after talking with them that they get it,” Heinbaugh said Wednesday. “They understand why this was so frustrating. At least at that upper level, they don’t want to see that happen.

“My hope is that they communicate that to the folks they have on the ground, because the actions they’re taking, whether intentional or not intentional, they have the effect of discriminating.”

In an interview with Dallas Voice on Thursday, Carlin called it “a very unfortunate incident.”

Carlin acknowledged that the door person was enforcing a gender ratio to create “an even distribution in the room” — a common practice at straight bars.

But Carlin insisted that PM Lounge staff had notified the three hosts of the party in advance that the facility could accommodate only 50 of their guests.

Carlin said the three hosts didn’t pay for the party and would have needed to buy out the nightclub, at a cost of $25,000, if they wanted to have 200 guests.

Carlin said in addition to those who were invited to the birthday party, the PM Lounge had to try to accommodate hotel guests as well as people who are on a VIP list.

“There certainly are legitimate capacity issues,” Carlin said. “It’s one of the hottest nightclubs in Dallas. It fills up every weekend. They [the gay patrons] didn’t think we were at capacity … but I was told we were at our capacity, which is 210.

“Really this was a breakdown in communication more than anything else,” Carlin added. “Certainly we had more invitations sent out than we could accommodate. We certainly don’t have the capability to accommodate what at this point in time was 282 people coming to this event.”

Asked whether there could have been anti-gay discrimination involved, Carlin said, “Absolutely not.”

“I guarantee you we have this situation every weekend with straight people who can’t get in there,” he said.

Daylon Pereira, one of the hosts of the joint birthday party, said when he arrived at about 9:30 p.m. the club was mostly empty. Soon Pereira began hearing that people were being turned away at the door.

“After well over 100 of our guests were turned away, all of whom were on the guest list given to the door men, the club was still empty and many of our friends were made to feel like second-class citizens,” Pereira said. “Had it been an issue of crowd control, I could understand, but the fact that PM was close to empty, I am having a tough time looking at this as anything but ‘gay’ control. All of my straight friends who arrived with their girlfriends were granted access with no issues. … This was such an embarrassing situation which has caused me to spend this entire week writing apologies to my friends for the rudeness they were treated with.”

Chris Heinbaugh
Chris Heinbaugh

LGBT legal experts say gender-based policies at bars and nightclubs are widespread but represent a gray area of the law.

Rob Wiley, a gay Dallas attorney who specializes in discrimination cases, said some courts in the U.S. have held that policies favoring one gender — such as cover charges for men but not women on “ladies night” — are a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Wiley said he once successfully challenged a gay nightclub in New Orleans that had imposed a cover charge for women but not men. But he acknowledged that while such policies may technically be illegal, the law is rarely enforced.

“It’s not really as much about sexual orientation rights as it is gender rights, but you have this problem all over,” Wiley said. “If you are a place of public accommodation, you are not supposed to exclude people in protected classes. Unfortunately, that law which was passed in 1964, 40 some odd years later, still is not always complied with.

“Folks who are doormen at clubs ought to be trained about not discriminating against people on the basis of gender or the basis of sexual orientation, and they ought to keep their eyes open for this,” Wiley added.

Heinbaugh and Lash agreed that more training is needed. And on Thursday afternoon, Carlin reported that Lash had agreed to conduct diversity training for door staff at the PM Nightlife Lounge.

Lash also said he believes the incident serves as a reminder about the importance of — and continued need for — the gayborhood. He said he hopes someone will “step up” and open an upscale lounge that caters to the LGBT community.

“Instead of it being anti-Joule, now that I’ve had time to stop and think about this, we as a community have lost sight of why our gayborhood is there,” Lash said.

Lash, who’s worked in the hospitality industry for more than a decade and currently serves on the board of the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association, stopped short of calling for a boycott of the PM Lounge.

“It’s difficult for me to get on board with promoting something negative. However, I do 100 percent promote the Joule receiving inclusion training, and bigger than that, I promote our community looking at where we spend our money.

“I want to not boycott the Joule, but uplift those that support my community,” he said.

Lash, who currently works for the Hilton Anatole, also noted that this marked the second recent incident of alleged discrimination at a property in Dallas that’s affiliated with Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide.

In July two gay patrons accused an off-duty police officer working security at the W-Dallas Victory hotel of anti-gay discrimination. An internal affairs complaint against the officer is pending.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts maintains a perfect score of 100 for gay-friendliness from the Human Rights Campaign.

Carlin said Starwood does not own or manage the Joule Hotel, but has a marketing agreement for the property.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 20, 2010.

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