Oklahoma gay group fighting resort quiet for now

Posted on 12 Jul 2007 at 8:51pm
By John Wright Staff Writer

“‘Bring Down the Beast’ claims Habana Inn mistreated guests

Oklahoma City’s Habana Inn is widely known as a destination for gays from North Texas and elsewhere.

But one group alleges the Habana Inn has mistreated some LGBT guests.

The group, Bring Down the Beast, launched a Web site detailing the allegations and calling for a boycott on June 26. However, the group was forced to take down the Web site July 6 and must refrain from talking to the media after a judge issued an injunction, according to spokesman Jeremy Turner.

The Web site said Bring Down the Beast is a community action group dedicated to stopping alleged abuses at the Habana Inn against the LGBT community, particularly excessive use of force by the security staff.

“Currently we are battling a temporary injunction and have been advised not to speak about the group until that is cleared up,” Turner said via e-mail, adding that Bring Down the Beast hoped to have the Web site back up as soon as possible. ” It’s obviously a First Amendment issue, as anything on our site is a matter of public record or easily proven.”

A message posted on the Web site advising people that it has been taken down states that the group “will now be working directly with owners in resolving issues and addressing the complaints of patrons. As those communication channels opened, let’s wish all parties good luck in their discussions and hope all receive positive solutions.”

Robert Nichols, manager of the Habana Inn, declined to comment beyond faxing a written statement.

“The threats of intimidation, violence and an express intent to bankrupt the Habana Inn are not appropriate in a civilized community,” the statement reads in part. “The Habana Inn intends to take all appropriate steps to protect its hotel guests, its employees and its name from these unjustified attacks.”

Among other things, Bring Down the Beast claims the Habana Inn employs convicted sex offenders.

According to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections Web site, at least two men who reside at the Habana Inn have been convicted of sex offenses.

Both 58-year-old Eric Neil Angevine and 36-year-old Matthew Colin Garza have been convicted of procuring, producing, distributing or possessing child pornography. Garza also has been convicted of failure to register as a sex offender and lewd or indecent proposals/acts to a child, records show.

“With respect to individuals employed by the Habana Inn, it is true some do have criminal records which do not interfere with their job performance or duties,” the Habana Inn’s statement reads. “These individuals are entitled to seek employment and to this date [we have] received no complaints from co-workers, hotel guests or any other source regarding any improper conduct by these employees.”

Habana Inn has 175 rooms, two clubs, a restaurant, a piano bar and a gift shop, according to its Web site. It is situated “in the heart of Oklahoma City’s gay district.”

The Habana Inn made news in 2006 when its parking lot was the site of the arrest of the Rev. Lonnie Latham, a former member of the Southern Baptist Convention, according to reports. Latham, who was charged with offering to engage in an act of lewdness, resigned from the post but eventually was acquitted.

Sgt. Gary Knight of the Oklahoma Police Department said although his agency’s vice squad sometimes receives complaints from the area, he was not aware of any particular problem at the Habana Inn.

“I don’t know of any crime issue at that hotel that’s any worse than any other hotel,” Knight said. “I don’t believe it’s a hotbed for crime.”

E-mail wright@dallasvoice.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 13, 2007

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