Offer comes after gay men kicked out of restaurant for kissing
Members of the group Puentes LGBT Resources have asked the El Paso City Council to allow them to provide sensitivity training for law enforcement departments in El Paso. The request came two weeks after five men were removed from Chico’s Tacos there after two of them kissed.
Sam Aguilera, co-founder of Puentes LGBT Resources, said, "We asked for diversity training for the local police and sheriff’s departments. This has been a problem for the last two years. We’ve requested it before and gotten nowhere."
When a security guard ordered the men out of the restaurant, a member of the group called the police for assistance. Police who answered the call told them they could be arrested for "engaging in homosexual behavior."
That portion of the Texas penal code was stricken by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Lawrence v. Texas case six years ago.
A letter from the All American International Security Company, the company that employs the security guard, said, "We had a group of individuals, who appeared intoxicated, enter the establishment, engage in disorderly conduct, claim discrimination, and gain sympathy with the public by having the community believe it was only a gentle kiss."
The security company’s general manager said the two men "engaged in kissing and other lewd conduct" and that a third man "started dancing around in the aisle like a ballerina."
On July 9, about 100 protesters gathered in front of the Chico’s Tacos location with signs and urged drivers passing by to honk their horns. Signs included, "It was only a kiss" and "Equal."
El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen released a statement saying the officer responding to the call misquoted the law. He also said he wants all El Paso police to be more courteous and professional in their dealings with the public.
Aguilera said, "There’s a pattern where the police department has not handled situations properly. We’ve offered to provide diversity training to prevent violence against the LGBT community before."
He said that Puentes LGBT Resources has the experience and training to offer diversity training. Their three major projects include domestic violence, safe schools and foster youth programs.
The city of El Paso has a nondiscrimination ordinance that covers housing, employment and public accommodations, which includes restaurant service.
Aguilera said that the city has been supportive but noted that comments in the El Paso Times have been hateful.
"We have a lot of work to do," he said.
Aguilera said that the Chico’s Tacos problem was only one of three recent events, but it was the one that sparked the most publicity.
National media linked it with the Rainbow Lounge raid in Fort Worth, which happened the same weekend.
The other two incidents involved a sexual assault and a transgender murder. He said council members have already spoken with the city manager about implementing diversity training and he hopes that will happen soon.
Bernie Mora, owners of Chico’s Tacos said, "We serve tacos, not discrimination," and he said that during its 56-year history, the restaurant has welcomed everybody.
Carlos Diaz de Leon, one of the five men thrown out of the restaurant, has met with an attorney that works with the ACLU about a possible discrimination lawsuit.
Aguilera said that diversity training his group would provide was designed to prevent incidents leading to those lawsuits from happening.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 17, 2009.