Monday, July 13, 2009

Discrimination at El Paso Area Restaurant

According to this article in the El Paso Times, two men were kicked out of a Chico's Tacos restaurant for kissing. The two men in question were part of a larger group of five men seated at the restaurant, and all were escorted out by restaurant security officers. One of the men, Carlos Diaz de Leon, reported that one of the officers said he didn't allow "that faggot stuff" in the restaurant. The men refused to leave and they called the El Paso police for help.

When the police arrived, de Leon said that they told the men that it was illegal for two men or two women to kiss in public and all five men would be cited for homosexual conduct, a law the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional in 2003 in Lawrence v. Texas. Also in 2003, the El Paso City Council approved an ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation by businesses open to the public.

An assistant manager at Chico's Tacos declined to comment, except to say the owners of the restaurant were out of town and could not be reached. An official with All American International Security, the firm contracted by Chico's Tacos to supply guards, said one member of the security crew was contacting a lawyer.

El Paso police Detective Carlos Carrillo said a more appropriate charge for what happened at Chico's Tacos would probably be criminal trespass. "The security guard received a complaint from some of the customers there," Carrillo said. "Every business has the right to refuse service. They have the right to refuse service to whoever they don't want there. That's their prerogative."

Briana Stone, a lawyer with the Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project, disagreed. She said the city anti-discrimination ordinance protects people on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation in public places. Perhaps more troubling, she said, was that the police officer chose not to enforce that ordinance and might have contributed to discrimination.

The police officers involved did not file a report about the confrontation at Chico's Tacos. Carrillo said no report was made because officers thought the situation was under control and neither side requested a written account of the incident.

De Leon said he and his friends left the restaurant after an officer threatened to issue a citation for "homosexual conduct."