T-Shirt Decision Generates Controversy

Mar 29, 2012

At a time when the shirt sales are big business, one Lexington t-shirt maker is operating under fire after turning down an offer to print shirts for the city’s summer Gay Pride festival. The controversy has drawn in city leaders, the University of Kentucky, and Fayette County Public Schools. Since the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization or GLSO filed a discrimination complaint with the city’s Human Rights Commission, Hands On Originals has seen a backlash – including a boycott page on Facebook with more 13-hundred members and a protest set for Friday morning in Triangle Park.

"This may well be a groundbreaking case under the Fairness Ordinance. Who knows?" says Raymond Sexton, executive director of Lexington’s Human Rights Commission. He says there’s a lot of uncharted territory when it comes to enforcing the city’s Fairness Ordinance, but it could come into play.

"If it is revealed that Hands On's only basis for refusing service is based on a protected basis, it is against the law to discriminate against somebody based on sexual orientation," he says.

Sexton hopes to see his commission finish its investigation within 180 days. In the meantime, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray has expressed frustration with Hands On Originals, saying he’s “against discrimination… period.” The University of Kentucky’s contract with the business expired last week and officials say the complaint lodged against them will factor into further negotiations or contracts. A Fayette County Public Schools spokesperson says, while the school system doesn’t have any outstanding agreements with the company, it will hold off on any contracts until an opinion is rendered in the dispute, which Sexton says is far from decided.

"There may be some interesting arguments that may end transcending our office," he says.

Hands On Originals has defended its decision in a statement, saying, “Hands On Originals both employs and conducts business with people of all genders, races, religions, sexual preferences, and national origins.”