Bounce-house controversy goes viral
Stonewall Alliance and community upset over refusal to rent equipment for a gay-rights event
Thinking about bounce houses conjures up images of big, colorful, inflated rooms that become scenes of wild tumbling, laughter and delight for kids at outdoor celebrations far and wide. Lately, however, one North State bounce-house company is coming under fire, with dozens of calls for a boycott, after it refused service at a gay-rights event.
Last month the Chico Stonewall Alliance, a group dedicated to the acceptance and assimilation of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, was planning its Pride Weekend, scheduled for Aug. 26-28. A bounce house sounded like a great idea, so Stonewall board member Cris Monarrez e-mailed an invitation to the owner of Colusa company Jump 4 Joy, Beecher Williams, to set up a bounce house at Stonewall’s Pride Festival Saturday, Aug. 27, in the City Plaza. Williams’ e-mail reply was immediate, short and to the point.
“No, I am sorry, our business does not support any organization that supports homosexuality or the gay rights movement,” he wrote.
Monarrez was surprised but not deterred and followed up with a phone call asking whether Stonewall could rent a bounce house for the occasion. Williams’ response, Monarrez said, was again a brief denial, saying only that he stood by his earlier e-mail.
Williams’ refusal to rent to the group may have broken the law, said Tom Kelem, Stonewall Alliance board chairman. The Unruh Civil Rights Act, California Civil Code Section 51, requires that all businesses treat customers equally, regardless of “sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, medical condition, marital status, or sexual orientation.” Stonewall does not wish to pursue any legal action, however.
“We don’t want a big battle; we simply want other businesses to know that refusing business to us based on our support of gay lifestyles is illegal,” Kelem said.
Monarrez agreed that court action is not desirable. “Suing somebody doesn’t solve anything, and we want to take the higher ground,” he said.
That hasn’t stopped news of the denial from going viral.
Almost immediately upon confirming Jump 4 Joy’s refusal on Stonewall’s Facebook page last week, cries of protest were seen all over the site, as well as on review sites such as yellowpages.com. A typical slam on that site by a poster going by the screen name “brasky” reads: “I cannot believe that they would deny people business based on personal preference. Would not rent it out because it was a Pride event? I’m straight and that sickens me. They will not be rented from by anyone I know.”
Many online posters, however, have been slamming what appears to be an unrelated, but similarly named, business in Corning, Jumps for Joy. (The business’ phone has been disconnected, but a note on its Facebook site says it’s “not ‘that’ Jump for Joy.”) Jo2120 writes on local.yahoo.com, “Nice work, Jumps for Joy. … I believe your narrow-minded, bigoted views severely underestimated the power of social media. Good luck!”
Reached by phone, Williams declined to comment on the controversy, saying simply that all he wanted to say was in his statement aired on Action News last week, which reads: “Jump 4 Joy is a nondiscriminatory, family-owned company. We will not discriminate against any individual for their race, color, ethnic background, or religion. We do reserve the right to refuse service to events or functions which are agenda or politically based. We are sorry if this refusal has been misinterpreted as an attack on anyone.”
Williams also refused to disclose Jump 4 Joy’s city location, but a business by that name is found in the Colusa online phone listings and confirmed by the city of Colusa.
Monarrez said he is saddened that a business would discriminate against Stonewall but wants to make people aware of this issue.
Locally, Kelem and Monarrez both said they haven’t experienced much personal discrimination from businesses based on their homosexuality.
“But we’ve heard about lots of bullying of gays in the area, especially in schools, which have caused a lot of teen suicides,” Kelem said.
Stonewall offers support to victims of discrimination through public talks and discussion groups both in public and at its Chico offices. One such focus group offered through Stonewall is Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, or PFLAG. Details about these resources can be found on the www.StonewallChico.org website and at information booths during the upcoming Stonewall Chico Pride festivities.
“By being visible and standing up we can prevent discrimination and bullying,” Kelem said. “Bystanders have lots of power to stop it by showing that such behavior is not socially acceptable.”
He said that the Facebook response was inspiring and that the high number of people expressing their displeasure showed this type of behavior is not OK.
Monarrez reiterated his desire to stay upbeat and not vindictive about the whole episode.
“Everybody is entitled to their own reaction, but the Stonewall Alliance is all about peace and love,” he said.