Friday, February 8, 2013

Arkansas Equality Group Fundraiser Cancelled: Restaurant Owner Tells Them He Doesn't Support Cause

RVEC Awareness Day February 2, 2013
By Brody Levesque | FORT SMITH, AR -- A planned fundraising dinner, show, and silent auction to benefit the River Valley Equality Center, (RVEC) LGBTQ advocacy group in this medium size city on the Oklahoma-Arkansas border was canceled, by the venue to host the event, after a write up in a local newspaper last weekend.
Speaking with LGBTQNation Friday evening, the vice-president of RVEC, Sarah Sarrubo, said that a female employee of restaurant owner Richard Hodo, called this past Monday and left a message for the group informing them that their planned February 23 fundraiser at the Sisters Gourmet Bistro was cancelled. She said that the employee said stated that the Sisters management were unaware RVEC planned on having a live band and comedians at the event so the restaurant was cancelling it.
Sarrubo said that group's event organiser, Brad Martin, had been working with the restaurant's staff since December planning the event which had included the menu and according to Sarrubo, an offer by the restaurant to create a special alcoholic beverage for the event.
In an interview with a local television station, Hodo claimed “there were no reservations to hold any kind of fundraiser” and he had informed the RVEC that he does not support their cause” and “that if they want to do that that’s their business.”
“I do not care, but I don’t support their lifestyle and their cause,” Hodo added. “This is a private club and I have the right to refuse service to anyone.”
Sarrubo said that the group- which had only recently been formed last Spring- was hoping to raise enough money to cover the costs of applying for their non-profit status. She added that Martin and others in the group had sold around 50 to 60 tickets out of the 90 tickets available, that number limited due to the seating capacity of the restaurant as well as also gathering items for the silent auction and arranging for a band and several other performers.
When asked if there had been any issues with the event's planning between RVEC and the Sisters restaurant prior to Monday's phone call, Sarrubo said no and added that she believed that a write up in the local paper for an Awareness Day event last weekend which mentioned the fundraiser may have triggered Hodo's reaction. Sarrubo noted that the Awareness  Day is an ongoing recurring event held by the group at various major road intersections around Ft. Smith and the neighboring city of Van Buren to increase awareness of LGBTQ issues.
Sarrubbo told LGBTQNation:
"I contacted Sisters Bistro on... Monday and spoke with Richard Hodo who is the owner. He stated that he was not going to hold our benefit at his restuarant, he stated that he was embarrassed that his name was in the paper with our LGBT group, and he also stated that he would also turn down an event for the KKK if they asked to have one at his restuarant."
In his interview with KHBS/KHOG television, Hodo clarified his remarks saying: “What I told the lady on the on the phone, was, if the KKK came here and wanted to hold a fundraiser rally and all that, I wouldn’t allow that either.” 
In a statement RVEC said:
Our Fundraising Coordinator, Brad had been working with the management of Sister's Bistro since early December 2012 to plan the "You May Say I'm A Dreamer: A Night of Comedy and Blues" fundraising benefit. He and his partner Jeremy were very forthright with the management with what we wanted to do and who we are from the beginning. 
We were told by the manager that there was no problem having the benefit there. There was no problem bringing in a comedian, there was no problem having a live jazz band. We were told by the manager that there would be plenty of room for the amount of guests we were expecting, and he even said the maximum would be around 90. 
Originally we had planned on having the benefit on February 10th, but the manager of Sister's Bistro called Brad, and told him that the owner of the establishment was going to be doing some remodeling on the 10th, but that we could still hold our benefit on the 16th if we wanted. 
Then on February 3rd, a picture of the River valley Equality Center appeared in the SWTimes Record with a small blurb advertising the benefit. The very next day the owner of Sister's called and canceled our event. 
We had sold had half our tickets, booked all of our entertainers, collected all of our silent auction items. 
He claimed it was because we did not tell him we were having a live band. Then later he admitted it was because he did not "support our movement or our lifestyle" and compared us to the "KKK". 
We would have liked to have known that back in early December when we first started working with the establishment so we could have continued looking for a venue to hold the benefit fundraiser. 
Instead the actions of Sister's Bistro and it's owner forced us to cancel and event that we have been working on since November of 2012.
According to Sarrubbo, the group is now undertaking efforts to reschedule the event at another venue in the area. She noted that the original reason Hodo's restaurant was attractive was that the restaurant did not require a booking fee or deposit nor was the group going to be charged for use of the facility.