Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Page 1


Rights Group Disputes Hotel’s Claim of Support for Gay Event

Hyatt and San Diego Pride Joust as Pressure to Move State Bar Gathering Continues


By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer


The nonprofit group that organizes San Diego’s annual gay pride parade and festival yesterday accused the Global Hyatt Corporation, which manages the hotel hosting this year’s State Bar and Conference of Delegates conventions, of fabricating its claims of support, in the latest development in the dispute over holding the events at the Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego.

Ron deHarte, executive director of the San Diego Pride Corporation, told the MetNews that the Hyatt’s claims were “absolutely false,” and accused the hotel chain of “playing word games” and “misleading people” into believing the hotel was aligned with his organization.

“There is one organization that is the San Diego Pride and we’ve been around for 35 years,” deHarte claimed. “There is no confusion. There is no doubt. There is no other San Diego Pride organization. We are that group.”

He insisted that the hotel chain had “never given us a dime.”

The Hyatt corporation issued a statement last week maintaining that it is “steadfastly committed to diversity in the workplace and welcoming all communities into our hotels.”

Dueling Statements

The company also claimed that it “[s]ponsored San Diego Pride in 2007 including hosting a reception costing $25,000” and “was signed up to Sponsor Pride 2008 but was asked to withdraw support [of] $25,000 due to donation of owner.”

A spokesperson for Hyatt stood by that statement, maintaining that the corporation was “actively involved” in the 2007 event.

“[DeHarte’s] version of sponsor may be different from our version of sponsor,” the spokesperson said, explaining that Hyatt is part of the Greater San Diego Business Association, a non-profit organization dedicated to building strength and prosperity in the lesbian and gay community through networking and social activities, which was involved in the 2007 pride.

Manchester Grand Hyatt employees rode on the Greater San Diego Business Association’s float in the 2007 pride parade, the spokesperson claimed.

Manchester Grand Hyatt marketing director Kelly Commerford said that the hotel paid for some of the expenses in constructing the float and paid for a hotel employee to host a reception at the employee’s private home for anyone who was involved in the pride, but he acknowledged the hotel “didn’t go directly through Pride.”

DeHarte said the hotel should not claim it sponsored the parade.

“Their statement should read that they sponsored the Greater San Diego Business Association,” deHarte said. “They know that’s what they did, and they’re not saying that’s what they did.”

He said an attorney for the organization will be sending the hotel a letter demanding that it stop making references indicating that it had aligned itself with his organization.

Commerford said that Hyatt continues to be a member and continues to support the Greater San Diego Business Association as well as the larger lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender community.

“Hyatt is a company that believes in diversity,” Commerford said. “We serve a myriad of guests and we don’t discriminate in any way, shape,or form.”

He explained that the company “does not get involved with political referendums that are going to be put up for a public vote,” and that Manchester’s donation did not represent Hyatt’s views.

“We have a stellar record of being supportive of the gay community,” Commerford said. “While we believe individuals have the right to make their own personal contributions… we hope the greater public will judge the Manchester Grand Hyatt on its record of supporting diversity and not the actions of a separate ownership entity.”

The hotel has given a grand total of $633,000 in contributions to support diversity efforts, and in particular, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender diversity, Commerford claimed.

Donor ‘Sorry’

Although neither Manchester or a representative could be reached for comment, Commerford said that Manchester has publicly vowed not to contribute to another “Prop. 8-type campaign,” and said he was “sorry” his contribution had “hurt the hotel.”

Manchester “does not discriminate against gays, and believes they should have equal rights and benefits,” Commerford maintained, adding that Manchester has been supportive of Hyatt’s diversity efforts.

“He certainly did not wish to offend,” Commerford insisted.

Commerford acknowledged that various organizations which have booked events at the hotel are “taking the boycott into consideration,” and that the hotel is “working with groups on an individual basis.”

A salesperson spoke to the State Bar on Friday, Commerford said, and to his knowledge the State Bar will not be canceling its meeting.

The waterfront hotel is owned by the Manchester Financial Group LLC, whose chairman, Doug Manchester, was reported to have contributed $125,000 in support the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

The Beverly Hills Bar Association has joined with various attorneys active in gay-rights issues in calling for a change in venue. Los Angeles County Bar Association President Dannette E. Meyers has also said that the delegation members of her organization are discussing the issue.

The hotel has been the target of a boycott organized by Californians Against Hate, a non-profit organization devoted to drawing attention to the major donors to the Yes on 8 campaign, since July.

State Bar President Holly Fujie told the MetNews yesterday that the State Bar Board of Governors “has received numerous communications from individuals and groups on this issue, has requested information from staff and is carefully reviewing it.”

The State Bar previously said that it had contracted with Hyatt to reserve the location over five years before Manchester’s contribution to the Yes on 8 campaign became public knowledge.

California Women Lawyers President Jean M. Pledger called the venue “unfortunate,” but expressed doubt that the State Bar would be able to break its contract with the hotel. She said that her organization, which holds its annual dinner in conjunction with the State Bar meeting, will be working with the State Bar to ensure that its dinner is not held at the Manchester Hyatt.

Pledger also said she will be informing members of the organization’s reasons for not holding its dinner at the hotel and that it is not recommending the hotel as a place to stay during the conference.

State Bar Deputy Executive Director Robert Hawley said yesterday that “there has not been a cancellation of the contract at this point because it is still under consideration.”


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