Two skaters alleging discrimination are suing Berkeley Iceland over an incident in February in which they say they were asked to leave the rink based on their sexual orientation.
Calling the charges “absolutely ludicrous,” Jay Wescott, Iceland manager, contends an employee intervened to stop the couple from performing moves that would endanger others.
“My clients were skating together at the Berkeley Iceland rink. One of the staff became very agitated and actually walked out onto the ice and admonished them, ordering them to get off the ice,” said Shannon Minter, attorney with the San Francisco-based National Coalition for Lesbian Rights, who filed the lawsuit in Alameda County Superior Court in March.
Other couples were holding hands, but Minters said his clients were the only same-sex couple on the ice holding hands.
According to the complaint, not until the pair, Alan Lessik, American Friends Service Committee regional director and John Manzon-Santos, executive director of the Asian Pacific Island Wellness Center was leaving the rink did the employee, Monte Tiedemann, tell the couple that he had asked them to leave for safety reasons.
“It’s clear to us that it wasn’t about safety. It was an after-the-fact rationalization,” Shannon said.
The complaint says that the pair, training for the Gay Games in July, was practicing hand-in-hand crossovers during a freestyle training session—a time when the ice is reserved for professional athletes or those training with a coach—when Tiedemann walked onto the ice in his street shoes and “pointed his finger in Lessik’s face and yelled, “‘I told you guys before, I can’t have you skating here.’ No skating together—this is a freestyle . . . There are no pairs here, I don’t allow it.”
In a phone interview, Lessik pointed out that the couple had been involved in a similar incident in April 2005 when the same employee had told them they could not skate together, even though, as the lawsuit alleges, “other adults—male-female couples—were skating together at the same time as plaintiffs.”
Lessik said he and Manzon-Santos had skated in Berkeley between April and February without incident and without seeing Tiedemann. When Tiedemann used the phrase, “I told you guys before,” Lessik said that showed that Tiedemann had remembered the earlier incident, Lessik said.
Iceland manager Wescott dismissed the charges of homophobia.
“We are open to people of all sexual orientations,” he said, underscoring that his employee was simply enforcing safety regulations. “He stopped them from doing tricks. They were doing tricks as a pair—going in different directions.”
There were 23 other people on the ice at the time, he said, noting that they don’t usually allow couples at all. And Wescott said the pair was never asked to leave the building.
Lessik says he and his partner were not doing any moves that the male-female couples were not doing.
Manzon-Santos and their attorney will meet for a mediation session with Berkeley Iceland personnel next week, a mandated step before moving forward with the lawsuit..