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Gay group feels unwelcome in Surrey restaurant

'It was simply a scheduling conflict': Waterstone Lounge

NOT WELCOME HERE? 'Your employees were rude and belligerent with strong overtones of not wanting your establishment being known as a gay hangout,' Mark Long alleges. Credit: Courtesy of Mark Long)

After an unpleasant dining experience late last month, a White Rock gay and lesbian business group claims a local restaurant doesn’t appreciate its business. However, the Surrey lounge says no harm was intended and that the whole situation was simply the result of a scheduling conflict.

On Nov 30, the White Rock Fine Cocktail Society, a Gay and Lesbian Business Association of British Columbia (GLBA) social group, held its regular monthly gathering at the Waterstone Lounge in Surrey. Only this time, the group’s organizer says staff made the gay gathering feel unwelcome.

In a Dec 3 letter to Waterstone management, Fine Cocktail Society organizer Mark Long says members of his group, who began holding their monthly meetings at the Waterstone this summer, were treated poorly on the night in question.

“This past Friday… our group was treated with no regard amidst a great sense of inconvenience that we were present. Servers were blatantly dismissive; the only way people got a drink is if they went to the bar themselves, let alone trying to put a food order in, as it was regarded as an inconvenience. The group was shuffled around in the same fashion; no one could settle in for a pleasant evening,” writes Long, a White Rock business owner.

The Waterstone’s staff appeared to be anti-gay, Long alleges.

“Your employees were rude and belligerent with strong overtones of not wanting your establishment being known as a gay hangout,” he writes. “I know for a fact [that] we would be treated with common decency at most establishments around town.”

Long alleges that Kathy Paterson, the wife of Waterstone managing partner Ronnie Paterson, referred to members of the GLBA group as “you people,” telling them they should take their business elsewhere.

“[Kathy Paterson] and other restaurant staff made it very clear that we weren’t welcome,” Long alleges, adding the Waterstone’s younger employees reportedly told people in the community that they did not want the lounge to be known as a gay hangout.

Kathy Paterson did not respond to interview requests prior to press time. But Ronnie Paterson disputes the allegations, saying his establishment welcomes all customers, regardless of their background, and appreciates the gay group’s patronage.

“I want to extend our support and appreciation for the business you have provided us,” he writes in a Dec 7 email to Long. “Our organization is supportive of our customer base regardless of race, religion, colour or sexual orientation.”

Paterson’s email also mentions offering sensitivity training to his employees. “In order to increase the level of support of global initiatives and personal preferences, we have recently coached our team members to help increase their level of awareness,” he writes.

In a phone interview with Xtra West, Paterson reiterated that the Waterstone Lounge appreciates the Fine Cocktail Society’s business. The problem, he explained, is that his establishment was overbooked on that particular night.

The 26-seat lounge was simply too small to accommodate both Long’s organization and a group from a local bank attending a function of their own, Paterson explains.

“There was absolutely no lack of appreciation on our part for their business. It was simply a scheduling conflict arising from hosting two large groups in a small venue,” insists Paterson, who apologized for the scheduling situation in his email to Long.

“It was inconvenient to the guests to accommodate two large groups,” Paterson admits. “It was unsettling to them.”

But the Waterstone welcomes all clients, Paterson repeats. “We support every business opportunity. We treat everybody the same.”

Long doesn’t buy it.

“It’s a double standard,” Long maintains. “They took a reservation from [the bank], saying they were regular customers, but didn’t take one from us. We’re regular customers, too.”

When Xtra West called Paterson back to ask about the reservations, he refused to comment.

“It’s very unfortunate that in this day and age gay and lesbian men and women who are just trying to meet socially have to deal with this type of discrimination from staff and patrons of a restaurant,” Long charges.

Nobody should feel less than welcome in a public establishment, says Long. “Whether [they] are gay, black, Jewish, Arab or white, why would anyone put up with this kind of treatment in 2007?” he writes in his letter to the Waterstone.

Vancouver business owner Sharyn Collis, who attended last month’s Fine Cocktail Society gathering, says she can see how some comments made that evening could have been interpreted as discriminatory.

“The words that were spoken in haste on the evening in question could have been misconstrued as homophobic,” she says.

But Collis says she’s satisfied with the Waterstone’s “enlightened response that this was not the intent” and accepts the restaurant’s emailed apology.

Long remains unconvinced.

“Regardless of the Waterstone’s position on the situation, we have chosen to meet elsewhere in the White Rock area,” he says.

Long says the new location for the White Rock Fine Cocktail Society gatherings has yet to be determined, but that anyone wanting to know where the next event will take place can visit the GLBA website (www.glba.org).