Howard Daniel’s phone has been ringing continuously for the past several days. His e-mail inbox has well over 1,000 messages, and while not all of them are related to his recent run-in with the Manassas City Council, most of them are. Surprisingly, they’re all in his favor.
”I haven’t gotten one negative phone call or email message,” Daniel says. ”They are all from supporters and well-wishers.”
That doesn’t explain why on Monday, Oct. 23, the seven-member City Council of Manassas, Va., denied Daniel’s application for a special-use permit, which would grant him the right to use his business license to practice his part-time massage therapy business from his own home. According to the Washington Post, Manassas’s City Council has received only two other home-based massage therapy business applications in the past three years, and has approved both.
”What makes my case different?” Daniel asks.
”I never personally made the statement that what I thought was going on was either because I am gay or black, but what is interesting is that people have eyes and people have ears, but they also have mouths and voices and it’s [rewarding] to see that people are able to draw their own conclusions.”
Conclusions many have drawn from the public reactions Daniel faced before Monday night’s meeting, including graffiti on a friend’s car reading ”stick lover,” and the efforts of a few opposed neighbors who he says have gathered members of their local church communities in order to make their voices heard.
But Manassas City Councilmember Jackson H. Miller, the Republican candidate for the 50th District of the House of Delegates, says it is ”disappointing” for anyone to assume that Monday night’s decision was in any way discriminatory.
”I don’t think the mayor or anyone on the City Council voted against [Daniel's application] because of his sexual orientation or race,” he says. Instead, Miller says the decision was based on a petition presented to the Council by a group of 20 or more neighbors who were opposed to the idea of sharing their street with a business.
When asked if all those signatures belong to neighbors who live on Daniel’s street, Miller says, ”Yes.”
”That’s usually the reason why the City Council denies applications,” he adds. ”We have voted against many things that the Planning Commission has approved, based on citizen feedback.”
But Rebecca Glenberg, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia (ACLU), doesn’t think it’s that simple.
”That explanation doesn’t make any sense given Mr. Daniel’s business plan,” she says. ”What he proposes is to have no more than one client at a time, and they will park in his own driveway. So it’s a mystery to me how that could cause traffic or parking problems.”
”The question is, why were all those neighbors opposed? At the first public hearing there was only Mr. Daniel’s petition which had neighbors supporting him, but now all of a sudden there’s 20 people opposing him,” Glenberg adds.
”The government is not allowed to discriminate simply because citizens want them to.”
Dyana Mason, executive director of Equality Virginia, echoed Glenberg’s concerns.
”It smells an awful lot like it’s based on discrimination,” she says. ”The explanation given by the City Council is inadequate. They have approved similar business license requests for similar business activities in the past. In [this case], it seems to be based on discrimination due to [his] sexual orientation.”
Even though he was not available for comment by Metro Weekly deadline, Daniel said last week, that if denied, he will stay in Manassas with Richard Devine, his partner of 22 years, to fight the decision.
”We vote, we pay taxes, I have served in the military, we should be able to go anywhere we want to and live. That is the American dream, and Richard and I are not afraid to fulfill it,” he said. ”We will have to seek other means to challenge the decision.”
One thing is certain: Daniel will not be challenging Manassas’s City Council alone. Mason says it is possible that Daniel will consider taking legal action with the help of the ACLU of Virginia. Glenberg says it has not been discussed yet, but if Daniel were successful with legal action, ”potentially, a court could order the city of Manassas to grant him his permit.”
Mason points out that Daniel’s case is just one more negative blow to the Manassas City Council’s bad reputation of keeping the city’s minorities from having equal rights. Earlier this year the Council came under fire for a law that limited the number of family members legally able to share a home, a move seen by many as directed at the city’s growing Hispanic population.
”It’s so unfortunate that the Manassas City Council is so out-of-touch with their population,” says Mason.
But despite how ”out-of-touch” its city officials are, Daniel and Devine are not planning to pack their bags to relocate anytime soon.
”We love it here,” Daniel says.
Daniel and Devine discovered their home in Manassas when they decided to swap D.C.’s pricey, cluttered property in exchange for Manassas’s spacious and affordable homes, complete with trees ranging 60 to 90 feet high. Since moving, the couple has remained active in their community. Last year, their home was included on the city’s Christmas Tour charity event. Daniel says that they also enjoy landscaping with other neighbors.
”We did find a home that we really do love.”