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Many in the D.C.-area LGBT community are in an uproar after a popular Northern Virginia spa stated a policy of barring LGBT patrons. According to a story posted Feb. 22 on FairfaxTimes.com, a spokesperson for the Centreville-based Spa World submitted a statement to the Better Business Bureau in January saying the spa’s policy is not to accept ”any kinds of abnormal sexual oriented customers to our facility such as homosexuals, or transgender(s),” in response to a complaint filed by a woman visiting from California who identifies as LGBT and says she was asked by management to leave the spa.
In its written response to the Better Business Bureau’s investigation into the woman’s complaint, Spa World’s spokesperson stated, ”Also, for the safety and the comfort of young children at Spa World, we strongly forbid any abnormal sexual behaviors and orientation in our facility. Despite the controversial issue of homosexuality and transgender, it is our policy not to accept them.”
The story gained social-media traction a week later, March 1, with copious statements from LGBT patrons expressing everything from disbelief to outrage.
Charger Stone, who heads D.C. Bëar Crüe social events, including a weekly Friday Bear Happy Hour at D.C.’s Town Danceboutique, has patronized Spa World. He’s gone both on his own and, as recently as Jan. 27, with the 495 Bears gay social group.
”You could barely move,” Stone said of the 495 Bears’ event, emphasizing that it was very well attended. Several of those patrons, Stone explained, purchased discounted day passes at $18 apiece, for future use. He added that other friends have purchased discounted passes – yet unused –through the online Groupon site.
”It kind of sucks, too, because we have been planning so many more runs down there,” Stone said of 495 Bears. ”It’s like finding out your best friend hates you behind your back.”
Stone said he’s never personally had problems with employees of Spa World, and even believes some of the employees may be members of the LGBT community.
Other LGBT patrons shared varying reactions.
”I’ve not had any discriminatory experiences,” said Judson White of Woodbridge, Va. ”I’ve been twice and had good experiences.”
But White also said that the story on FairfaxTimes.com shocked him and has left him vowing never to return to Spa World.
”I definitely will never go back now that I know the mindset of the organization,” White said.
Tom Minnuto of Arlington, another patron who described his Spa World experience as ”fine,” took issue with the comments that the spokesman for Spa World made to the Better Business Bureau.
”I’m sure you know, most pedophiles are straight men, so I don’t agree with Spa World’s assessment that they don’t want gay people around children,” Minnuto said. ”That’s either an excuse to keep gay people out, or really, really bad ignorance.”
Christian Gerard, of Centreville, who lives down the street from Spa World, said he had been going to the spa for a couple of years and had never experienced any problems or any hostility from the staff.
”That’s why it was so surprising when I read the story,” Gerard told Metro Weekly. ”I don’t know if there have been issues with inappropriate behavior, but I’ve never seen anything.”
Gerard said he called Spa World to complain after reading about the policy, and was told by a receptionist that the statement published on FairfaxTimes.com was not accurate. He said the woman told him the company would be issuing a statement to respond to the high volume of calls about their alleged discriminatory policy.
A representative who answered the phone March 1 at Spa World took a message from Metro Weekly and said the manager would return calls as soon as he was able.
Gerard also noted that several people he knew had already posted negative reviews to Yelp, a site that serves as online clearinghouse for reviews of many sorts of businesses. Others, he said, have asked Groupon for refunds.
Devon Alexander Stoney, of Washington, was one such customer who made that request after finding out about Spa World’s anti-LGBT policy.
”I had been once, and I enjoyed it,” Stoney said. ”It was a nice, family oriented place, very clean, and I had a blast. I was going back this Sunday, but not now. I got Groupon to refund the value of my Groupon [pass] and advised them to place a warning for future customers. No one should have to live in fear of being tossed out of an establishment just because they are gay, lesbian or transgender.”
A spokesman from Groupon was not immediately available for comment.
Following the controversy, the LGBT rights organization Equality Virginia set up a petition calling on Spa World to change its policy.