A Florida woman has sued an all-male, clothing-optional resort marketed toward gay and bisexual men in Key West, alleging she was discriminated against when she was not permitted to stay overnight.
Amina Chaudhry, of Cudjoe Key, filed a discrimination complaint against the Island House Key West hotel and resort with the Florida Commission on Human Relations, demanding that the resort reverse its allegedly discriminatory policy, and also asking for reimbursement for attorney and legal fees.
But the resort’s owners and attorneys claim they do rent separate apartment units to women. They didn’t allow Chaudhry to stay there because she was disruptive during an annual fundraiser that welcomes women to the resort for a cocktail party around the resort’s pool area, reports Keys Weekly.
According to Chaudhry’s complaint, she attended an all-welcome Pride kickoff party and fundraiser at the Island House in June 2022.
As part of the event, women and non-guests are welcome from 5 to 9 p.m., when clothing is required around the pool. She had previously attended the party in 2021.
That year, when the event ended, she — along with other females and non-guests — was asked to leave the resort. At the time, she questioned owner Bobi Lore about why she couldn’t stay later, and why the resort didn’t allow women.
The following year, Chaudhry placed flyers on tables around the pool area, citing state anti-discrimination laws and questioning the resort’s all-male policy.
When she was invited into a private office area to discuss her concerns with Lore and resort managers, Chaudhry told them she intended to sue them for discriminating against women, according to testimony from Lore and manager Jeffrey Smead, both of whom testified at a hearing last week.
“I felt affronted by the fact that here was someone who was invited to the space and enjoying it, but while passing out literature to the detriment of our property and aggravating our guests,” Lore testified before administrative law Judge John Van Laningham. “We eventually had the police escort her off the property.”
During the hearing, Judge Van Laningham reminded Chaudhry, who represented herself, that she needed to base her case and arguments on whether she was individually discriminated against, not whether the resort’s overall all-male policy was discriminatory.
“I’m not here to decide in the abstract whether that policy is illegal or discriminatory,” Van Laningham said. “This is about whether the business individually discriminated against you.”
Chaudhry testified that when she and the other non-guests were asked to leave the Pride kickoff party in 2022, she told the resort staff she wanted to book a room there for the night.
She was told the resort was fully booked, as it was the start of Pride in Key West.
At the hearing, further testimony revealed that the Island House has rented units to women since at least 2003.
Those units are separate one- and two-bedroom apartments adjacent to the resort complex. Female guests are not admitted to the main, clothing-optional facility. But according to Lore, Island House has agreements with Alexander’s Guest House across the street, which allows female guests from Island House access to its pool and amenities.
The Island House also has an agreement with Key West Fitness that allows Island House female guests to use their gym facilities.
According to Wayne Larue Smith, one of two attorneys representing the Island House and Lore, the Island House only gets about two calls a year from women interested in staying there.
Attorney Ashley Sybesma told the Keys Weekly that Chaudhry’s own witness, a former front desk manager at Island House, testified that when women typically call the resort, it’s by mistake, often believing they’re calling Island City House, a family-friendly, all-welcome resort less than half-a-mile down the street.
Paraphrasing the desk clerk’s testimony, Sybesma said: “When [women] hear it’s a clothing-optional resort that primarily serves gay and bisexual men, they realize they called the wrong place and book somewhere else.”
Speaking to the Keys Weekly, Chaudhry said she did not want her lawsuit to attack gay men.
“I fully support them having safe spaces that are welcoming,” she said. “I don’t want to go to outer space either, but if someone suddenly said no women were allowed in space, I’d be first to join the protest.”
But Smead, the resort manager, also allegedly testified that Chaudhry was not denied a room in the adjacent complex because she’s a woman, but rather because she had behaved poorly, and the resort’s liquor license gives them the right to refuse service to someone who is being disruptive.
The complaint process will continue for another 60 to 90 days as the judge considers the testimony from last week’s hearing and drafts a recommended order to the Commission on Human Relations, according to Island House’s lawyers.
“We’re very pleased with how the hearing went and are confident that the judge has a good grasp of the circumstances,” attorney Smith said. “We are persuaded that our methods and model of doing business are in full compliance with the law.”
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