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Anti-gay group sues Naperville hotel, alleges discrimination
By Christy Gutowski | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 8/27/2009 12:06 AM

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Peter LaBarbera said he was just being honest when he told the Naperville hotel event planner to expect protesters outside his anti-gay group's upcoming banquet.

His truthfulness, though, may have led to his own undoing.

Americans For Truth About Homosexuality recently filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against Holiday Inn Select, 1801 N. Naper Blvd.

The Carol Stream-based group alleges its Oct. 6, 2007 fundraiser was canceled by the hotel six weeks earlier because of the group's religious beliefs against homosexuality.

LaBarbera did not have a written contract, and no money was exchanged, but he said organizers verbally worked out details of the 100-person event, including the menu, during two meetings.

LaBarbera said hotel management told him the reservation was canceled due to "potential negative publicity." AFTAH filed its discrimination suit Aug. 21.

"It's always easy to come up with excuses," said LaBarbera, AFTAH's executive director, "but the real truth is they didn't like our message. If you allow this sort of hecklers' veto, you're sanctioning discrimination."

The banquet was planned at the hotel on the same night as a couple's wedding. The Naperville Holiday Inn Select is independently owned and operated. Managers there said they had not been served with the lawsuit, and could not comment.

Georgia-based InterContinental Hotels Group owns the Holiday Inn brand. AN IHG spokeswoman said the cancellation decision was made solely by local hotel management. "IHG is very concerned about any claim of discrimination at any hotel bearing the Holiday Inn name," said Sarah-Ann Soffer, media relations manager, in a statement. "IHG condemns unlawful discrimination in all of its forms. Since this matter is the subject of pending litigation, we have no further comment at this time."

The national AFTAH organization, which is devoted to countering the gay agenda, ended up holding its banquet one day earlier at a Lombard hotel. Activists with the Chicago-based Gay Liberation Network often protest AFTAH events, LaBarbera said.

The suit seeks an unspecified amount from the hotel in damages and attorney fees.

"We simply want to send a message that it might be easier to discriminate against a small Christian group, but it's no less acceptable," said Jason R. Craddock, AFTAH's attorney. "We don't want corporate America to continue in its belief that it's OK to discriminate against unpopular points of view."