By Jared D. Childress
The Sacramento Kings recently released a statement commemorating Pride month that listed their efforts to be inclusive of the LGBTQIA+ community. However, a local gay couple says it’s just “lip service.”
They filed a lawsuit against the Sacramento Kings in April. The married couple alleges they were assaulted and experienced anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination at a March 24 game against the Phoenix Suns. They are seeking damages in excess of $25,000. The couple also filed a police report.
Kelley Moran, 63, and Gabriel Gendron, 51, season ticket holders for about a decade, said they were escorted by security out of their seats without reason and detained, during which time they allege a security guard verbally assaulted Gendron.
The couple said the Kings haven’t taken appropriate action and aren’t the LGBTQ+ organization they claim to be. In a statement, representatives with the Kings denied the allegations.
“The accusations of wrongdoing are categorically false and will be addressed through the appropriate legal process,” the statement reads. “The Sacramento Kings organization has a long history of supporting the LGBTQ+ community, promoting diversity and creating a more inclusive environment for all.”
In a June 2 response from the Kings, obtained by the couple’s lawyer, the organization accused the couple of assault and battery of a female worker over a veggie burger, causing them to be flagged by security. They also said the couple used profanity and resulted with one of the husbands “forcefully grabbing her arm over demands to get him a ‘veggie burger.’”
The couple’s lawyer, Ognian Gavrilov, said the Kings’ response was a general denial, where all claims are rejected. He said the Kings’ allegations were false.
“They were allowed to go back to their seats [after being detained by security] and finish the game,” Gavrilov said. “How would that happen if there was an incident of that magnitude?”
The couple has filed a hate and bias incident report with the Sacramento LGBT Community Center. The Center, which calls the Kings corporate partners, sent a statement on May 26 that reads in part:
“We believe that LGBTQ+ community members should be able to live their lives free of discrimination and harassment in all settings,” wrote Center CEO David Heitstuman. “What Kelley and Gabriel described would be upsetting for anyone.”
The couple maintains they did nothing wrong and that the Kings apologized to them in the days following the incident but have taken no action.
“The Kings have been very nonchalant and have taken no action,” Gendron said. “Being longtime season ticket holders, we’ve seen the Kings outwardly profess this environment of inclusion and diversity but in this situation, they’ve just given us lip service.”
According to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs were in their usual seats when, after the start of the first quarter, three security guards approached them and “demanded that they stand up and follow them.” The plaintiffs complied and were “paraded” through the arena by three security guards and escorted into a secluded area, the lawsuit reads.
Moran asked why the couple was being detained and if they could go back to their seats, according to the legal document. The security guard did not give them a reason and refused to let them return to their seats. Instead, the couple alleges he began asking who the season ticket holder was.
Moran showed him their tickets and said he and his husband were season ticket holders.
The lawsuit then alleges a verbal assault occurred. The unnamed security guard “became more agitated upon hearing Mr. Moran refer to Mr. Gendron as his husband,” and that the guard “stepped menacingly towards and close to Mr. Gendron and threatened, ‘If I touch you, the way I want to touch you, you won’t be happy.’”
After the alleged threat was made, the situation was diffused by other Kings staff who entered the room. The guard’s manager was then called, who dismissed the three security guards and allowed the couple to return to their seats. At the time, no explanation for the detainment was given, the couple said.
Moran said he feared the situation would escalate to battery.
“If [the staff] hadn’t come in there, I really felt like this guy was going to put his hands on us,” Moran said. “If it happened to us, it could happen to somebody else — especially if the Kings haven’t taken any action and the security guard is still there.”
Gavrilov claims that this is the same security guard who was later involved with the altercation with rapper E-40 at the April 15 playoff game. Gavrilov added that it’s difficult to force companies to take internal action, so a financial lawsuit is the alternative.
“In a perfect world, they would retrain their security personnel,” Gavrilov said. “But the good thing about big companies is that they tend to moderate their behavior when dealing with lawsuits.”
The list of damages include false imprisonment, assault, emotional distress, negligent hiring and supervision of employees and violation of both the Unruh and Ralph civil rights acts.
The Unruh Civil Rights Act provides protection from discrimination on the basis of age, ancestry, color, disability, national origin, race, religion, sex and sexual orientation.
“Those are our seats in every game that we’ve been sitting in for a number of years,” Moran said. “Everybody knows we are a gay couple.”
The Ralph Act states it is a civil right for a person to be free from threats or violence based on a wide range of personal characteristics, including sexual orientation.
Gavrilov said the sequence of events demonstrates the assault was based on sexual orientation.
“The assault happened after he found out they were a couple,” Gavrilov offered. He went on to define assault as “a legitimate threat of physical violence. So, there’s no [physical contact], but you perceive that you’re going to get beat up.”
Gendron described the alleged assault as “traumatic.”
“Growing up gay and having to come out — there can be trauma. But as you mature, you learn to fully accept yourself for who you are,” Gendron said. “And something like this happens and just takes you back to that trauma you had as a younger person.”
The Kings have worked to be inclusive in recent years. They have an LGBTQ+ employee resource group and are members of the Sacramento Rainbow Chamber of Commerce. They’ve also made monetary contributions to the Gender Health Center and Sacramento LGBT Community Center.
Heitstuman, the LGBT Center CEO, said he hopes the Kings will investigate the allegations.
“It was particularly surprising to hear because the Kings have intentionally increased their engagement in equity and inclusion initiatives over the past few years, including partnership with the Center and other LGBTQ+ community organizations,” Heitstuman wrote in a statement. “We expect all our corporate partners to be internally accountable to the values they espouse externally and I hope the Kings will investigate what happened here and continue to invest in creating an affirming environment for their fans, employees, and the LGBTQ+ community in the Sacramento region.”
Moran and Gendron said “their hearts were ripped out” by the treatment. They watched the team’s historic playoffs run from home.
“To be threatened and for the Kings to try to sweep it under the rug is absolutely not OK with us,” Moran said. “We decided to stand up for ourselves. It was an extremely difficult decision given all the excitement of the first playoffs in 17 years — we were excited too. But we couldn’t go because we didn’t feel safe.”