A motel manager in Rabun County was fired after canceling the room reservations of the Rural America Pride Festival, organizers of a first-ever event celebrating LGBTQ people in North Georgia.
The group made reservations with America’s Best Value Inn in Clayton, Ga., in late May, according to Antwon Stephens (photo). He's the co-founder of Rural America Pride, which has scheduled the festival for Aug. 16-18.
“We had room blocks made for different properties across town to allow options throughout the festival,” Stephens told Project Q Atlanta.
The motel manager, identified only as Nancy, left Stephens a voicemail canceling the reservation on Saturday — the first day of Stonewall Month.
“After looking further into what your group stands for, we are rescinding our offer of a reduced room rate, and do not want to sponsor or offer support in any way,” Nancy said in the voicemail, according to 11Alive.
Nancy was “totally fine” with the reservation when the group initially made it, according to Stephens.
“Apparently she thought our group meant rural Americans proud to be living in rural America and not an LGBTQ group,” he said. “She doubled down on [her anti-LGBTQ views] after we called back saying they were against our personal beliefs and we weren’t welcome there ever."
Stephens posted on social media about the incident and included the motel’s phone number. He said that hotel owner Andy Patel initially tried to gloss over the incident when questioned by 11Alive.
“They were attempting a coverup not knowing there was recorded proof that would damn them in the end,” Stephens said. “Once it caught up to them, he immediately fired her but didn’t denounce what she said, which was really disappointing.”
Patel told 11 Alive that he fired Nancy after hearing the voicemail she left Stephens.
“I decided to fire Nancy [because she] hurt my business,” he said. “Yeah, we allow people to rent a room — anybody, all communities.”
The Rural America Pride Festival won't be doing business with America’s Best Value Inn or Patel’s other property — a Days Inn in Clayton — over the incident. Stephens said that Red Lion Hotels Corporation, the corporate owner of America’s Best Value Inn in Clayton, has been “very, very, very helpful” about the incident.
“The CEO personally called the hotel while the media was there [Monday},” he said. “They have promised inclusion training for both the owner and all other employees.”
Other hotel and restaurant owners in Clayton offered their spaces to Rural America Pride after hearing about the incident.
“Just the outpouring of support from the community shows that Rabun County does not stand with Nancy," Stephens said. "She is not representative of that county."
Project Q Atlanta reached out to America’s Best Value Inn but the line was busy or we were hung up on after someone picked up. We also reached out to Red Lion Hotels Corporation and have not received a response.
Georgia has no LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination protections in place. A sweeping civil rights bill that would protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in housing, employment and accommodations was introduced in this year's legislative session, but it failed to get any traction.
Stephens is running for Georgia’s 9th Congressional District seat in 2020. If he wins, he would become the youngest member of the U.S. House ever and Georgia’s first openly LGBTQ Congress member.