Good behavior

  • by Jim Provenzano
  • Wednesday May 17, 2006
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In what may be one of the most effusive turnarounds in sports discrimination suits, if not the quickest in recent years, the Berkeley ice rink that banned two gay male figure skaters has agreed to follow expansive gay-friendly changes.

The National Center for Lesbians Rights settled the case of Alan Lessik and John Manzon-Santos, who – a year ago, and again two months ago – were practicing for their pairs routine at Berkeley's Iceland when a manager sent them off the ice for holding hands.

The two skaters dropped their lawsuit in exchange for a variety of gay-friendly concessions. Employees will undergo diversity training and the business will prominently display placards that state in part "[Iceland] undertakes continual efforts to open the world of skating to individuals in an environment free from intimidation, harassment, or bias."

NCLR, attorney Amy Todd, and Tamara Fisher of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati have agreed with the rink's management, who will not only make the Berkeley rink more gay-friendly, but their other two rinks' staff will undergo diversity training as well.

Among the other agreements, Berkeley Iceland will host a gay-straight skate night, East Bay Iceland will write an apology letter to the skaters and sign an antidiscrimination pledge, and the rink will offer "pairs preferred" freestyle skating once a week.

"East Bay Iceland is a model partner," said Karen Doering, senior counsel with NCLR. "They seriously listened to our concerns, recognized discrimination is damaging, and are taking every step to ensure discrimination does not happen at their establishments, including educating all of their employees with diversity trainings."

According to NCLR, Iceland also will make donations to both NCLR and the Federation of Gay Games. Manzon-Santos and Lessik will receive free admission to the sessions for one year.

"They even apologized for the perception of any discrimination toward us, something our lawyers from NCLR and our pro bono attorneys said was rare in these types of cases," said Lessik, who was happy with the outcome. "Johnny and I are very happy with the settlement and are glad to move on with our practicing our program."

Manzon-Santos, executive director of the Asian Pacific Islander Wellness Center, won two gold medals at Gay Games VI in Sydney, Australia, in November 2002. Lessik, the regional director of American Friends Service Committee, won two silver medals, and has placed at other tournaments in the U.S. and Europe. He also is on the board of the Federation of Gay Games.

Added Lessik, "We certainly hope that the widespread publicity will mean that other skaters will not have to deal with discriminatory behavior and will be able to enjoy this sport as much as we do."

Iceland's general manager, Jay Wescott, who agreed to the measures, told the Contra Costa Times that the case was merely a misunderstanding and more of a safety issue for other skaters. "We treasure all our customers, and we don't want anyone to feel unwelcome."