Washington State official resigns over antigay comment

BY admin

March 05 2005 12:00 AM ET

A businessman who made derogatory comments to an AIDS awareness group at the Washington State capitol has resigned from his position as first vice president of the Rental Housing Association of Puget Sound. "Looks like it's anal sex week," Lou Novak loudly remarked as a group from the Life Long AIDS Alliance walked though the statehouse office building. The group included a 13-year-old girl and a 16-year-old boy. The boy's family had recently been forced to move because of AIDS-related prejudice in his neighborhood.

The Rental Housing Association's executive board held an emergency meeting on Thursday, after the Associated Press reported on the incident. Board members asked for and accepted Novak's resignation as first vice president. He also voluntarily resigned from the group, which represents 3,500 landlords across Washington State. "Good," said Suzie Saxton, executive director of an AIDS advocacy organization in Yakima, who followed Novak into the public capitol cafeteria after he made the comment in front of her group on February 23. She asked him what he'd said. He repeated his comment about "anal sex week," according to witnesses, and lectured her about people engaging in irresponsible sex and asking for public money.

Saxton said she's sorry it ended badly for Novak, but she believes he should have known better. "It's not acceptable anywhere and certainly not at the state capitol," Saxton said. "Certainly people are allowed their private opinions, but what he did actually borders on hate crime. He could be charged, and he's darn lucky that's not happening."

Novak said Wednesday evening that he regrets his remarks and will apologize to those involved. "The remark was made in private, and they just happened to overhear it, and that's very unfortunate," Novak said. "I'm certainly sorry that anyone was offended by it." Novak, a Seattle landlord, said he did not recall repeating the remark in the capitol cafeteria.

The Rental Housing Association has already written letters of apology to several legislators. President Cathy Jeney said the group is trying to call the people involved to apologize personally. "Mr. Novak's statements do not represent the views of the thousands of RHA members who look to the association for guidance on rental housing issues," Jeney said in a Thursday news release. "While the action taken by our executive committee today can never undo the pain suffered by those present in Olympia on February 23, we pledge as an association to continue working for tolerance and understanding on housing issues."

Senate security got involved when a woman sitting with Novak in the cafeteria called security. Senate counsel Mike Hoover investigated the incident and wrote up a report. Secretary of the senate Tom Hoemann said he would write to the Rental Housing Association and to Novak, reminding them that the senate's rules of decorum and respectful workplace policy apply to visitors as well as lawmakers. State house chief clerk Rich Nafziger said Thursday afternoon that a legislator has asked him to investigate further action against Novak. Nafziger said he's looking into what steps the house could take.

Republican senator Alex Deccio said he thinks the incident will probably go down as a cautionary tale about minding your manners at the capitol. Saxton is his constituent. "It's really sad that people make those kind of remarks," Deccio said. "Hopefully, the fact he said it will deter other people."

Democratic representative Ed Murray said the incident shows the need for his civil rights measure, House Bill 1515, which would ban discrimination against gays and lesbians in housing, employment, and insurance. It passed in the house and is awaiting a hearing in the senate. Opponents recently argued on the house floor that the bill is unnecessary because prejudice against gays and lesbians is waning. "The first vice president of a rental association attacking some kid...is exhibit A of why we need House Bill 1515," Murray said. "It's one thing to speak your mind. It's another thing to use abusive language in front of a minor." (AP)

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