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Washington State lawmakers demand apology for antigay remark at capitol

Washington State lawmakers demand apology for antigay remark at capitol

Washington State legislators are demanding an apology from a businessman who made antigay comments to a group visiting the capitol for an AIDS awareness day. "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 antigay prejudice in his neighborhood. Novak is first vice president of the Rental Housing Association of Puget Sound, a landlords' organization. The leader of the AIDS awareness group, Suzie Saxton of Yakima, followed the man into the public capitol cafeteria and asked him what he'd said. She said Novak repeated his comment and told her people shouldn't engage in irresponsible sex and ask for public money. The incident happened February 23. The Associated Press obtained a copy of a senate report on the incident and spoke to Novak and Saxton on Wednesday. The senate got involved when a woman sitting with Novak in the cafeteria called security. Senate counsel Mike Hoover investigated the incident and wrote the report, which notes that the legislature's rules of decorum and respectful workplace policy apply to visitors as well as lawmakers. "It's not acceptable anywhere and certainly not at the state capitol," said Saxton. "He owes them an apology.... Certainly people are allowed their private opinions, but what he did actually borders on a hate crime. He could be charged, and he's darn lucky that's not happening." Novak said he regrets his remarks and will write a letter of apology. "The remark was made in private, and they just happened to overhear it, and that's very unfortunate," Novak said Wednesday night. "I'm certainly sorry that anyone was offended by it." Novak said he did not recall repeating the remark in the capitol cafeteria. The president of the Rental Housing Association of Puget Sound wrote a letter of apology to several legislators, saying that Novak will no longer represent the association in Olympia. "RHA has a strong record of tolerance and understanding to all members of the community," president Cathy Jeney wrote. "We take these obligations seriously and, for that reason, included them in our member Code of Conduct. While an organization of 3,500 members cannot always control the individual actions of its members, I would like to assure you that RHA does not endorse or condone any comments which differ from our commitment to diversity." It's unclear whether Novak will remain an official with the organization. He has not resigned, and the association's board doesn't meet for a few weeks. The incident may affect consideration of House Bill 1515, which would ban discrimination against gays and lesbians in employment, insurance, and housing. 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. Bill supporters, however, point to Novak's comments. "The first vice president of a rental association attacking some kid...is exhibit A of why we need House Bill 1515," said Democratic representative Ed Murray, who sponsored the bill. "It's one thing to speak your mind. It's another thing to use abusive language in front of a minor." Murray called the incident "a black mark" on the legislature. Democratic senator Darlene Fairley said she let the rental housing association know that Novak is no longer welcome to testify at her committee, which oversees housing issues. "I am a mother, and you do not say that kind of crap in front of children. You do not, I don't care what your feelings are," Fairley said. She said Novak should apologize for his comments. "You can't unring that bell for a child who's heard that, but for the parents and other people it will help to have letters of apology," Fairley said.

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