All-male guesthouse accused of discrimination, makes changes

By : Ryan Dixon
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Michelle Stonelake was excited to hang out with her friends on Sunday in late January, at the popular gay resort on Fort Lauderdale beach. Her hopes were dashed when Royal Palms resort employees told her no girls are allowed on the property.

“For as many times as I have been to your space for multiple fund raisers, it was an absolute shock to get turned away this afternoon from meeting up with friends at your [resort] because I am a girl,” Stonelake said in a post on the Royal Palms’ Facebook page. “REALLY….it is 2013 RIGHT,” she continued.

Women are allowed to participate in fundraisers at the resort. But on Sundays, the Royal Palms hosts two different Sunday afternoon parties, a T-Dance where women are included, and a Sunday “Funday” where they are not.

Don Bishop, who is one of the friends Stonelake intended to meet at that Sunday “Funday” party, said in a post on the Royal Palms’ Facebook page that he was “completely outraged” when he found out she was turned away because of her gender.

“I fully understand you are a gay, clothing optional male resort,” Bishop said in that same post. “But I urge you to rethink your policy denying entry to women during this now weekly, approximately four hour event.”

Bishop again told SFGN that he understands that the Royal Palms is a private, men’s only  resort, but that the resort chose to make that day’s event public by sending out invites on Facebook.

“The Facebook invite said to invite your friends, so I did,” Bishop said. “I thought it would be okay to invite her. It’s not like they’re hosting a sex party.”

Bishop admits that by inviting a female friend he was trying to incite change to end what he believed was gender discrimination.

“I was trying to stir the pot,” Bishop told SFGN. “If a private men’s resort decides to make it a public event (on Facebook) and encourage you to invite all of your friends, then they should let women in.”

And he did spark change.

Royal Palms Assistant General Manager Phillip Lafond confirmed that the resort changed its policies about women attending its Sunday events due in part to Bishop’s post, but said the resort had been toying with the idea of opening up to women for some time now.

“Traditionally most guest houses are old fashioned in their ways,” Lafond said. “But we’re exploring our options to better cater to a new generation that is more comfortable being around women. Those options including becoming more hetero-friendly.”

No matter what Bishop’s intention may have been, attorney Neil Kolner, vice president of the Gay and Lesbian Lawyers Network, said Bishop’s claim of discrimination may be unsubstantiated.

“My guess is that given the theme of the resort that is specifically billed as a clothing optional, men-only club, the decision to not allow women may not be deemed discriminatory,” Kolner said.

According to Bobby Raborn, general manager of the Coral Reef guest house in Fort Lauderdale, including women in gay-friendly, men’s only resorts seems to be a growing trend.

“We as a community used to be just gay, but now we segregate ourselves,” Raborn said. “You now have bears and twinks, tops and bottoms; we need to all just come together.”

“I’ve had women call who say they’ve seen us on Google. When I tell them that we’re all male they don’t seem to mind. When I say clothing optional, they usually say ‘thank you’ and say they’ll look elsewhere.”

Lafond said that the owners of the Royal Palms, an investor group led by Sweden’s Par Sanda, are testing the new policy with their Sunday “Funday” parties.

“It’s a tough line to cross with our customers,” Lafond said. “When you pay upwards of $200 a night at a men’s resort, you expect just men. We’re stuck in a tough spot but we’re still going to give it a shot.”

Bishop said he was pleased that the Royal Palms changed its mind and are allowing his female friends to come party with him.

“I think they did a great job in their response,” Bishop said. “I applaud that.”

Editor’s note: Ryan Dixon is a reporter with the South Florida Gay News and this article is used with permission.

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