Tampa Bay Diversity Chamber event at Hollander Hotel continues on among Planned Parenthood controversy

By : Jeremy Williams
Comments: 0

ST. PETERSBURG – TheTampa Bay Diversity Chamber of Commerce is moving forward with an event Nov. 15 at the Hollander Hotel in St. Petersburg even with calls from some progressive groups to boycott the hotel after a scheduled Planned Parenthood event was cancelled.

“We realized that the Hollander has always shown support for the LGBTQ community and our chamber, so based on that we have decided to keep the event at the Hollander Hotel,” says Eric Mathis, the Diversity Chamber’s Vice President.

The controversy began when Planned Parenthood’s 100 year celebration was scheduled to take place at the Hollander Hotel Oct. 16.

“Planned Parenthood came in and said they were having a cake cutting and coffee event for 30 to 40 people. We took the reservation just like we take everyone’s reservation,” Hollander Hotel manager Nick Herring says. “That’s the information that I knew. Come to find out later it was a 100 year celebration, but I wasn’t aware of that at the time.”

Herring says that four protesters stood outside the hotel the day of the event holding up anti-abortion signs and pictures of aborted fetuses, but that the reason for the event having to be cancelled at the hotel had nothing to do with them.

“Planned Parenthood is a great organization and they do a lot of good things for the community,” Herring says. “The issue is we had a security concern.”

While he cannot go into detail, the hotel had received threatening phone calls and several concerned comments from guests.

“As a hotel our number one concern has to be the safety of people; our customers, we had 250 people outside at the hotel for the Farewell to summer party and the people of Planned Parenthood,” Herring says.

Herring met with the event organizers from Planned Parenthood and told them of the security concerns and, according the Herring, they agreed that the event could not continue.

“The event wasn’t even cancelled,” Herring says. “We spoke with Planned Parenthood and, after learning of the security issue, they agreed to relocate the event. Planned Parenthood provided us with the address for the celebration’s new location and we provided that to the guests as they arrived at the Hollander Hotel.”

Herring insisted the event having to move from the Hollander had nothing to do with who the organization is and what they do, and further insists that the staff of the Hollander Hotel were very professional in handling the event guests.

News of the event’s cancellation at the Hollander spread quickly through social media saying that by cancelling the event they were giving in to the small, vocal minority pushing hate. Some, like Susan Smith of the Florida LGBTA Democratic Caucus, called for a boycott of the hotel.

“The professionalism of the staff to wait until the very last minute and turn people away I thought was not a good business decision,” Smith says. “I think until they come out and apologize to Planned Parenthood I would still call on everyone to boycott the hotel. That was insulting to the women who get their healthcare at Planned Parenthood. I’m not sure they deserve the business of the progressive community.”

Susan McGrath, president of the Stonewall Democrats of Pinellas, posted on the Diversity Chamber’s Facebook event page that she is “disappointed to see this event being held at the Hollander after their treatment of Planned Parenthood.”

“At this point in our country there are small, but very vocal minorities of hate that are having too much influence on what’s going on in our country,” McGrath says. “I believe strongly that we need to stand up to that small minority of hate.”

McGrath says that this is just her personal feelings on the situation and it in no way reflects any organization’s opinion. She also went on to say while it disappoints her that the Diversity Chamber will continue on with their event at the Hollander that it is in no way a reflection on the good work the Diversity Chamber does.

“I just feel we need to support all of the communities,” McGrath says.

Mathis says he and the entire chamber board have looked at the information and ultimately saw no reason that they shouldn’t continue the event as scheduled.

“We have been putting this dinner together for a few months now and we are looking forward to getting together with all of our friends and our community to celebrate our diversity,” Mathis says.

The event, which is the Diversity Chamber’s monthly networking dinner, will also include representatives from Equality Florida and Balance Tampa Bay speaking on current youth programs they are involved in.

Herring welcomes the Diversity Chamber and any organizations, including Planned Parenthood, that wish to hold an event at the hotel and assures any group that he will be prepared with any security concerns.

“We have reached out to the leaders of Planned Parenthood and the mayor’s office and we have talked to them about the situation that happened and given them the explanation,” Herring says.

Planned Parenthood has not yet returned our call for comment on this story.

Share this story: