A Florida Keys woman claims she was the victim of discrimination because she could not stay at an all-male, clothing-optional resort for gay and bisexual men in Key West.
The resort’s owners and attorneys claim they do rent separate apartment units to women, but they don’t allow that specific woman to stay there because she was disruptive and combative during an annual fundraising event that welcomes women at the resort for a cocktail party around the pool.
Amina Chaudhry filed a complaint against the Island House Key West resort with the Florida Commission on Human Relations, which addresses discrimination issues. The complaint states that Chaudhry seeks no monetary damages, but rather wants to reverse the resort’s supposedly discriminatory policy, as well as be reimbursed for any court costs and legal fees.
Chaudhry, who lives on Cudjoe Key, represented herself at an administrative hearing held via Zoom on Monday and Tuesday, April 24 and 25, while attorneys Ashley Sybesma and Wayne Larue Smith represented the Island House and its owner Bobi Lore.
Chaudhry’s complaint stems from a June 2022 event at the Island House, which hosts an all-welcome Pride kickoff party and fundraiser at the start of Key West’s Pride celebration every June. Women and nonguests are welcome at the annual party from 5 to 9 p.m., when clothing is required around the pool.
Chaudhry attended the Pride kickoff party at Island House in June 2021 and again in June 2022.
In 2021, when the kickoff party and fundraiser was ending and females and nonguests were asked to leave the resort, Chaudhry questioned owner Bobi Lore about why she couldn’t stay and why the resort didn’t allow women, Lore testified this week. Chaudhry took no action against the Island House until the following year’s Pride kickoff party on June 1, 2022, which she also attended.
While there in 2022, she placed flyers on tables around the resort’s pool citing the state’s discrimination laws and questioning its all-male policy. When invited into a private office area to discuss her concerns with owner Bobi Lore and the resort managers, Chaudhry eventually told them it was her intention to sue the Island House for discrimination against women, according to testimony from Lore and manager Jeffrey Smead at the hearing this week.
“I felt affronted by the fact that here was someone who was invited to the space and enjoying it, but while passing out literature to the detriment of our property and aggravating our guests,” Lore testified before administrative law Judge John Van Laningham. “We eventually had the police escort her off the property.”
During the hearing, the judge repeatedly reminded Chaudhry that she needed to base her case and arguments on whether she was individually discriminated against, not whether the resort’s overall all-male policy was discriminatory.
“I’m not here to decide in the abstract whether that policy is illegal or discriminatory,” Van Laningham said. “This is about whether the business individually discriminated against you.”
Chaudhry testified that when she and other nonguests were asked to leave the Pride kickoff party in 2022, she told the resort staff she would instead book a room there for the night.
She was told the resort was fully booked, as it was the start of Pride in Key West.
Further testimony revealed that the Island House has rented units to women since at least 2003, attorney Smith said. Those units are separate one- and two-bedroom apartments adjacent to the resort complex. Female guests are not admitted to the main, clothing-optional facility. But, Lore testified, Island House has agreements with Alexander’s Guest House across the street, which allows female guests from the Island House access to its pool and amenities. The Island House also has an agreement with Key West Fitness on Caroline Street for their rare female guests.
Attorney Smith said the resort only gets about two calls a year from women interested in staying there.
Attorney Ashley Sybesma told the Keys Weekly that Chaudhry’s own witness, a former front desk manager at Island House, testified, Sybesma said, paraphrasing his testimony, that, “usually when women call, it’s by mistake. They think they’re calling Island City House (a family-friendly, all-welcome resort in Key West),” she said. “When they hear it’s a clothing-optional resort that primarily serves gay and bisexual men, they realize they called the wrong place and book somewhere else.”
Chaudhry told the Keys Weekly on April 26, “In no way do I want this to be an attack on gay men. I fully support them having safe spaces that are welcoming. I don’t want to go to outer space either, but if someone suddenly said no women were allowed in space, I’d be first to join the protest.”
Resort manager Jeffrey Smead testified that Chaudry was not denied a room because she’s a woman, but rather because she had behaved poorly, and the resort’s liquor license gives them the right to refuse service to someone who is being disruptive.
The complaint process now continues for another 60 to 90 days as the judge considers the testimony and drafts a recommended order to the Commission on Human Relations, attorney Wayne Larue Smith told the Keys Weekly after the hearing on April 25.
“We’re very pleased with how the hearing went and are confident that the judge has a good grasp of the circumstances,” Smith said. “We are persuaded that our methods and model of doing business are in full compliance with the law.”