Steve Horner, please go back to your corner.
Or at least give the besieged Colorado Civil Rights Commission a break and concentrate on alleged injustices in Minnesota, where you're now living. You know where to file in that state: Back in 1993, you made your first complaint to the Minnesota Human Rights Department, claiming that establishments that sponsored ladies' nights were committing gender discrimination. You got your headlines, and you also got bars to change their policy.
If only Horner had stopped there — and stayed there. Instead, in 1996 he filed a complaint with the same Minnesota agency against the Hooters located at the Mall of America, after the manager refused to hire him as a waiter. (Bet he would have looked cute in those orange shorts.) And when Dolores Fridge, then-deputy commissioner of the Human Rights Department, didn't respond favorably to his complaint, Horner began badgering her. "I was just trying to incite her to enforce the law," Horner told a reporter with City Pages, Westword's partner paper in Minneapolis. But the Ramsey County District Court determined that it was Horner who'd run afoul of the law, and he wound up serving a thirty-day sentence on three gross misdemeanors and one count of harassment. "The lawyer I hired wasn't worth a damn," Horner told City Pages. "She just fell into line with the dyke prosecutor, who was nothing more than a bitch with balls."
Horner dubbed his time behind bars "The Steve Horner Self-Improvement Seminar."
In the summer of 2006, the new, improved Steve Horner finally landed in Denver, where he promptly filed a complaint against Proof Nightclub with the Colorado Division of Civil Rights, claiming that its ladies' nights were discriminatory — and angling for the $500 that the law allows for each proven case of discrimination. And he was just warming up. Horner soon complained to the division that the Colorado Rockies' ladies'-night deal was discriminatory. He complained to the division about more bars and then opened another front, filing lawsuits in Denver County Court. Along the way, he filled voice-mail box after voice-mail box with his rants, got himself barred from a few offices and called a Denver judge a "pussy-whipped farthead."
Last September, after losing a Denver County Court case against Westword for a ladies'-night ad (at trial, he compared himself to Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.), Horner filed a complaint against this paper with the Colorado Division of Civil Rights — a complaint he offered to settle for either $7,000 (the amount we'd need to pay in order for him to never file against us again) or $20,000 (in which case he'd also promise to not teach anyone else how to file against us). And in February, the Division of Civil Rights found probable cause that a ladies'-night ad in Westword had discriminated against Horner — although just a year earlier, the same director at the same division had determined that a ladies'-night ad in the Denver Post had not discriminated against Horner, and in his determination cited the judge's ruling in our Denver County Court case, a ruling that exempted newspapers.
We pointed out this double standard on double standards to the Division of Civil Rights two months ago; we're still waiting for its response. But then, the department — whose staff has been cut to the bone by state budget restraints — has been busy. Very busy. According to spokesman Chris Lines, Horner has filed some thirty complaints with the division over the last two months. All while he's been living out of state.
How can Colorado businesses discriminate against Horner if he's not here? From Minnesota, he has no way of knowing if a bar will deny him a free drink, or if a restaurant will prevent him from attending a ladies-only wine-tasting (yes, he's filed a complaint about that, too), or if the Colorado Rockies will give him the same perks offered women at last week's Ladies' Night. (Team spokesman Jay Alves says they now give the deal to anyone who asks; remember that on Father's Day.) Back in March, Lines had told me that when someone from out of state files a complaint with the Colorado Division of Civil Rights, it's automatically sent back to the complainer's home state. But the Colorado Attorney General's Office disagreed with that interpretation; Lines says the division is now waiting to have this "jurisdictional" issue clarified. And in the meantime, those complaints keep coming.
Last week, we received notice of yet another charge of discrimination that Steve Horner of North Mankato, Minnesota, had made against Westword, this time claiming that he was "subjected to retaliation by the Respondent for engaging in a protected activity." Specifically, that I attacked his "character" in my March 4 column pointing out the Division of Civil Rights' double standard.
This, of course, assumes that Horner has a character — and also that we're all willing to overlook a civil right even stronger than the right to cheap drinks: freedom of speech. Long before I ever wrote a word about Steve Horner, he was exercising that right quite vigorously in voice-mail messages and a December 2006 letter to "Dear gals" at Westword:
"I'm not totally positive but I'm quite sure the Westword ignored the public conversation surrounding my Ladies' Night complaint and subsequent charge of discrimination....
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"Now, the only reason I find myself writing to you today is that I was paging through Westword while waiting for a haircut the other day and through my unflinching optimism, I know, down deep, you're really interested in what's going on with me and Ladies' Night and why I've worked so hard at being successful at shutting it down in several other states. However, I know it would be a waste of my time to explain my motives in a logical fashion because even though you feign pain and injury over social discrimination, I know you couldn't care less about the civil rights of a bold, testosterone-laden he-man like me having my civil rights ripped out from beneath me. So, I'll simply try to piss you off and tell you what's next on the agenda with the Ladies' Night issue. It's gonna be fun..."
You asked for it, you got it.
I finally met with Horner a month or so after I received his charming missive, and took him to a bar that he later filed suit against. It was amazing to watch him start discussing what, yes, on the surface appears to be a mild injustice — women drinking free because bar owners realize that what men want to see in bars is women, preferably liquored-up women — and then blow it up into the cause of just about every social ill in the world. Ladies' nights lead to homelessness lead to terrorism.
And the people who open the mail at the Division of Civil Rights have got to be feeling a little terrorized right now.