Steve Horner leans in for a hug.
But I do not hug on a first interview. Not even if the subject of the interview has already left me a lengthy voice-mail warning that I, and this newspaper, "have been totally insensitive to the needs of this egalitarian society" -- not to mention breaking the law by aiding and abetting criminal actions -- and that, just as he might tackle a burglar whom he saw breaking the law, he might "tackle a bad girl, too."
So no, I do not hug Steve Horner. Instead, I buy him a beer.
It seems like the least I can do. After all, he's accused me of promulgating one of society's most heinous inequities: ladies' nights, at which women get special favors in the forms of no cover and free or reduced-price drinks. By his count, Westword has tacitly endorsed such horrors at least fourteen times in recent weeks, and if he wants to take me to court -- and he's done his homework, he's promised me that -- I can be fined $500 for each violation. Women may say they don't want special favors, but they are getting them, he insists.
And they are not hugging their benefactors in gratitude, either.
In fact, the women of Colorado have a problem with hugging, Horner tells me. "The majority are cold as fish and angry," he says. "When I go dancing, I'm trying to spark the laughter of some lady who'll cherish my wackiness. I haven't found her."
Shocking. I buy another beer, and Horner spills his story.
In the early '90s, he was a single father back in Apple Valley, Minnesota, raising two boys -- by then, one was thirteen and one was ten, and we really don't need to get into the horrors of what went on after their mother split, but feel free to use your imagination about how the whole social-services system treated Horner -- and "I needed to get out of the house," he remembers. So he went to the newly opened Mall of America with ten bucks in his pocket, and noticed a long line outside of an august establishment known as Gators. When he arrived at the front of the line, he discovered that it was ladies' night -- and while women were being allowed in free, he'd have to part with half of his cash to get in the door.
That didn't seem fair, and he said so. Failing to get satisfaction from the doorman, he complained to the Minnesota Department of Civil Rights. He complained to that office for two years, until it determined that Horner had "probable cause" for his complaint. He asked the office to issue a press release, but it declined -- even though it had issued more than 200 the year before, 198 of them involving cases where a woman's rights had been violated. Horner contacted the press, but the media ignored this outrage. Finally, the state restaurant association ran a story in its newsletter, and the issue "ignited like a prairie fire on a hot afternoon," he remembers. "The more vengeful people got, the deeper I dug my heels in. It made me stronger. It led to the writing of my first book."
He's written several more books since then -- a couple on single parenting (find details at www.stevehornerbooks.com), a treatise whose title is C.U.N.T. , which stands for "Can't Understand Normal Thinking," and "a pretty ballsy" novel that traces feminism's parallels to Marxism. Because, as Horner states very carefully, "Feminism is Marxism which creates terrorism through its inherent double standards, creating anger, confusion, resentment, feelings of betrayal, and ultimately, revenge and violence." We see that in families, we see it in business, we see it in the Middle East, he says. Feminism is responsible for Columbine. For illegal immigration.
And for Steve Horner.
In the late '90s, Horner, who's long worked in one aspect or another of radio, moved to Phoenix for a Sunday talk gig. When that didn't quite work out, he moved on through California up to Bend, Oregon, for another job that went sideways. From there he moved to Boise, where he worked in radio sales until he lost his job after being spotted at a pro-life rally -- feminism being responsible for abortion, too. "People are so enamored with money, they'll choose to walk the green path rather than the right path," Horner says. He moved on to San Antonio and then, last July, he came to Denver.
He didn't know then that Colorado women were cold, that "they'd rather sleep with their dog than a man." He just knew that he liked the mountains, and that Denver had some similarities to his home town of Minneapolis.
Those similarities now include Horner's campaign against ladies' nights.
It started August 3 at the Proof Nightclub. Horner, who also does work and life coaching, was going to meet a contact at that southeast Denver institution, and when he scouted the bar in advance, he discovered that it was ladies' night. So he stopped by another bar, had a couple of brewskis, started chatting with some big guys -- graduates of Columbine High School, the first place Horner visited after he moved into his Denver apartment. Turned out the big guys were bartenders at LoDo establishments that had ladies' nights, where the ladies never tipped. So when Horner asked the big guys if he should take on the Proof, the big guys said yes -- and a few hours later, there Horner was, telling the Proof's doorman that he was violating Horner's constitutional rights. Violating the rights of all men.
He repeated that charge to Colorado's Division of Civil Rights, which, like its Minnesota counterpart, found probable cause that discrimination had occurred. That meant the complaint went to mandatory mediation -- negotiations that resulted in the suggestion that the Proof refund Horner's $5 cover but not pay any punitive damages. The division can't discuss pending complaints; Penny Pearson, a twelve-year veteran, recalls previous ladies'-night dust-ups that resulted in such gender-free compromises as "kilt nights for people who want to drink free desperately enough to put a dress on." Horner is free to talk as much as he likes , though -- and just try to stop him. He declined the settlement, and says his complaint will be considered by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission later this month. But Horner isn't waiting to see if the commission recommends the case for further action.
Last Thursday -- which happened to be the night that a piece on Horner debuted on The Daily Show -- he was back at the Proof, this time with recording equipment under his stocking hat. (Sadly, The Daily Show segment, which you can see at http://www.comedycentral.com/motherload/index.jhtml?ml_video=82077, did not capture that sight.) Horner recorded what he considered two violations of his constitutional rights, which he reported last Friday to Sergeant John Goodfellow at the District 3 police station. "He was a dick," says Horner. "He's one of these guys who wants to win through intimidation."
"We don't investigate reports here regarding civil rights," Goodfellow says. "I wanted to point him in the right direction. He disagreed."
One of those directions was the Denver District Attorney's Office; a lawyer there pointed Horner in the direction of Denver County Court. And on Monday, that's where Horner was, filing two complaints against the Proof -- for discrimination and retaliation, each for $500 plus expenses -- and one against the Stampede, claiming that its ladies' night also violated his civil rights. He has a court date of March 7; he must serve the establishments named in his complaint at least ten days before then.
Karen Parker, owner of the Proof, has not yet received this latest complaint, but her previous skirmishes with Horner earned her a spot on The Daily Show. She's on the board of the Colorado Restaurant Association, whose head, Pete Meersman, has also gotten a call from Horner. His lasted 45 minutes -- but it wasn't enough to convince Meersman that ladies' nights are a problem. "People ought to be able to market their goods and services in any legal manner that doesn't offend people," he says.
"People say leave it alone because it has the booze and the sex and the frivolity," Horner counters. "Hey, if it's about money, let's do drugs and prostitution."
The irony, of course, is that ladies' nights are really not designed to do any favors for ladies. They're simply designed to get ladies -- lots of ladies -- in the door, which does a favor for men, who pour money into the bar even faster than the bar can pour drinks into the ladies. It's a very effective formula.
Even if it is a Marxist plot.
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"People discredit me on this," Horner says. "They say I need to get a life, to find something more serious. What's more important than protecting one's civil rights?"
Ask Rosa Parks; Horner compares his crusade with hers. Ditto for Jackie Robinson. And Muhammad Ali, Horner's favorite. The Daily Show threw in Jesus and that kid with the flower in Tiananmen Square, but Horner isn't so sure about that. "We all see ourselves differently," he says. "I'm a good sport, and I can take the licks. At least they're showing my passion that I hold for this issue. This is deeper than stupid old ladies' night."