Don't Knock If You Haven't Tried It

Mickey Fantauzzi was on the phone with her mother last September when she heard someone knock quietly on her front door in Capitol Hill's 26-unit Dalton Apartments. Before she could end her conversation, replace the phone in its cradle and walk the ten feet from the bedroom to the hallway, she says, the building manager's sister, Melinda Sandoval, had used her passkey, entered the apartment and was standing in front of the living-room bookcase, staring at the titles.

"Lesbian Sex, Women on Women, Lesbian Images"--Fantauzzi ticks off the book titles as she tells the story, slightly out of breath. "It was like she was trying to find out about us," adds Fantauzzi, referring to her relationship with roommate and partner Beth May. "After that, we kept hearing from people around the building that she was telling everyone we were lesbians."

Fantauzzi and May are lesbians, although they consider that to be their business and not that of apartment management. They also make their living as private investigators--and are well aware that there's a law against the kind of constant harassment they claim they received after that initial incident. Denver's Revised Municipal Code makes it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in rental or housing transactions. It's part of the ordinance that Amendment 2--the anti-gay rights measure passed by voters in 1992--sought to overturn.

But Amendment 2 has never gone into effect, first being enjoined by Denver District Court Judge Jeffrey Bayless, then snaking its way through the appeals courts to finally receive consideration by the U.S. Supreme Court. A decision from the high court is expected in June. In the meantime, the ordinance stands. Yet few people in city government--even those who work in the city's Office of Anti-Discrimination--seem to be aware of that fact. And that confusion, say Fantauzzi and May, has made their nightmare that much worse.

According to a complaint Fantauzzi and May filed earlier this year with the anti-discrimination office, Melinda Sandoval used her passkey--and her unofficial position as assistant manager--to enter their apartment at will, coming in while they were sleeping, on vacation or at work. "She came in a number of times," says May, "supposedly to measure our refrigerator. When we finally got the new one, it didn't fit." Sandoval also allegedly called the women "liars" and "sickos" and often referred to Beth May as "Lezziebeth."

And the harassment didn't stop with Sandoval. According to Fantauzzi, May and Michelle Tripeny, another tenant in the building, the apartment handyman was also notified of the women's "special status" and afterward started knocking on their door in the late evening, requesting entry under a variety of pretenses.

In addition to the intrusions, says May, the apartment in which she had lived without incident for two years suddenly developed a host of maladies. She and Fantauzzi went 32 days this winter, including Christmas and Thanksgiving, without heat. The couple spent twelve days without hot water, and their refrigerator stopped working. When they complained to the Dalton's manager, Bob Vigil of the Woodside Properties Management Company, the women say they were told, "Open your oven," "Just move out," or "You people should be happy to have a roof over your head at all."

Bob Vigil refused to comment on the case, as did his attorney, Robert Werner. Melinda Sandoval hung up the telephone when contacted by Westword.

The Dalton is owned by Bill and Christney McGlashen of Palo Alto, California. Bill McGlashen, who was an assistant to former secretary of state George Shultz, made a fortune in the Silicon Valley after leaving politics. When contacted by phone, Christney McGlashen referred questions to her husband, who failed to return repeated phone calls.

The constant intrusions, coupled with management's hostile response to their complaints, took a toll on the women. Both Fantauzzi and May say they started suffering from stress-related headaches, depression and insomnia. "It got so we were afraid to come home, afraid to find her there," says May. "And afraid to go out, afraid to give her another chance."

Events at the Dalton finally came to a head on January 5 of this year, when Fantauzzi says Sandoval flew into a rage when the renter asked her not to shovel the walk outside her bedroom window at 5 a.m. "She called me a sicko and pushed the door--which I was standing behind--so hard I fell back," Fantauzzi says.

Fantauzzi reported the incident, as well as her history of problems with Sandoval, to the police. That was enough to get her a temporary restraining order prohibiting Sandoval from coming within ten feet of her. The order was made permanent at a January 19 Denver County Court hearing in front of Judge Doris Burd.

But even with the court order, the problems didn't stop. According to Fantauzzi, Bob Vigil started telling other tenants that she and May were liars and that his sister, Sandoval, had done nothing wrong. Fantauzzi called the Office of Anti-Discrimination for help. What she got was more trouble.

Brenda Toliver-Locke, the highest-ranking official in the three-person office, "told us we had the best case they'd seen in 28 years," says Fantauzzi. Adds May, "She told us we definitely do have a case, and that we were lucky to live in Denver."

But lucky may not be the word for it. Since the city's gay-rights ordinance went into effect in February 1991, the city attorney's office has never conducted a single formal hearing to enforce an order of the anti-discrimination office. And Toliver-Locke, while gung-ho about May and Fantauzzi's case, says her office can't do much to help the women, because the gay-rights ordinance "hasn't been the law since the Amendment 2 injunction."

Actually, the ordinance has always been in effect. But Toliver-Locke isn't the only one who's confused on that issue. Assistant City Attorney Wally Wortham, whom Toliver-Locke suggested Westword contact about the matter, says he's never heard of a gay-rights ordinance in Denver and recommends calling the state attorney general's office instead. Andrew Hudson, spokesman for Mayor Wellington Webb, is equally bewildered when first confronted with the question. "Isn't that only in Aspen and Boulder?" he asks.

Actually, three counties--Pitkin, Boulder and Denver--have municipal ordinances against discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. Those laws were never replaced by Amendment 2, because the amendment never went into effect--a fact confirmed by Hudson in a follow-up phone call. But that information hasn't quite made its way to the city officials responsible for enforcing the ordinance. It's a situation that has made city councilman Ed Thomas, in whose district Fantauzzi and May live, furious.

"These people are trying to get representation, and they call up expecting assistance from the City and County of Denver, and all they get is shined on," Thomas says.

Since filing the charges and attending a fact-finding session at the anti-discrimination office, Fantauzzi and May say the harassment at the apartment complex has only escalated. The name-calling and noisemaking around the apartment have continued, says Fantauzzi, and, while there is no proof that Vigil or Sandoval did it, the grill and headlight of May's car have been smashed in. In addition, Fantauzzi has twice called police to complain about Sandoval violating the terms of her restraining order.

Toliver-Locke, who encouraged Fantauzzi and May to negotiate a settlement with the Dalton rather than pursue formal charges, was taken off the case last week after inquiries by Westword. A new employee is now handling Fantauzzi and May's complaint.

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Michelle Johnston