Library Reprimands Employee for Gay Rights Talk
July 16, 2003
616 SE Jefferson Street, Topeka, KS 66607
By John Milburn, The Associated Press
A public library employee is challenging her employer’s reprimand after
she talked openly at work about gay rights following last month’s U.S.
Supreme Court ruling that struck down anti-sodomy laws.
Bonnie Cuevas, a board member of the Kansas Unity and Pride Alliance and
mother of a gay man, said two administrators at the Topeka-Shawnee County
Library verbally reprimanded her and told her she was prohibited from
discussing gay rights at work. They cited a complaint from a co-worker who
felt the subject was creating a hostile work environment, she said.
Following the high court’s decision, Cuevas, an events coordinator for
the library, spoke by telephone to friends and reporters about the decision
and how it affects her family. She said she also talked about the decision to
a co-worker who approached her for information about the decision.
The American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to the library Wednesday,
asking officials to reconsider their prohibition on Cuevas’ ability to
discuss the case, without the group resorting to legal action.
Ken Choe, staff attorney for the ACLU in New York, said he was optimistic
the library would remove the restriction.
“If there was a concern about spending too much time on the phone for
personal reasons, that’s one thing,” Choe said. “All Mrs. Cuevas is
seeking to do is talk about this landmark Supreme Court decision as any
employee has the right to talk about matters of public concern.”
David Leamon, director of the library, said he recently returned from
vacation and was not aware of the situation. If anything, he said, Cuevas
would have been told not to use the telephone for personal matters and that
the library doesn’t take sides on issues.
“The subject is not an issue at all,” Leamon said.
Leamon said the staff complained that Cuevas was being disruptive because
of the frequent, impassioned telephone calls.
“We never issue gag orders,” Leamon said. “The library is on neutral
ground and we don’t take positions on issues.”
The library has hosted programs dealing with gay and lesbian issues in the
past and the building should be a place where ideas can be shared openly,
Cuevas, whose group is one of the 500 nationwide affiliates with the
Washington-based Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays, was
quoted in USA Today the day after the Supreme Court struck down
anti-sodomy laws, including the one on the books in Kansas. She told the paper
how her son, now 27, nearly died when he was beaten while leaving a gay bar
with his boyfriend.
The interview lasted just a few minutes, Cuevas said, and she also received
brief telephone calls from supporters. The next day, she received one more
phone call and was approached by a co-worker, who said the ruling was
important to him.
She was then told in private by supervisors that not everyone agreed with
her views and she was verbally reprimanded, Cuevas said.
“I was just flabbergasted. I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “The
only way I could see it was discrimination, because it was making some people
uncomfortable with their homophobia.”
Cuevas, 54, said she didn’t understand how an issue of such national
interest could be inappropriate for the workplace, especially in a library
that has been so concerned about using filters to limit Internet content.
PFLAG executive director David Tseng said the organization would support
Cuevas in her efforts.
“This one jumped out at us,” said Tseng, who was a policy adviser for
President Clinton. “It’s unfortunate that some leaders in her workplace
feel compelled to limit free speech for the sake of placating fringe
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