Two gay men say they were refused a couples massage at a Florida spa Monday.
In a video posted to Facebook by Michael Garcia and his boyfriend, Arnaldo, the spa’s manager can be heard telling them that the service is just for “a man and a woman.”
“I can’t believe we’re actually being discriminated against,” one of the two men, who were both off camera, can be heard saying.
When the men asked the manager, Jerry Liu, whether he was discriminating against them because they are gay, Liu emphatically said “no” and repeated that the couple’s massage service was only for opposite-sex partners.
Garcia told NBC2 that the incident occurred Monday at the Joy Feet Spa in Naples, Florida.
“It hurt," Garcia said. "It sucks because we’re just like everybody else."
In a post shared on the spa's Facebook page, Liu apologized for the incident, blaming it on a cultural misunderstanding.
“In my county (sic), a couple means a man and a woman as couple. I never see a couple have same sex,” Liu wrote. “I am sorry, I didn’t mean discriminate any gay or lesbian. I respect any one find the true love and also I hope they will love each other forever whatever they are both men or woman.”
In a separate post, Liu offered to provide the two men with a free one-hour massage “to say sorry.”
Garcia said that while he and his boyfriend declined the free massage offer, he did, however, accept Liu’s apology.
While Liu appears to have had a change of heart, his refusal to serve the gay couple on Monday was not against state law. Only 20 states and the District of Columbia have laws explicitly prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ people in places accessible to the public.
"Currently Florida lacks explicit nondiscrimination protections prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity in places of public accommodations," Naomi Goldberg, the policy and research director at Movement Advancement Project, an LGBTQ think tank, said in an email. "That said, many cities and counties in Florida have local ordinances that prohibit such discrimination. In fact, 59 percent of people in Florida live in jurisdictions with these protections. The city of Naples and the county of Collier do NOT have such protections."
Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, a statewide LGBTQ advocacy group, said Monday's incident at Joy Feet Spa "underscores the need for statewide nondiscrimination protections." Smith's organization is backing the Florida Competitive Workforce Act, a state bill that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the 1992 Florida Civil Rights Act.
"It's long overdue for this legislature to expand the state's civil rights statute, and they have the opportunity right now to do that," she said.