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Kentucky Supreme Court Dismisses Gay Pride T-Shirt Case


The Kentucky Supreme Court has dismissed a lawsuit against Lexington T-shirt maker Hands On Originals, which refused to print T-shirts for a 2012 gay pride festival on religious grounds.

The court did not address the main arguments of the case, instead ruling that Lexington’s anti-discrimination ordinance does not protect groups who feel they have been discriminated against — only individuals.


Lexington’s Gay and Lesbian Services Organization filed a complaint with the city’s Human Rights Commission in 2012, arguing that the T-shirt maker violated the city’s fairness ordinance, which bans discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing and public accommodations.

In its ruling on Thursday, the state Supreme Court ruled that the group didn’t have standing to be aggrieved by Hands On Originals.

“Because an ‘individual’ did not file the claim, but rather an organization did, we would have to determine whether the organization is a member of the protected class, which we find impossible to ascertain,” the 11-page ruling stated.

The ruling means that the court didn’t ultimately determine whether Hands On Originals violated Lexington’s fairness ordinance.

The challenge began after Blaine Adams, the owner of Hands On Originals, refused to make T-shirts for GLSO in 2012, saying that doing so would have violated his religious beliefs.

GLSO filed a complaint with the Lexington Human Rights Commission, which said the company had violated the city’s fairness ordinance.

But Hands On Originals appealed the decision and courts have so far ruled against the Human Rights Commission’s decision, saying the company’s actions were protected under the First Amendment.

“While this result is no doubt disappointing to many interested in this case and its potential outcome, the fact that the wrong party filed the complaint makes the discrimination analysis almost impossible to conduct, including issues related to freedom of expression and religion,” the court wrote.

Fourteen Kentucky cities have passed fairness ordinances, including Louisville and Lexington.

Some Kentucky lawmakers have for years pushed for a statewide fairness law, but the policy has never received an official vote in a legislative committee.

Others have proposed legislation that would gut local fairness ordinances by protecting businesses from being sued or having to pay fines for violating the laws.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives. He's covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin. He has a bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago and a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas. He grew up in Lexington.

Email Ryland at
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