Court says QSpot LGBT Center will remain open a while longer

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QSpot and Qfest April of 2016 Board of Directors
QSpot and Qfest April of 2016 Board of Directors

A discrimination lawsuit against the Jersey Shore Arts Center from QSpot LGBT Center has moved forward. A court granted a motion for a preliminary injunction this month. The lawsuit was filed last summer by the QSpot LGBT Community Center in Ocean Grove—a part of Neptune Township in Monmouth County. The lawsuit seeks to avoid being evicted by the Jersey Shore Arts Center.

The inside of the Qspot LGBT Center in Ocean Grove, NJ
The inside of the Qspot LGBT Center in Ocean Grove

Last November, the same court allowed the LGBT Center facility to delay the scheduled eviction date of Dec. 31, 2016. With this newer decision, the ongoing discrimination lawsuit against the landlord, Jersey Shore Arts Center, will move forward.

New Jersey Superior Court Judge Dennis O’Brien granted the motion after a hearing on the matter. The judge denied a request made by JSAC to dismiss the anti-LGBT discrimination case outright. This allows the case to continue for a final resolution. QSpot believes what JSAC’s Board is doing through the eviction process violates New Jersey’s laws against discrimination. The LGBT Center produces many art-related events each year, as is required by the JSAC because it is an arts center.

The audience at the 2016 Qfest at Qspot LGBT Center in Ocean Grove, NJ
The audience at the 2016 Qfest at QSpot LGBT Center in Ocean Grove, NJ

The problem with the JSAC began, say many QSpot members, shortly after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Fla. Forty-nine LGBT people were murdered by a single gunman in the popular Florida nightclub last summer. Afterward, in memoriam to the 49 slain, the QSpot LGBT Center had displayed a rainbow flag to remember those killed that evening. Within a short time, the eviction letter came from the landlord.

QSpot had been a tenant of the JSAC for several years before receiving the eviction letter. In November 2016, QSpot filed a discrimination lawsuit claiming that the JSAC acted with bias toward the LGBT community when it did not renew QSpot’s lease at the JSAC. The lease was up for an automatic renewal in December 2016—or so the QSpot Center thought. JSAC claimed in the eviction papers that QSpot wasn’t qualified to be a tenant because the center allegedly did not provide arts programs. This was stated despite QSpot’s extensive arts programming—which includes the only LGBT Film and Digital Media Festival in the state.

John Mikytuck at Garden State Equality event in 2015
John Mikytuck at Garden State Equality event in 2015 (file photo)

According to the lawsuit, JSAC’s actions are a violation of New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination, which protects tenants from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The lawsuit requests that the court grant a preliminary injunction to protect the community center pending further proceedings on the discrimination claim. That request was granted by Judge O’Brien at the beginning of April 2017 along with another request for a temporary restraining order to permit the QFest LGBT Film and Digital Media Festival to take place at QSpot’s location in Ocean Grove this past month. Both were granted.

“We’re grateful that the court granted QSpot’s request which will allow us to stay in our home and hold QFest while our discrimination case against the Jersey Shore Arts Center proceeds,” said John Mikytuck, QSpot executive director. “We want to assure everyone in the community that QSpot will remain open and accessible as a safe haven, place of support, and a social and cultural gathering spot, until our lawsuit has concluded.”

QSpot is represented by Michael Long and Steven Rosato of the national law firm Lowenstein Sandler, LLP, with support from the Lowenstein Center for the Public Interest.

“Lowenstein Sandler is proud to stand with QSpot as it defends itself and the LGBT community it serves from unlawful discrimination,” said Long, lead lawyer on the team.

www.qspot.org