Long Beach lesbian couple wins court victory in Hawaii discrimination case

Diane Cervelli, left, and Taeko Bufford, in a 2001 photo, announce their discrimination lawsuit against a Honolulu-based bed and breakfast owner. A Hawaii appeals court upheld a previous ruling that said the business owner violated the law and discriminated against the couple.

A Long Beach lesbian couple won a legal victory last week when a Hawaii appeals court upheld a ruling against a bed and breakfast owner who violated the law and discriminated against the women.

Diane Cervelli and Taeko Bufford filed a lawsuit in 2011 against the Honolulu-based Aloha Bed & Breakfast for refusing to rent them a room with a single bed because they are lesbian.

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In a 2013 ruling, a Hawaii First Circuit Court judge ruled that bed and breakfast owner Phyllis Young violated the state public accommodations law and ordered the business to stop discriminating against same-sex couples. The public accommodations law prohibits establishments that provide lodging to transient guests from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, race, color, ancestry, religion, disability and sex —including gender identity or expression.

Young, who claimed her religious beliefs prevented her from renting a room to the couple, appealed the decision, but Hawaii’s Intermediate Court of Appeals rejected her argument in its ruling Friday.


In a statement, Peter Renn, a senior attorney with Lambda Legal who represented the women, said, “The court affirmed that there is no excuse for discrimination. Hawai`i law is crystal clear: if you operate a business, you are open to all.”

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Before filing their lawsuit, the couple contacted the Hawai`i Civil Rights Commission, and in the course of their investigation, the owner admitted to the commission that she turned the couple away because they were lesbians, stating that she believed same-sex relationships are “detestable” and that they “defile our land.”


“I can’t tell you how much it hurt to be essentially told, ‘we don’t do business with your kind.’ It still stings to this day,” Bufford said in a statement. “We thought the days when business owners would say ‘We’re open to the public – but not to you’ was a thing of the past.

“You don’t have to change your beliefs,” she said, “but you do have to follow the law just as everyone else does.”

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.