Jacksonville's Hands On Children's Museum denies discrimination against renewing same-sex couple's family membership


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Second class citizens. That's how a same-sex couple feels after they say they were denied a family membership renewal at the Hands On Children's Museum.

Karen Lee-Duffell has 4-year-old and 13-month-old daughters with her partner of 12 years. She claims the museum denied her family's renewal because there was a female name in the "dad" section of their application form.

"They noticed the female name in the 'dad' space and told me that I would need to pay extra to add her as a 'substitution' because she is not a dad," Lee-Duffell said. "I was confused for a second, but quickly realized what was going on."

The Jacksonville mother has been visiting the museum for the last three years and says the validity of her wife as their children's other parent has never been questioned before.

"It sends a clear message that they are not interested in fairness to certain kinds of families," Lee-Duffell said. "I don't think that's right, no matter what the proprietors' personal beliefs are."

"It's no different than charging someone extra for their T-shirt because they are meat eaters and the store owner is vegetarian," she added.

Same-sex marriages are not legally recognized in Florida.

A museum spokesperson -- who did not want to be identified -- issued this statement:

"The Hands on Children's Museum does not discriminate against gender, race, religion or sexual orientation. We have and will remain welcoming and inclusive. Our family memberships include Mom, Dad and their children and allow unlimited visits throughout the year. For single parent families, we allow for other adults in the household to be added as members with the parents consent and payment of $10.00 administrative fee. This policy is consistent with our religious beliefs, and Florida law, while still allowing us to accommodate non-traditional child rearing."

CHILDREN'S MUSEUM DOCUMENTS: Membership letter | News release

Because of the publicity surrounding the incident, the spokesperson says the museum and its staff have been "discriminated against, threatened and attacked" over the phone and via email. As a result, the organization has contacted an attorney.

"The director was yelled at and screamed at," according to the spokesperson, who adds the museum deserves an apology for how it is being treated.

But Lee-Duffell disagrees.

"They have conducted themselves unfairly and unprofessionally, not to mention unkindly," Lee-Duffell said. "I'm pretty disappointed. I did love to bring my children there.

There is now a Facebook page and a change.org petition calling on the museum to change its policy.

A peaceful protest has also been planned for June 22.

Important Links:
Online Petition: http://www.change.org/petitions/hands-on-children-s-museum-of-jacksonville-stop-discriminating-against-families
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/BoycottTheHandsOnChildrensMuseumJacksonville?fref=ts
Hands On Children's Museum: http://handsonchildrensmuseumjax.startlogic.com/