By Ronica Shannon
Register News Writer
Two women and a local photographer say they were told to leave the privately owned E.C. Million Memorial Park on Tates Creek Avenue during a maternity photo session Saturday.
The couple believe they were ordered to leave because they are gay, which is legal in Kentucky because gays are not protected under civil rights laws.
Cheri Chenault and her partner, Destiny Keith, are expecting a baby boy on Sept. 29, and they were having maternity pictures taken by Jessica Miller-Poole, owner of 13 Wishes Photography.
“I had picked one of the flowers (in the park) and was going to use it in the picture,” Miller- Poole said. “The gatekeeper said we were not able to pick the flowers. He left, and we continued to take pictures.”
Miller-Poole then said she asked the couple if they wanted a picture of them kissing.
“They were a little reluctant, and they kissed so quickly that I wasn’t even able to take a picture of it,” she said.
After that, the park gatekeeper approached them again.
“He said that we had to leave and that it was inappropriate,” Miller-Poole said.
Miller-Poole’s husband accompanies her on all photo shoots, she said.
“He talked to the man and said that if it was because they were two women, that he wanted to know,” Miller-Poole said. “The man said, ‘Those type of people were not welcomed there,’” she said. “My husband ended up getting very angry and had to walk away.”
Miller-Poole said she conducts photo shoots at the park frequently and was trying to understand if she was banned from the park permanently or just with same-sex couples as clients.
“The man said, ‘If you come back and bring those type of people, you will be removed from the park,’” she said. “I never understood why people make such a big deal about being treated differently until I was actually in the middle of it and witnessed it firsthand. It really bothered me and upset me to witness someone be so cruel.”
The problem, according to Richmond Human Rights Chairperson Sandra Anez-Powell, is that what the gatekeeper did is not illegal in Kentucky.
“It is legal to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation here in Richmond,” Anez-Powell said. “They can be kicked out of public places, fired from their jobs and denied housing, a right that heterosexual people like me enjoy. The local human rights commission has fought for the last four years to protect the rights of every human being, but the Richmond City Commissioners have chosen to table this issue. The last administration did the same.”
According to Chenault, the couple had been called “faggots” earlier that day, but not while at the park, she said.
After the incident with the gatekeeper, both women were very upset, Miller-Poole said.
“I called my mom crying and my girlfriend Destiny was upset too,” Chenault said. “She (Destiny) called her mom, too, and it was a big mess. It took all I had to keep my cool because I just thought it was messed up that he could literally kick us out of the park.”
E.C. Million Memorial Park is made up of two sections. One is privately owned and maintenance is funded by an endowment. It is entered from Tates Creek Avenue. The other section is a city-owned with playground equipment and has entrances at both Stratford Drive and Langford Court.
The photos were being taken in the privately owned section of the park, which is open to the public.
A woman who answered the phone of Adam Arvin, the manager of E.C. Million Memorial Park, immediately told the Richmond Register on Tuesday that she had no comment.
An employee of the park confirmed Tuesday that Arvin was the manager, but that he was not available for comment.
Ronica Shannon can be reached at email@example.com or 624-6608.