Children’s Museum, Citing ‘Religious Beliefs,’ Says Same-Sex Couples Are Welcome As Long As They Pay More

Florida resident Karen Lee-Duffell has two young kids, and a wife with whom she’s been together for 12 years. The four of them love the Jacksonville Hands-On Children’s Museum.

Well, make that loved. You see, when Lee-Duffell wanted to renew her family membership recently, museum staff unexpectedly balked when she put a woman’s name on the form in the section marked “dad.”

“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. It sends a clear message that they are not interested in fairness to certain kinds of families. I don’t think that’s right, no matter what the proprietors’ personal beliefs are.”

Lee-Duffell claims that the museum’s refusal to qualify her partner for inclusion in the family rate “is no different than charging someone extra for their T-shirt because they are meat eaters and the store owner is vegetarian.”

The museum is outraged, outraged I tells ya, by the accusation that it discriminates. It totally doesn’t!

Oh, wait.

“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.”

[Note: read the update, below, for a fuller picture.]

In other words, same-sex couples are welcome at the museum, but they should expect to pay more than straight couples. That’s just our faith, folks!

Museum officials feel stung by the criticism that has poured forth, and they say, correctly, that the aggressive reactions of some — including phone and e-mail jamming — have been both misguided and rude.

Then again, staff hardly help their cause when, in a press release, they bitterly cry foul over such Facebook statements as “I hope this place closes down & I for sure will not be going there!” and “They care more about their hurtful policies than they do the well-being of the children and families they propose to serve, and this makes me very, very sad.” There’s nothing remotely wrong, either morally or legally, with uttering sentiments like those.

The museum also feels slighted by an initiative to picket the place next week, and purports to be horrified by the fact that public financial documents of the 501(c)(3) non-profit have been shared and scrutinized by critics:

They have posted the Hands On Children’s Museum’s financial records. These records are only to be used as information for those who are donors or would be donors, in the effect of a donation or grant. Not to be posted and ridiculed over as on their Facebook page.

But in a democracy, of course transparency, debate, and protests are absolutely fine. It’s hard to escape the notion that the museum’s fingerpointing is a lame attempt to deflect blame — and a chance to fire up the old Christian-persecution narrative.

Personally, I’m much more concerned that people who believe they have something to teach kids treat the English language as worthless trash (I say that as an immigrant whose native tongue isn’t English).

Speaking of language issues, please note that in this post, as a courtesy, I have rendered the museum’s name with the grammatically required hyphen. Without the hyphen, as the museum spells it, the name actually gives me the heebie-jeebies. You’re welcome, Hands-On Children’s Museum.

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***Update*** I just called the museum. Its outgoing message says there is “new membership pricing,” without going into detail. The website indicates a quiet change that is both encouraging and disappointing. Encouraging because family pricing now appears to be equal for all — gay parents or straight parents, no discernible difference. Disappointing because, in a move that calls to mind the expression “Cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face,” every two-parent family wishing to purchase an extra membership must now pay the $10 surcharge.

Still, Lee-Duffell pronounces herself more or less pleased on her Facebook page:

At this point, they have changed their pricing strategy to treat all families equally, and for that I am grateful. I have not yet seen any explanatory statement from the company beyond their original statement standing by their policy. Whether their strategy of increasing prices across the board was a wise one remains to be seen. I’m disappointed that they believe treating us equally is so expensive, as I don’t think the other organizations in town that offer inclusive family memberships have found that to be the case.


About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder of Moral Compass, a now dormant site that poked fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards. He joined Friendly Atheist in 2013.


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