03/11/2013 08:25 am ET Updated May 11, 2013

Denied A Hotel Room Because You're Not Gay Enough?

Hotels turn away guests for all kinds of reasons, but here's one you don't hear every day: You're not gay enough.

That's what Laura Bradmeyer says a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., hotel did to her parents when they tried to check in recently. A receptionist told her father the hotel wouldn't honor his reservation.

"He was told that no women were allowed," she remembers. "My parents were not charged anything, but they were turned away."

Eventually, her parents found a room in a different hotel. But Bradmeyer wonders: is the resort allowed to tell guests to leave because of their gender or sexual orientation?

"Although the hotel clearly noted on the website that it was a gay resort, I would think that discriminating against hotel guests based on gender was illegal," she says. "I would also think that based on the clear misunderstanding and how late it was at their arrival, the hotel could have just let them stay the night on the condition that they didn't visit any common areas."

I made several attempts to contact the hotel, the Royal Palms Resort & Spa, to get its side of the story, but it did not respond. Bradmeyer is correct in at least one respect: No one visiting the Royal Palms' site could be left with the impression that it's not a gay resort.

Can they do that?
My decidedly non-lawyerly reading of Florida's lodging statues suggests the hotel might be allowed to refuse a guest. Section 509.141 says hotel operators may turn away "undesirable" guests, including those whose "conduct which disturbs the peace and comfort of other guests or which injures the reputation, dignity or standing of the establishment."

Banning women from gay establishments isn't unique to the hotel industry. In Australia, a gay bar recently won the right to keep women out. Seems the "predatory" females were making the male patrons uncomfortable.

A better question is: Did the Royal Palms go about it in the right way?

Although the hotel's site is clear that this is an establishment that caters to homosexual men, I could find no mention of it banning female guests -- whether they were straight, gay or bisexual. At the very least, someone from the hotel could have phoned Bradmeyer's parents after noticing they were a heterosexual couple, to let them know they might feel more comfortable elsewhere.

Turning away a guest at midnight isn't what I'd call exemplary customer service.

Research before you buy
Bradmeyer says her parents knew they'd booked a gay hotel shortly after making the reservations through an online travel agency.

"Mother easily discovered that it was a gay resort," she says. "As they are open-minded, they decided to keep the reservation, since the hotel did look very nice and it was only for one night."

If nothing else, Bradmeyer's story illustrates the importance of careful planning. You don't look up your hotel after you've made a reservation, particularly in this age of nonrefundable reservations. You do the quality-control beforehand, which includes checking the online reviews and ratings.

Had Bradmeyer's parents known they were not wanted at the Royal Palms, they might have looked elsewhere for accommodations.

In the end, the family thought the whole episode was funny and since they quickly found another hotel for the night, they weren't offended.

"We had a laugh about it," says Bradmeyer.

But, for other guests, a "wrong vacation" problem might be no laughing matter. At this time of year, it happens to a fair number of newbie business travelers who check into a beach resort during spring break. Hard to get any work done when your neighbors are partying until 4 a.m.

From time to time, I also hear from cruise passengers who are shocked that their travel agent booked their family on a singles cruise. Also popular in this genre of complaint: religious fundamentalists stuck on a gay cruise, classical music lovers on a jazz cruise and foodies on a fitness cruise. A little research would have eliminated that misunderstanding.

The Royal Palms may have been well within its rights to turn away Bradmeyer's parents. It might have helped the couple find alternate accommodations. But better yet, the guests should have avoided the misunderstanding in the first place by investigating their accommodations before they booked the room.

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