The story began on April 11, when the regional branch of the women’s health organization announced on Facebook that its regular "Cocktails for a Cause" fundraiser would feature Sandra Fluke — the feminist icon famously called a "prostitute" by Rush Limbaugh for advocating that insurance companies cover birth control. The two-hour event was to be held May 7 at Proof Bar + Patio above the popular Reef restaurant.
But not all went according to plan. Proof backed out as host just hours before the talk on Tuesday. A scheduled pre-fundraiser happy hour at Reef was also canceled. The Continental Club and Ensemble Theatre, which hosted the smaller event, stepped up to save day.
Melaney Linton, CEO of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, responded to the sudden venue changes with a Wednesday email claiming that Reef co-owner Bill Floyd pressured Proof to cancel the Fluke event due to worries about protests during the Offshore Technology Conference — which, this year, has drawn more than 100,000 visitors to Houston.
A tense week
While representatives from both Proof and the local Planned Parenthood chapter were not available for comment, Floyd shared his side of the story with CultureMap Friday morning.
"This never had anything to do with Planned Parenthood," he explained. "We've never turned away a group based on their beliefs and we never will. Our decision had to do with a lack of parking during one of the busiest weeks during the year."
Floyd said he found out about the Proof event Monday morning, having no idea that it was sponsored by Planned Parenthood. Because Proof is typically closed on Monday or Tuesday, Floyd scheduled a meeting with the bar owners, the valet service and the building landlords to discuss the parking and crowd issues.
"Proof canceled with Planned Parenthood and then placed the blame on us," Floyd said. "....Now were being treated like the antichrist."
Later that day, Reef co-owner Bryan Caswell got word that there would be protestors. He and Floyd asked Proof to consider rescheduling the event because of the heavier-than-usual volume of customers during OTC week.
"Proof canceled with Planned Parenthood and then placed the blame on us," Floyd said, stressing that Reef has no affiliation with their upstairs neighbor. "I didn't even know Sandra Fluke was going to be there until after her talk at the Continental Club. Now were being treated like the antichrist."
On Tuesday, he received a call from a man with Planned Parenthood inquiring about a 20-person reservation planned that evening at Reef's bar.
"I had no idea that the reservation was for them, since it was only listed under a person's name. The guy said there wouldn't be any protests, but I was getting so frustrated. I told him this was a horrible week for a group that size and that we were expecting the place to be crazy."
Floyd ended the call by suggesting that they find another location. "Did I screw up? Yes," he said. "I shouldn't have done that and I totally take the blame."
Reef has reached out to former Texas Gov. (and restaurant regular) Mark White to help smooth things over with Planned Parenthood. Floyd said that the organization's CEO Melaney Linton no longer believes that Reef meant any malice. Linton was out of of town Friday and could not be reached for comment.
Freedom of Speech
Meanwhile, Continental Club owner Pete Gordon told CultureMap that the Fluke fundraiser was a huge success, drawing more than 100 guests.
"I'm a longtime supporter of Planned Parenthood and we've actually had a number of events for them in the past. [Sandra Fluke] is a great speaker and I'm thankful we didn't have anything scheduled that night."
Gordon noted that a small group of anti-abortion protestors gathered in front of the club during the Tuesday talk.
"Freedom of speech is one of the greatest things about this country," he laughed. "I was easily more vocal about my beliefs than the protestors were that night."