Women's Rights Bar Controversy
A Midtown bar says it feels "totally bad" if canceling on Planned Parenthood offended, cites safety concerns
Tensions persist between women's health advocates and two Midtown hotspots nearly a week after Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast was forced to relocate an event featuring women's rights activist Sandra Fluke.
Originally scheduled at Proof Bar + Patio for May 7, the Planned Parenthood event was suddenly canceled along with a pre-talk happy hour gathering at the bar's downstairs restaurant neighbor, Reef. Both establishments cited parking issues and heavy customer traffic from the Offshore Technology Conference, which drew more than 100,000 visitors to Houston last week.
Though the pair of Planned Parenthood fundraising events went off without a hitch at the Continental Club and the Ensemble Theatre (which hosted the happy hour), Proof and Reef continue to take heat for what many Planned Parenthood supporters see as a rather cowardly decision in the face of potential anti-abortion protests.
While Reef co-owner Bill Floyd shared his side of the story on Friday, Proof manager James Cole is now stepping forward.
"We had no idea that Sandra Fluke was going to speak until we received phone calls from protestors two weeks before the event," Cole tells CultureMap.
According to Proof's publicist Tiffany Halik, management worried about safety issues surrounding a large protest. The bar asked that Planned Parenthood provide off-duty officers from the Houston Police Department. But though off-duty officers provide additional security for Proof on most busy nights, HPD denied the request due to heightened risk of protestors and suggested using constables from Harris County Precinct One.
"Planned Parenthood may be used to protestor s, but we're not."
Proof officials say they felt the constables weren't enough and decided to cancel the talk on Monday. Noting that the bar has remained in touch with its attorneys, Cole stresses that Planned Parenthood's allegations that they were pressured by Reef's Bill Floyd are "1,000 percent" untrue.
"It's our responsibility to keep our customers safe," Cole says. "Planned Parenthood may be used to protestors, but we're not. They never told us there'd be protests and then they weren't willing to provide adequate security. They didn't make us feel comfortable about the event."
The bar manager says that Proof is neither for nor against the women's health organization. "We're not Democrats or Republicans — just a bar trying to run a business," Cole says. "We feel totally bad if we offended anyone."
Planned Parenthood officials could not be reached for further comment.
Keeping the peace
Interestingly, in spite of all the reported security fears, the Houston Press noted that two HPD officers watched over a protest of Fluke's Continental Club appearance after all.
CultureMap reached out to HPD spokesperson Victor Senties to find out why Proof's request for off-duty officers would have been denied.
"It's standard for there to be on-duty officers at any type of demonstration or public parade," Senties says, adding that law enforcers at the Continental Club simply would have been on regular work duties. It stands to reason that HPD would have also sent officers on duty to Proof to cover any protest as well.
But the cops would have been on-duty police not off-duty security. "We generally do not approve off-duty officers at protests, labor disputes or any situations where there might be a potential for danger," Senties says.