Book a double room? Not if you're gay, Sir

Andrew Tuck discovers that in some hotels the hosts' hospitality depends on the guests' heterosexuality
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MANY hotels are discriminating against homosexual couples despite attempts by tourist boards to promote Britain as a major gay holiday venue.

In a survey conducted last week by the Independent on Sunday three out of 10 hotels either refused bookings by a gay couple or required them to sleep in separate beds, reinforcing the findings of a forthcoming report on discrimination by the group Stonewall, which campaigns for gay and lesbian rights.

In a study of 4,000 gay people Stonewall found that 17 per cent said that they had been made to feel unwelcome because of their sexuality when staying in a hotel, 7 per cent had been refused a double bed, and 3 per cent had been told that gays and lesbians were unwelcome.

An Independent on Sunday reporter called 10 hotels, selected at random from the Which? Hotel Guide, asking for a booking for a double room with double bed for two gay men. Seven had no problem at all with idea, but one said he would only be allowed to visit if he and his partner slept in separate beds. Another said she would have to ask her husband's permission.

Another refused the booking outright. The Which? Hotel Guide 1998 describes the White Hart at Coggeshall, Essex, as "characterful and cosy". It also claims that the celebrated 16-bedroom hotel, with one of the finest Italian restaurants in Essex, is renowned for its friendliness. But that's so long as you are not gay.

When our man tried to book a room at the White Hart for a romantic Valentine's weekend break the receptionist offered a double room for pounds 97 per person per night. But when he revealed that the bed would be shared by two men, his custom was firmly rejected. "No, I'm afraid I can't take bookings like that," said the receptionist. "I'm sorry, it's one of the rules of the house."

Anya Palmer, a spokeswoman for Stonewall, said the organisation was unsurprised by the findings.

"This is certainly sex discrimination," she said, "but it is unclear whether you would win in court." Stonewall hopes that test cases will start coming to court after 17 February, when the European Court of Justice gives its full ruling in the case of Lisa Grant. Last September, in an interim announcement, the Court said that Ms Grant, a railway clerk, had suffered sex discrimination when she and her lesbian partner were refused the same perks as enjoyed by heterosexual couples. Campaigners hope that after 17 February it will become illegal to deny people equal access to goods and services because of their sexuality.

Under existing law, said Ms Palmer, if a hotel takes your booking but fails to honour it when you turn up you can sue for breach of contract.

The news of continuing discrimination against same-sex couples comes as tourist boards begin to target gay travellers from overseas. The London Tourist Board is currently advertising in the US gay press claiming that the capital is the ideal destination for gays after fun and culture.

The most right-on hotel that we spoke to was Claridge's, a favourite with visiting royalty, in London's Mayfair. When it was mentioned that the Valentine's night booking would be for two gay men, the receptionist told us: "We do not discriminate against anyone here, Sir." But it is different elsewhere. The Manor Farm in Crackington Haven, Cornwall, is run by Muriel and Paul Knight. The Which? Hotel Guide says the secluded farmhouse has "friendly hosts" and that Paul makes the "conversation flow". When we called to book a room, we were told that we could only do so if we agreed to stay in twin beds; on no account would we be allowed a double. A woman who refused to give her name said: "We do have homosexuals come to stay but they stay in twin beds. They cannot have a double room."

We met a similar response when we tried to book at a hotel in the Yorkshire Dales. The woman who answered the phone said we would have to sleep in single beds, then said that if her husband could be persuaded we might be able to sleep together. She said: "There have been some people we've had our suspicions about, but it's hard to prove isn't it?"

In contrast, staff at the Nobody Inn in Doddiscombsleigh, Devon; the Blue Lion at East Witton, North Yorkshire; Normanton Park in Edith Weston, Rutland, and other establishments sounded amazed that anyone needed to ask if gays and lesbians were welcome.

Patricia Yates, co-editor of the Which? Hotel Guide 1998 said she was disappointed that 30 per cent of the hotels we had called discriminated against gays. Despite asking whether dogs and children are welcome, Ms Yates admits she does not ask hoteliers whether gay people can get a room. In future she said that any hotel that discriminated against gays would have that information added to their review.