On Friday, April 28, 2017, several dozen protesters gathered outside of city hall for a press conference in protest of “homophobic developments in Hollywood,” putting RD Olson, an Orange County based construction firm that is developing the 21-story Ivar Gardens Hotel project on Hollywood Boulevard, on notice for its membership in Legatus, right wing Christian business group.
RD Olson’s website had stressed its involvement in Legatus, a 501C3 non-profit groups that describes itself as “Ambassadors of Christ in the Marketplace.” Legatus’ mission statement is to help its members “study, live and spread the faith in their business, professional and personal lives.”
UNITE HERE Local 11, a labor union representing more than 23,000 hospitality workers, had pointed to several articles on the Legatus website that advocated the use of “conversation therapy” for LGBT children, the criminalization of abortion, and the repeal of marriage equality.
Protesters were concerned that RD Olson had been given project approval from the planning and Land Use Committee of the Los Angeles City Council without consideration of its involvement in antigay and right wing causes..
Richard Zaldivar, Executive Director of The Wall Las Memorias, who was present at the protest, said “I am very concerned the City Council would even consider a development project from an organization that advocates such hateful homophobic beliefs and practices.”
By Tuesday, May 2, however, after an inquiry by The Los Angeles Blade, the affiliation with Legatus had be erased from RD Olson’s website and the company’s President announced that he had terminated his membership and association with the group.
RD Olson’s Marketing Director, Joey Sanchez, said President Bill Wilhelm has resigned his membership in Legatus but declined to say whether the decision was due to public relations pressure.
At the heart of the concern about the company’s affiliation with Legatus is the group’s homophobia and advocacy in support of conversion therapy.
California is among several states that have banned “conversion therapy,” the practice of attempting to eliminate same-sex attraction through electroshock therapy and other controversial practices. The Supreme Court of the United States just this week upheld California’s right to ban the practice.
It is not know if California or Los Angeles previously offered RD Olson any subsidies for the construction of Ivar Gardens Hotel. By offering Legatus as the basis of its business ethics, however, RD Olson and Ivar Gardens Hotel could potentially have run afoul of workplace protections for LGBT employees.
Controversy surrounding Legatus is not new.
In 2015, Brett Baier of Fox News was scheduled to speak at a Legatus conference, but later pulled out. Baier said, “I am a lifelong, mass attending Catholic – I’m a lector at my parish. I consider myself to be in line with my Church on most things. But, describing homosexuality as a ‘disorder’ and talking about ways to ‘cure’ people from it – does not seem to line up with the loving, accepting Church that I know.”
Actor Gary Sinise, who also serves as a missionary in service to American troops abroad, also dropped out. “I don’t want my mission — which is designed to be unifying — to be disrupted by these, or any, controversies,” said Sinise.
Molson Coors Board Chairman Peter Coors, who actually belongs to Legatus, also dropped out of Legatus, citing similar concerns.
Bob Newhart, the comedian, also declined to speak at the group’s conference.
All identify as Catholic.
RD Olson’s community statement reads:
To Our Team and Community,
At R.D. Olson Construction, we are committed to fostering, cultivating and preserving a culture of diversity and inclusion. After extensive thought and evaluation, I am announcing that I will be resigning from Legatus, a membership organization for Catholic business leaders. Although I remain a devout Catholic, some of Legatus’ beliefs regarding sexual orientation and women’s rights do not represent my own. My decision to part ways with this organization is simply a personal decision, one that reflects my leadership philosophy for R.D. Olson Construction employees, industry partners and vendors.
R.D. Olson Construction is the sum of its parts and the company proudly celebrates each and every employee who brings his or her own diverse beliefs and backgrounds to the team. We have, and will continue to celebrate diversity – it’s woven into the fabric of our firm.
In continuing to foster an inclusive culture at R.D. Olson Construction, the company is a proud sponsor of OC Pride’s “As One” LGBT Pride Parade & Festival for the first time on June 24. As ongoing stewards of our community, we also continually work to identify new opportunities that allow the company and its team members to live out R.D. Olson’s commitment to providing a safe and fair workplace for every person that walks through our doors. Thank you for your understanding of this personal decision.
William J. Wilhelm , President
R.D. Olson Construction, Inc.