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May 24, 2022

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UPDATE: Suits and a Keg — and a civil rights investigation

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A complaint filed against a guy-oriented fundraiser for the Fort Vancouver National Trust this Friday featuring beer, whiskey and cigars has sparked a formal investigation by the Washington State Human Rights Commission.

However, serious doubts have emerged about the existence of the Vancouver woman who filed it.

Someone giving the name Rebecca Pulliam filed a complaint July 29 against the event — called Suits and a Keg — alleging that she was told the event was for men only and that she could not bring her breast-feeding baby.

Pulliam said that Jared Hidden, a freelancer for the Vancouver Voice newspaper and the member of the trust’s development committee who conceived the idea for Suits and a Keg, told her the event was for men only and that she could not bring her baby.

The complaint has created a flurry of media reports on Pulliam’s charges of discrimination on the basis of her gender.

But The Columbian’s attempts to reach Pulliam Wednesday instead created a mystery behind who actually may have filed the complaint against Suits and a Keg.

Pulliam says in her complaint to the state that she doesn’t have a phone because she is deaf. She lists her address as 516 Main St.

No one answered the door at that address, but a neighbor who came outside said that no baby or deaf woman lives in any of the building’s three units.

The neighbor, Erin, who declined to give her last name, did say that Marcus Griffith, also a freelance writer for the Vancouver Voice, is staying in the same apartment that Pulliam listed as her address. Griffith is listed as a witness in Pulliam’s complaint. However, the last name Burton was on the mailbox for that apartment.

Pulliam, Erin added, is the last name of her ex-boyfriend, who until recently lived in the building. She did not know of any Rebecca in her ex’s family.

Rebecca Pulliam did not return an email sent Wednesday morning to the address she provided on the complaint. She could not be found in a voter registration database, Washington state court records, in the phone book or on Facebook.

Hidden also said he’s never heard of Pulliam and has never spoken to her.

Griffith claimed that Rebecca Pulliam is in fact a relative of the Pulliam who formerly lived at 516 Main St.

He said he “has not run into Rebecca in quite some time.” But he also said he is a witness in her claim, filed less than two weeks ago, because he has also heard Hidden say that Suits and a Keg is an event for men only. He said he has never heard Hidden say anything about banning breast-feeding.

“Whether or not Rebecca is confused or just bizarre, she has the same civil rights as anyone else,” he said.

‘A long day’

Fort Vancouver National Trust Executive Director Elson Strahan said late Wednesday afternoon that it “has been a long day.”

“This complaint has no basis in it and it also appears that someone is just using the channels of the state’s complaint process to smear our organization and an event for their own satisfaction, whatever that may emanate from,” he said.

Because it is open to the public and is charging a fee, Suits and a Keg is considered a place of public accommodation, meaning it has to observe state civil rights laws.

Pulliam’s complaint raised the question on whether the event intended to exclude women, which would violate civil rights law.

Washington State Human Rights Commission Executive Director Sharon Ortiz said Wednesday that the complaint will be assigned to an investigator, who will also have to get in touch with Pulliam.

Meanwhile, organizers say that women are welcome at the $20-a-head event — it’s simply geared toward men.

“This is meant to be, and is, just a fun event,” Strahan said. “It happens to be that men in this case are our target market for attendees.”

An earlier version of the ticket purchasing page on the Suits and a Keg website did say that the event was for “guys only.” However, that wording has since been changed to “truly a guy’s event.”

Another mystery

The trust changed the wording on the ticketing site from “guys only” to the more inclusive wording the day before the civil rights complaint was filed, after being contacted through a privacy-protected email, Strahan said.

The trust provided the email, in which someone using the address jennifer.smith@hushmail.com wrote the trust on July 28 asking, “What part of ‘This guys only event’ invites women to join the event?”

Hushmail is a free encrypted email service.

Trust Development Director Alishia Topper wrote back the same day, saying that women could attend, but they should know most of the crowd would be men.

“I updated it to remove the words ‘guys only’ to better reflect that women can come if they really want to,” she wrote.

The same jennifer.smith@hushmail.com sent emails to numerous Portland-Vancouver metro area media outlets on Aug. 5 about the investigation. An email sent to that address by The Columbian was not answered Wednesday.

Strahan agreed that the “guys only” language used on the receipt was an “unfortunate choice of wording.”

But he said it was never used in any of the marketing materials for the event, and it was corrected immediately after it was brought to the organizers’ attention.

“I think that this was an intent to create a controversy where there is none,” Strahan said. “And, it is to me a huge waste of time and taxpayer resources on something that is just a fun event to raise funds.”

Strahan pointed out that there’s a long list of women-centric events, including the PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center’s Pink Power, Cameo (Girls Night Out Charity Event) and First Independent Bank’s “Bella Voce.”

Ortiz said that if a complaint were registered against an event billed as “ladies-only” that it could become a civil rights issue as well. Restricting events to one gender is “the same as excluding someone based on the color of their skin,” she said.

Ortiz also said she couldn’t comment as to why Pulliam wanted to bring a breast-feeding baby to an event with booze and smoking.

In her complaint, Pulliam also alleges Hidden — whom she mistakenly calls a manager of the soon-to-be-closed alternative paper — told her that she could not bring her baby to the offices of the Voice.

State civil rights investigations typically take six months or less. If a violation is found, a vast majority of complaints are handled through conciliation, which often includes training and can also involve monetary settlements. But Ortiz said the identity of a complainant must also be verified.

The state Human Rights Commission exists to eliminate discrimination and provide education, she said.

Strahan said Suits and a Keg, set for 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday at the Artillery Barracks, will go on.

“I expect we’ll have a lot more people attend the event now, and we’ll take money at the door,” he said.

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