SANTA ANA, Calif. -- A judge ruled that Disneyland violated the civil rights of two homosexual teenagers who were kicked out of the famed amusement park for dancing together.
Park officials said they would abide by a forthcoming injunction allowing the two youths to dance together at Disneyland, but said a ban on same-sex dancing would continue for everybody else. A spokesman added the Friday ruling would be appealed.
Ross Exler and Shawn Elliott filed the sex discrimination lawsuit against the park two months after they were kicked off the Tomorrowland Terrace dance floor and escorted out of the park by security guards. The suit claimed the ban on same-sex dancing violated the state's Unruh Civil Rights Act.
Outside the courtroom, Exler jumped up and down and shouted, 'I can't believe they did this. I can't believe it's really happening.'
Niles Merton, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Community Center in Orange County, praised the decision as a 'positive step forward and a trend toward tolerance,' but questioned Disneyland's decision not to extend those rights to all same-sex dance partners.
'Word is only just now spreading through the gay community, but I suspect it's only a matter of time before a challenge will be brought and the court given a chance to interpret its order.
'Even Disneyland must recognize that gays and lesbians have civil rights.'
During the trial, Exler testified he and Elliott went to Disneyland in September 1980, when they were 19 and 17 years old, to test the ban after writing a letter to park officials in an effort to get the rule changed.
He said one of the guards who threw him out of the park told him: 'This is a family park. There's no room for alternate lifestyles here.'
Another guard added, 'This is a private business and we make our own rules,' Exler testified.
Disneyland President Richard Nunis invoked the memory of Walt Disney during his testimony, saying he helped develop the policy as a way to maintain the facility's 'wholesome, family atmosphere' and ensure good crowd control.
Attorney Ron Tolmo, representing Exler on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union, insisted those motives were not grounds to deny the youths' civil rights.
A jury of seven men and five women deliberated two days before returning the advisory verdict in favor of the two men. Superior Court Judge James Ross accepted the ruling and said he would issue the injunction against Disneyland.
Tolmo said the victory was the biggest of his career and explained: 'Think of it, an Orange County jury has ruled that two gays have the right to dance at Disneyland. What more can I say?'