Apr 15, 2011

Gay ex-employee alleges sexual harassment, bias by Rev. Jackson and staff

A former employee of civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr. has filed a discrimination complaint with Chicago's Commission on Human Rights, alleging that he was harassed by colleagues and by Jackson himself, and was terminated from his job at Jackson's Rainbow PUSH Coalition based on his sexual orientation.

The complaint was filed against Jackson and Rainbow PUSH in early 2010 by Tommy R. Bennett, 55, an openly gay Chicago man who is known for past appearances on The Tom Joyner Morning Show where fans know him as "Aruba Tommy."

Though it was filed less than three months after Bennett's termination in December 2009, the complaint only recently received the attention after a Chicago LGBT newspaper, the Windy City Times, published an article on the subject, which was then shared on Twitter by Joyner and others.

The Chicago commission is still investigating the complaint and has two years from the time it was filed, according to Bennett's attorney Thomas Leverso said. The commission declined to release the complaint citing the pending investigation, but Leverso provided a copy to theGrio, along with the PUSH response to the complaint.

In its filing, PUSH and Jackson denied all of Bennett's allegations -- including the claims that he was fired due to his sexuality, harassed on the job, and was forced to perform improper job duties because he is gay.

In a statement released Thursday evening, a PUSH spokesperson wrote: "The Rainbow PUSH Coalition and Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr. unequivocally deny Tommy Bennett's false claims of harassment, retaliation and discrimination. We are fully cooperating with the Chicago Commission on Human Relations and expect to be fully exonerated."

In the complaint, Bennett describes what he calls "demeaning and demoralizing tasks" that he was asked to perform as part of his duties for PUSH -- everything from escorting women to and from Jackson's hotel room and cleaning up after sexual intercourse, to fetching erectile dysfunction pills for Jackson and, in one instance, being asked to apply ointment to a rash on Jackson's inner thigh. He was asked to do these things, he says, because of his gender and his sexual orientation.

"They asked me to travel with the Reverend for just a couple of weeks, and that turned into a year," Bennett said in an interview with theGrio. "I would never apply for a job to pack his clothes, clean up the hotel room after he met different folks there, buy his underclothes. [But] I tried my best because I loved serving the community, and before my feelings, I put the community first.



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