SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – The owner of Treehouse Adventures is apologizing for an argument he says got out of hand.
The couple involved claims the owner targeted them because they were gay. And now, dozens of people are calling the owner homophobic on Facebook and Yelp.
Victoria Torres says it started when she took her five-year-old nephew to the kids’ play area, located in the Savannah Mall. Torres says she put her arm around her girlfriend’s shoulder.
Soon after, Torres says a daycare chaperone identified herself as an employee with Treehouse Adventures and told the couple to stop. Torres says the chaperone claimed that children were getting uncomfortable.
“There were plenty of couples there,” said Tuyen Nguyen, Torres’ girlfriend. “But they decided to talk to us about it. We were just sitting there reading a magazine.”
News 3 spoke to the chaperone who maintains that the couple’s behavior was inappropriate for the venue. She did not want to speak on camera.
Torres and Nguyen say they refused to stop. Eventually, they say it got loud and they left.
“It was not only embarrassing, it was hurtful,” said Torres. “You’re just being yourself…it’s never happened to me before.”
Ben Saborio, the owner of Treehouse Adventures, says he the couple’s sexuality was not the reason he wanted them to stop touching each other. He says the chaperone asked them to stop because the business has a strict no-PDA policy. The sign is posted near their front door.
“That was a really really tough situation. I really struggled. It wasn’t easy. But I welcome anybody. I don’t hate anyone,” said Saborio.
Saborio says he put the sign near the front door after a previous incident.
He says his concerns about a language barrier are why he asked a chaperone to confront the women, who are angry he did not do it himself.
“Maybe I didn’t handle it in the right way,” he said. “My wife wasn’t here. I was afraid to approach them and say something wrong that would be offensive.”
The couple hired an attorney. They are not sure if they will press charges.
“To explain to my nephew what had happened and why people do that and why you’re not accepted everywhere you go… it’s hard,” said Torres.
Saborio could not share the surveillance video with News 3 because children are in the video. Treehouse Adventures issued this public apology:
“First and foremost, we would like to apologize to each family involved in this ordeal. Moreover, we want to emphasize that the Tree House Adventures does not allow any type of discrimination.
We understand that we were caught on an unfortunate incident involving claims of discrimination against the LGBT community. This isolated case is hurting our business review and reputation. We are a family entertainment center; our focus is on the safety and well-being of everyone in our store.
When something unappropriated is reported to management from another client, we investigate and take action.
In this case, we had a field trip of 23 children; a few of these children reported to their chaperon something they saw and thought it was inappropriate. Then the chaperon reported to management (Ben) that a couple was being inappropriate; that particular chaperon asks them to stop, and they decided to leave and blame our business. In no way these individuals were asked to leave by management.
This was a decision made by them- furthermore, in the case of inappropriateness, we would ask for an immediate stop of this behavior; if this persists, we will ask anyone involved to leave.
We invited the couple back into the store; only one of the parents came in and spoke to me privately, I invited the couple back at no cost and assure them that in no way they were discriminated against; furthermore, the couple were given a refund for their purchase today.
Again, our number one concern is for the safety and well-being of all the individuals that visit us. This is a facility in which our clients are children and nothing unsafe or inappropriate will be tolerated from anyone.
We hope that this can clear up any concerns you have about the Tree House Adventures. We welcome anyone who wants to bring their children to a safe, clean, and fun environment.