The owner of Picayune Funeral Home says she and her employees are being unmercifully harassed even though they never refused services for a gay man, as a lawsuit filed by the national group LAMBDA claims.
News outlets worldwide, including the Sun Herald, reported on the lawsuit Tuesday. In it, the Lambda Legal Education & Defense Fund claims Picayune Funeral Home refused to pick up and cremate the body of 86-year-old Robert Huskey because he was married to a man.
Henrietta Brewer, who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, along with husband Ted Brewer, said the funeral home has received hundreds of calls since the story appeared. The calls have come from as far away as Sweden and France, she said.
“They’re saying awful, awful things,” she said. “The story is not true.
“We have buried and cremated gays before. We have not refused anyone service before. We are Christians, but the God that we serve says that we are not to judge anybody, that God is the judge.
“We are to love everybody and treat everybody the same, so that is what we do.”
Brewer was with the Picayune police chief when the Sun Herald talked to her Wednesday morning, after internet news outlet Mississippi Today reported her claims that the lawsuit is unfounded. She told Mississippi Today the funeral home has served more than a dozen gay families since she and her husband bought it in 2006.
One man in Florida has the Brewers keep fresh flowers on his husband’s grave, she said. She did not want to share the client’s name because she said his grief is still fresh.
“You cannot believe the horrors we’ve had,” Brewer said, “people calling up and cussing my employees with really filthy language.
“It’s been beyond horrible.”
Huskey’s family has shared their story on YouTube. His husband, 82-year-old Jack Zadawski, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said on the video the couple met in 1962 in California.
“We hit it off real good, so six months later, he moved in,” Zadawski said. “We respected each other and we did everything together.”
The couple married in Hancock County on Aug. 17, 2015, after the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the rights of gay people to wed.
“I knew Bob was going to pass,” a tearful Zadawski said, “but I didn’t know he was going to be denied.”
The lawsuit says the couple’s nephew had pre-arranged in a conversation with the funeral home to pick up and cremate Huskey’s body. Henrietta Brewer said she has been unable to locate any paperwork showing Huskey’s family contacted the funeral home.
The nursing home contacted the funeral home to pick up Huskey’s body after he died May 11, 2016, the lawsuit says. Paperwork the nursing home sent the funeral home was signed by Huskey’s husband.
The lawsuit says an unidentified person at the funeral home then informed the nursing home Huskey’s body would not be picked up because the funeral home did not “deal with their kind.”
The lawsuit, filed in Pearl River County Circuit Court, accuses the Brewers and Picayune Funeral Home of intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress and breach of contract. Lambda Legal’s mission is equal rights for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people.
The family had to arrange for a second funeral home to pick up the body and take it to a Hattiesburg funeral home, the lawsuit says. Because of their distress and the last-minute arrangements, the lawsuit says, the family was unable to gather friends in and around Picayune to support them in their time of grief.
The lawsuit asks that a jury award them actual and punitive damages, attorney’s fees, expenses and other costs.
The Brewers are being represented law firm Daniel Coker Horton & Bell in Jackson. Lead attorney Silas McCharen said in a written statement the firm’s policy is to avoid commenting on pending litigation.
“ . . . I am compelled to comment, lest my silence be interpreted as agreement with what is being reported,” McCharen wrote. “ . . . Ms. Brewer denies she ever spoke the words ‘deal with their kind’ to anyone, including anyone at the nursing home where Plaintiffs’ decedent, Bob Huskey, passed away.
“Picayune Funeral Home has never refused to provide funeral services based on sexual orientation.”