Woman says Boone's Camp Event Hall refused brother and his fiancée after owner discovered he is black and fiancée is white
On Aug. 18, LaKambria Welch’s brother and his fiancée got in touch with a local wedding venue to discuss their upcoming nuptials. Then, on Saturday — the same day the couple planned to visit the Boone’s Camp Event Hall in Mississippi — they received a message from the owner.
“She had just realized who they were,” Welch tells PEOPLE in an email, “and due to her Christian beliefs she couldn’t accommodate them.”
When Welch found out about the rejection, which she says is due to her brother being black and his fiancée white, the 24-year-old and her mother drove to the event hall on Saturday for answers.
In a video that’s now gone viral, a woman Welch identifies as the owner is seen telling her, “First of all, we don’t do gay weddings or mixed race, because of our Christian race, I mean, our Christian belief.”
“OK, we’re Christians as well,” Welch says. “So, what in the Bible tells you that?”
“Well, I don’t want to argue my faith,” the woman says, later adding, “We just don’t participate…we just choose not to.”
The exchange went viral after Welch posted the video to Twitter and YouTube, garnering over 2 million views and a surge of backlash against Boone’s Camp Event Hall in Booneville, which has since deleted its Facebook page. Website Deep South Voice first reported the story.
The owner wrote a since-deleted apology on Facebook, citing her incorrect assumptions of the Bible as a reason for not supporting “biracial relationships.”
“To all of those offended, hurt or felt condemn by my statement I truly apologize to you for my ignorance in not knowing the truth about this,” she wrote, according to The Washington Post. “My intent was never of racism, but to stand firm on what I ‘assumed’ was right concerning marriage.”
Boone’s Camp Event Hall could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Welch tells PEOPLE she accepts the owner’s apology “because I was brought up to accept apologies whether given or not and whether sincere or not. That’s a part of Christian beliefs.”
Welch says that after her brother and fiancée were told they could not be accommodated, her mom twice asked the owner via Facebook messenger why and what her Christian beliefs were.
Welch says the messages, shown as read, were and ignored. “I knew our beliefs weren’t comparable,” Welch tells PEOPLE. “So I took it upon myself to see what exactly hers were.”
The in-person experience turned out to be stressful.
“In the video, I sounded very calm, but I was shaking,” Welch says of arriving at the event hall and hearing the woman say they don’t hold gay or mixed race weddings due to their religious beliefs. “This was my first encounter with racism, personally.”
In 2016, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed laws allowing businesses to refuse service to gay people. The law makes no mention of race, the Washinton Post reports.
On Monday, elected officials from Booneville condemned the woman’s actions as well as the discriminatory state law in a statement posted to Facebook.
“The City of Booneville, Mayor, and Board of Aldermen do not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, gender, age, national origin, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, or military status,” officials wrote. “Furthermore, the City of Booneville, Mayor, and Board of Aldermen do not condone or approve these types of discriminatory policies.”
Welch, who works in retail, is overwhelmed by the wave of support she, her brother and his fiancée have received online.
“I feel like everyone has shown the utmost respect, love, and support,” she writes to PEOPLE via email. “98% of people have only been kind to us all. I’m grateful, to say the least.”
Meanwhile, the couple, who don’t wish to be named, are still looking for a venue.