[CAUTION: Get ready to clutch your pearls, grease ahead!]
Bennett claims that he experienced discrimination almost immediately after he started the job, saying that Caroline Wiggins, the membership and volunteer coordinator, complained to Jackson that she did not wish to work with Bennett because he is gay. After Wiggins was allowed to work under the field director, Rev. Gregory Seal Livingston, she allegedly said that she did not have to answer to Bennett. (Wiggins is no longer with the coalition. Windy City Times attempted several times to speak with Livingston about the matter, but had no response.) In the complaint, Bennett says that "no investigation or action was taken in response" to his complaining about Wiggins.
However, the most explosive charges revolve around Jackson himself. First, Bennett claims that at an all-staff meeting in 2008, he requested an LGBT-themed table for the national convention—and was flatly denied. When Bennett questioned why there could not be a table, Jackson allegedly "cursed at Mr. Bennett in front of all of the staff, and Rev. Jackson was visibly upset during the rest of the meeting."
Things allegedly took a more disturbing turn after Bennett also took over the duties of Jackson's travel assistant where Bennett says he was required to perform "humiliating" tasks. According to the complaint, in May 2008 Bennett was not allowed to accompany Jackson to Tanzania because Jackson was allegedly unhappy with the ways Bennett packed his items.
Bennett also claims that he had to escort women to Jackson's room and "clean up his room after sexual intercourse with women. Mr. Bennett believes he was forced to do these tasks due to his sexual orientation," adding that he had to escort women to such places as the Sheraton Hotel in New York and the Wynn Hotel and Resort in Las Vegas. Bennett claims that he let Jackson know that he "was uncomfortable cleaning up his hotel rooms, escorting women to his hotel room, being summoned to his hotel room after hours or packing his clothes."Tommy says working for Rev Jackson wasn't all bad, it was his staff that was unbearable. And if he were offered his job back today, he would take it, then he corrected himself, by saying "but not under those conditions. I would refuse, as a gay man, to work under … I would starve before I work under homophobic conditions. I never applied for travel assistant. I was the national community affairs director. Things didn't blow up until I had to go his house at 4 a.m. and pack his clothes, buy his underwear, buy his deodorant, get his Viagra and Cialis, and clean his room. That's when things got nuts." I cannnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn't!!!!!!!!!!
Things reached an apex later in 2008, when Bennett says he "was summoned to Rev. Jackson's hotel room" at the Hilton Chicago O'Hare Airport Hotel. Bennett claims that he was eventually instructed to apply cream to Jackson, who "had a rash between his legs." Bennett says that he refused, resulting in Jackson allegedly calling Bennett a "little motherfucker."
Bennett then states that another time at the same hotel, Jackson summoned him at 1 a.m. to take notes. The complaint states, "When Mr. Bennett arrived, Rev. Jackson was dressed only in his briefs and a v-neck t-shirt." Bennett alleges Jackson was sexually excited. Asked by Windy City Times how he came to this conclusion, Bennett said, "I could tell by his look. His whole demeanor had changed. His breathing pattern had changed."
The complaint continues: "Before Mr. Bennett left, Rev. Jackson stated that white folks took the word 'gay' and gave the word its own definition. Rev. Jackson further stated that he was a real poor child in North Carolina and his name was first Jesse Burns, and then Jesse Robinson and then he became Jesse Jackson.
"Rev. Jackson stated that he played football and there was a gay high school teacher who took Rev. Jackson under his wings and told him that he needed education to go along with football. Rev. Jackson said, '[F]rom that gay teacher, I got a good grade, I got to use his car, I got ten dollars and I got my dick sucked.' Rev. Jackson said, '[T]hat's not gay, that is surviving.'" Bennett alleges this meant Rev. Jackson wanted sex, but that Bennett then left the room.
Bennett also makes a claim involving an intern. In 2009, said intern reportedly wanted to accompany Bennett one night to Club Escape, a gay nightspot. A month later, the intern allegedly said that Bennett took him to a gay bar and propositioned him, and that he, Bennett and two of Bennett's friends smoked marijuana, instigating an investigation. Bennett says that he ended up on paid leave and that the drug test came back negative. He also says he never received the findings of the investigation.
The complaint concludes with Bennett saying that he received a letter Dec. 23, 2009, saying that he was being terminated "due to lack of funding." However, Bennett claims that several people were hired after his termination.
In a demand letter accompanying the complaint, Bennett said he wanted, among other things, $98,300 for back pay, front pay and loss of benefits; $350,000 for emotional distress and punitive damages; and an amendment of Rainbow PUSH's non-discrimination policy to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
Rev Jackson has denied the allegations. A spokesperson released this statement: “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...[Bennett’s] inflammatory allegations are an attempt to malign Rev. Jackson and the organization, and are hurtful and harmful to the progressive community.”
Pictured: Rev Jackson with his wife of 49 years Jacqueline Lavinia Brown who's 67 years old.
PS: How You Doin, Rev Jesse! Alllrrrriiiiiiighhhhttttt!