Steve Horner thought he had finally won in Minnesota.
This summer, when the state's Department of Human Rights affirmed his complaint that bars hosting ladies' night specials discriminated against men, Horner thought people were finally starting to listen after his nearly two decades of squawking.
But there it was in the Star Tribune: Sally's Saloon and Eatery in Stadium Village was still advertising the drink special—or, as Horner puts it, "keeping a stick in the eye of justice."
At his home in St. George, Utah, Horner fumed at the thought that every Wednesday, from 10 p.m. to midnight, college girls in Minneapolis were violating his civil rights.
"I've had my crosses in life too, gals!" proclaims Horner. "For you to preach equality to me for 35 frickin' feminist years, but yet want free drinks when it's tits up at the bar time, I'm saying foul. You've got to take the salt with the sugar, sweetie. You're not going to deny me of my equal rights."
Steve Horner is America's crusader against ladies' night. Horner, a Minnesota native and brother of Tom Horner, the Independence Party candidate who ran for Minnesota governor in this year's election, has filed dozens of complaints against bars all over the country that, like Sally's, offer drink or admission discounts only to women.
After reading that Sally's planned to continue its ladies' night this past September, Horner called the bar to hear it for himself. With a voice recorder rolling, he asked an employee—a man who identified himself as "Matt"—what kind of drink deals he could expect to get if he came in on ladies' night.
"Ladies' night is Wednesday, and it's free drinks for the girls," Matt said, according to Horner's transcription of the conversation. "The guys gotta pay. Guys don't get anything free on Wednesday."
This was all the evidence he needed.
The next day, Horner filed yet another complaint with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights alleging that Sally's was offering gender-discriminating drink deals.
On October 19, Horner received a letter from Thomas Barnett, a Minnesota Human Rights enforcement officer. They were rejecting his complaint, Barnett explained, because Horner never set foot in Sally's.
"Because you were not a patron of the establishment, it does not appear you would have a standing to file a charge," Barnett wrote.
Horner had lost this battle, but his war is far from over. He is now trying to find an attorney to help him sue the Department of Human Rights, though Horner admits that finding legal representation on similar matters has proved challenging in the past.
"I'm not being flippant," Horner explains, "but I think they're chickenshit."
Horner has been on a quest to criminalize ladies' night for nearly 20 years. His unfiltered rhetoric and relentless opposition to an issue the vast majority of the planet could not care less about has made him the butt of plenty of jokes. But Horner isn't joking. And he is certain his crusade will be justified in the history books.
"I wasn't crucified like Christ was, yet he was betrayed by his people," says Horner. "I wasn't lynched or hung to a tree like many black people in the Jim Crow period of time, but I was denied my constitutional rights just as they were."
Horner's fight began in 1992 in the Mall of America. With just $10 in his pocket, Horner wandered into the since-closed Gators Bar. Horner was appalled to learn that, while women were admitted for free, men had to pay a $5 cover: It was ladies' night at Gator's.
Horner filed a complaint with the Human Rights Department accusing Gators of discriminating against men.
On June 1, 1993, Horner received a response. The department ruled that there was probable cause to back up Horner's charge that Gators had violated his rights by offering drink specials that appeared to be gender biased.
For his troubles, Horner was awarded $100 from Gators, he says.
The surprising ruling made for big headlines in the Twin Cities. In a Star Tribune article, one self-proclaimed men's rights activist called Horner a "folk hero."
Other reactions were not so positive.
"You puny piece of shit!" reads one letter to Horner, dated April 5, 1995. "Who do you think you are, fucker? This state has gone overboard on regulations as it is, and now you start this. I strongly suggest you take your Steve Corp. and leave town, before I find you and beat you bloody or worse.
"Any and all of my fellow friends would be more than happy to accompany me in beating the shit out of you. You can expect more letters, harassment, stalkings, phone calls, drive bys. You name it and we'll probably do it. You can run but you can't hide, you prick. We will find you."
The letter is signed, "Love & Kisses, A Minnesota bachelor."
In addition to the hate mail, there were vandals who egged Horner's house. He claims a group of women once doused the siding with acid that ate through the paint.
One day he received a package in the mail. It was a dress, accompanied by a card featuring a Chippendales dancer looking at himself provocatively. The note inside challenged Horner to put on the dress and meet him at Gators.
Horner finally took the bait. The next day he brought a tape recorder to Hooters in Mall of America and asked for details on the ladies' night special. After the hostess explained that he indeed would not be eligible for ladies' night drink specials, Horner tried to file another discrimination complaint.
This time the Human Rights Department didn't give him the response he wanted.
Instead of dropping the issue, Horner called Dolores Fridge, then the human rights deputy commissioner, every day in an effort to get her attention. After 13 weeks of calls, he succeeded.
Horner was charged with four counts of harassment and had to pay a $100 fine, according to court records, which pretty much canceled out the money he'd won from his previous complaint. He also had to serve a month in the Hennepin County Workhouse—a point he now claims will add to his legacy as a civil rights hero.
"It gives me some testicles," Horner explains. "I didn't bow out, didn't whimper, didn't cop out. I stood, took the medicine, and the medicine tasted awful. And it was for an illness that I wasn't inflicted with. I shouldn't have gone. I was a hero for standing up to the maliciousness of that court. I suppose it's like a lot of freedom fighters who chain themselves to street posts."
After serving his time, Horner brought his crusade to a national audience. He has filed more than 30 complaints against bars all over America, he says, and has won nearly $10,000 in settlements. He also began writing a book on the subject, titled Can't Understand Normal Thinking—or C.U.N.T.
Fighting ladies' night drink specials has become his life's work.
Horner filed five complaints against bars offering ladies' nights in Minneapolis earlier this year. In June, the Human Rights Department released a statement affirming his argument.
"It is the Department of Human Rights' position that ladies' night is illegal," Commissioner James Kirkpatrick said in a statement. "Gender-based pricing violates the Human Rights Act."
So does that mean that Horner has a legitimate point?
Yes, according to Velma Korbel, who was Minnesota's Human Rights Commissioner until earlier this year.
The ruling is a correct reading of the law, Korbel explains, though she notes that, in her decades of human rights work, it's a point no one else has ever cared to make.
"You could say that as soon as a person starts to go lax on even the smallest area of discrimination, it's just a slippery slope," offers Korbel. "But I'm a realist, and I've been doing this work a long time, and if ladies' night is the worst it ever got, we'd all be out of jobs."
Now that his Sally's petition has been rejected, Horner's only standing complaint is against the Blue Martini in Las Vegas. The general manager of the Blue Martini didn't return a request for comment. "I don't even know what we would say about that," groaned an employee who answered the phone at the bar.
In the meantime, Horner will continue his quest for the rights of the bald white man in hopes that, in the context of history, he will be remembered as a true American hero.
"I believe this is patriotic," Horner says of his quest. "I believe to see the rocks coming is pragmatic, you see. That's a man's position. The frickin' rocks are coming, take a left! The women might say, let's not turn too fast, because we've got babies sleeping."