If you're a regular reader of Between The Lines or its sister publication the PrideSource directory, you've probably seen the ads: Joe Kort and Associates and the Center for Relationship and Sexual Health. It's a rather innocuous listing. Nothing seemingly controversial or inappropriate contained therein. But the brothers behind Atesian Properties, Inc., who own the Huntington Medical Building in Huntington Woods, felt the title was too provocative – perhaps even indecent – and declined to allow Kort to identify his practice by its name either on the building or on its directory.
This was not initially the case. Kort signed a multi-year lease for a 1,500 square foot space in the building with simply the name Joe Kort & Associates on the document. He says he was assured, however, that the full name of the practice would appear on any signage. Building management initially put the full name on the building directory, but then quickly notified Kort that it would have to come down.
"We told them the full name in the beginning and they knew that I would need two signs, one for both businesses," said Kort, who incorporated the Center for Relationship and Sexual Health into his practice in 2009. "It also was on the rental application and they were fine with that. But after they put it on the building directory a pediatrician in the building said they didn't like it."
Kort received the news via a phone call.
"The owner said, 'We want to have a neutral building that does haven't any words that are upsetting to people,'" Kort recalled. "I said, 'You should have told me before I signed a lease and we're in the 11th hour.' We're scheduled to move in February 1st."
Does Sexual Health allude to Sex Offenders?
The problem, said Darren Atesian, the building's owner, is that the words 'sexual health' may lead someone to imply that there are actually sex offenders in the building.
"If you were a patient for the tenant upstairs you are now uncomfortable because you think there are sexual predators in the building because it is a sexual therapy clinic," said Atesian. "It just seemed to come off that they're servicing people who are sexual predators. We're not the only ones who felt this way. Forget our tenants. We asked other people if this could be misconstrued and they said yes."
Kort was aghast when Atesian broached the subject.
"He asked me if I worked with sex offenders and I told him no," said Kort. "I said, 'We're not even trained to work with sex offenders.' It didn't even occur to me that anyone would think that."
But Atesian, obviously, did – or at least he believed others might.
"I know that's not what Joe's business is but that's something we're looking to get in front of because it doesn't need to be something there that I'm being asked that question, what kind of patients are you getting in there?" Atesian said. "Really it's no one's business other than Joe and his patients. But it is a position that I may be in if it's something that advertises and then it's misunderstood what the business actually is."
Apples and oranges: Does gay equal sex?
Struggling to accept his new landlord's discomfort with the name of his business, Kort said the ordeal reminded him of what it was like owning a practice that focused on the gay community in the 90s.
"It felt like I was back in the 90s," said Kort. "I received similar responses back then to the word gay. One place I rented from wouldn't even let me put the Advocate in the waiting room unless I put in bold print it belonged to Joe Kort. Now here we are in 2018, and to many people gay equals sex. It's the same problem just a different word."
Not so, said Atesian, who was adamant he'd have no issue if the words gay or lesbian appeared on the signage.
"I think we're talking apples and oranges here," Atesian said. "That really is not the case at all. Every circumstance has a specific case that we were worried about. This one specifically had to do with children and the idea that there may be a sexual offender in the building."
For now, landlord and tenant are at an impasse. Atesian continues to decline to put the whole name of the business on the building's signage and on its directory. Instead, the acronym CRSH is being used. Kort remains displeased but sees no other option but to accept it.
"We said let's leave it off the sign right now and let's see what kind of response we get to the acronym," said Atesian. "I told him if this is affecting you're business we'll circle back down the line."
But Kort is not appeased.
"They keep telling me this isn't personal," Kort said. "And I said. 'I'm not taking this personal. This is business.' I spent a lot of time building this business. I've been building it since 2009. To put Joe Kort on the window is not enough. That's not what people are coming to me for."
Kort said he will keep on fighting for the liberation of his life's work and the name he chooses to do business by.
"I'm so incredibly shaken by this," said Kort. "However, I intend to educate and push forward that the word 'sexual' is not a risk to children or to anyone else for that matter."