A Black woman who is legally blind says she was discriminated against while visiting a new church in Georgia.
Although Cynthia Coleman, 58, has not named the church involved, she has detailed her reaction to being told she and her service dog would have to move to the back of the church.
“They just left me no choice. It was like, either you move to that back pew or you leave their church,” she told WLTX.
In addition, Coleman says she received permission from the church to bring her dog prior to her arrival. Coleman is legally blind with no vision in her right eye and no peripheral vision in her left eye, meaning she must sit in the very front of the church to see the pastor. When she called the church and explained the situation, she was told it would be OK.
However, after she and her dog, Hook, took their seats at the front, she started to feel very unwelcomed.
“Sitting down for about five or 10 minutes and about four or five deacons approached me in a way that made me feel very uncomfortable. Somewhat aggressive,” she told WLTX. “I explained to them that if I sat in the back pew then it was just really not an option because I wouldn't be able to see. I could only hear.”
Yet the church did not allow Coleman to stay at the front because they did not want Hook to become agitated and disrupt the service. Although their complaint is fair, Coleman believes they should have handled it with a completely different approach.
“Had they said, ‘We don’t know how this works; can you help us?’ It would have been a different situation, but they treated us as though we were the leper in the church, and I just didn’t appreciate it,” she said. “It was discrimination. It was discrimination. I had never in my life been discriminated against. Never. And to be discriminated against for the first time, as a disabled person in a church, is disgusting.”
Coleman hopes the church understands how they made her feel and that they should be one of the most inclusive and welcoming spaces.
“I was about in tears because we don't choose to be blind and we don't choose to be disabled. I almost felt like the leper in the church,” she told WLTX. “In a public place, especially in a church, we should be welcomed with open arms.”