Orlando, FL – Two families have filed complaints accusing Universal Orlando theme park of discrimination after they discovered photographs of a costumed resort actor making an “OK” hand gesture while posing with their children.
It is unclear whether the individual, who is dressed as Gru from “Despicable Me,” is the same person, the New York Daily News reported.
One resort actor was fired after news of the first family’s photo broke in October of 2019.
That photo was taken back in March of that year, while Tiffiney Zinger and her family were attending a character breakfast event on their trip to Universal Orlando, USA Today reported.
Zinger’s six-year-old daughter, who is biracial, stood beside Gru for the shot, while her little brother posed with a Minion next to them, according to the New York Daily News.
It wasn’t until several months later that Zinger realized that the character actor had been flashing an “okay” hand gesture over her daughter’s shoulder when the photo was taken.
The family also had a 29-second video clip of the incident.
“I’ve been emotionally distraught about it. I’m still pretty upset that someone felt they needed to do this to children,” Tiffiney told USA Today. “It can cause emotional stress on my child and her development.”
“It’s more than the ‘OK’ sign,” added her husband, Richard Zinger. “A lot of people don’t understand what that sign means.”
The Zingers reached out to Universal Orlando after they spotted the hand gesture in their family photo in August of 2019.
“I want to cause change,” Tiffiney told USA Today. “I hope this doesn’t happen to another family again, and I pray that this doesn’t happen to another kid.”
A Universal Orlando Resort spokesperson later confirmed that the actor seen in the photo had been fired.
“We never want our guests to experience what this family did. This is not acceptable and we are sorry – and we are taking steps to make sure nothing like this happens again,” the spokesperson told USA Today. “We can’t discuss specifics about this incident, but we can confirm that the actor no longer works here. We remain in contact with the family and will work with them privately to make this right.”
The resort also offered the family free tickets and a gift card, according to the New York Daily News.
After news of the Zinger family photo broke, a Hispanic family in Florida began digging through photos of their Universal Orlando trip and found a picture of an actor dressed as Gru posing beside their five-year-old daughter, the New York Daily News reported.
Gru was flashing an “OK” hand gesture in the image, which was taken in February of 2019.
The families have accused Universal Orlando of public accommodation discrimination and filed formal complaints with the Florida Commission on Human Relations, the New York Daily News reported.
Attorney Lisa Riddle, who is representing both families, said that they may choose to sue the theme park if the commission determines there is reasonable cause based on their complaints.
“Universal has refused to give us any information as to the identity of the Gru character they allegedly dismissed despite our numerous requests for such,” Riddle told the New York Daily News.
Riddle said that they are determined to “identify the costumed character” and that they also want to uncover “what hiring, training and supervising shortfalls led to this.”
“Kids run up to these dressed characters with joyous abandon,” the attorney declared. “To know that the people behind the costumes harbor hate towards certain children because of their race is heartbreaking.”
“Universal should have the proper hiring, training and supervision in place to prevent what happened to these young girls,” Riddle added.
Making an “okay” sign below waist level is part of a viral trend known as the “circle game.” The game is popular in the military and among schoolchildren where people lose if they look at the okay sign.
Military cadets were recently accused of making a racist hand gesture, and an investigation determined that they were playing the circle game.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) added the “okay” hand gesture and 35 other images and slogans to its list of hate symbols in October of 2019.
The myth that the okay sign actually means “white power” was started by internet trolls on 4chan, an anonymous message board, in February of 2017, the ADL previously said.
“We must flood twitter and other social media websites with spam, claiming that the OK hand sign is a symbol of white supremacy,” the anonymous poster wrote, according to the civil rights organization. “Leftists have dug so deep down into their lunacy. We must force [them] to dig more, until the rest of society ain’t going anywhere near that s–t.”
Users encouraged people to perpetuate the hoax using hashtags such as #PowerHandPrivilege and #NotOkay, created fake social media and email accounts, and bombarded journalists and civil rights organizations with the misinformation.
But in 2019, the hand gesture “was being used in some circles as a sincere expression of white supremacy,” the ADL said in a press release.
“Even as extremists continue to use symbols that may be years or decades old, they regularly create new symbols, memes and slogans to express their hateful sentiments,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in the release.
“We believe law enforcement and the public needs to be fully informed about the meaning of these images, which can serve as a first warning sign to the presence of haters in a community or school,” Greenblatt added.