“We don’t discriminate but we don’t serve gay people.” Huh?

I keep hearing this from people in the media, most notably small business owners such as the owner of Memories Pizza:

“We’re not discriminating against anyone, that’s just our belief and anyone has the right to believe in anything,” says O’Connor.

We heard the same line from 111 Cakery last year:

“[The owner] said, ‘We don’t do that [cake for commitment ceremony]. If I can help you with anything else, but we don’t discriminate.’

This is a little strange, right? They freely admit they’re unwilling to serve these couples, yet at the same time they are adamant that they do not discriminate. How can this be?

It’s so frustrating because it feels like they’re deliberately denying a rather obvious truth, that denying service based on sexual orientation is pretty much the very definition of discrimination.

What’s more infuriating is that Mike Pence in particular takes the same approach. After much thought, shame on Mike Pence and the state legislators who voted for this. It’s their job to know better and to protect ALL Hoosiers.

I’m not sure I feel the same about the small business owners who have been caught off guard by this discussion. It’s not their job to think deeply about these issues and how they impact all people. I think it’s clear from the additional context of their comments that they really don’t see this as discrimination.

Memories Pizza, for example, made it clear that they would serve anyone in their restaurant, regardless of religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or any other reason. Their objection is to catering a same-gender wedding, which they have never been asked to do before and don’t anticipate being asked to do so anytime in the future.

The owners of 111 Cakery expressed similar sentiments. They were happy to provide other services, just not for a same-gender ceremony.

I think in each of these circumstances, the owners do not see themselves as being discriminatory. They feel uncomfortable being at a religious ceremony for a practice they don’t endorse. I’m not sure why they feel providing food for an event they don’t agree with is so traumatic for them, but they’re entitled to their emotions.

There’s another component to this that I’ve discovered recently: Knowledge of basic civics lessons is badly overestimated in our society. I’ve had numerous people, many of whom lived through the civil rights movement, tell me recently that LGBT people should not be given special privileges.

They continue on to say “If I own a restaurant and I don’t want to serve an African-American or a Muslim or anyone else, I don’t have to. I can refuse service to anyone for any reason I want, so why should I be forced to serve gay people if I don’t want to?”

This ignorance about basic civil rights informs their view more than their desire to engage in discrimination. Many freely admit that they wouldn’t discriminate personally but that they feel people should have the right to do so. They don’t realize that private business owners do not have this ‘right’ already. A restaurant putting up a sign saying they can refuse service to anyone at any time for any reason doesn’t mean it’s actually legal to do so.

Unfortunately, these views are reinforced by politicians like Mike Pence, who deliberately obfuscate the issues and use the uninformed pubic to build a case that bears little resemblance to reality. This is one more reason why it’s so critical to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes. It’s also a terrific opportunity to remind people of the protections in place for Hoosiers and all Americans.

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LGBT Supporters: Dial it down a bit, alright?

walkerton-indiana-2.0

The RFRA debate in Indiana continues to spiral out of control. To this point, most of the anger and outrage has been (appropriately, I think) directed at our state legislators who are causing incredible harm to our state.

One business made the unfortunate decision to fill the void of pro-RFRA business supporters and enter the fray:

The O’Connor family [Memories Pizza, Walkerton, IN] told ABC 57 news that if a gay couple or a couple belonging to another religion came in to the restaurant to eat, they would never deny them service.

“If a gay couple came in and wanted us to provide pizzas for their wedding, we would have to say no,” says Crystal O’Connor of Memories Pizza.

I think that first part is important to acknowledge. Anyone can eat in their restaurant on a daily basis with no problem. However, they do have a problem with serving at weddings. Well no gay couple that I know would ever have a pizzeria cater their wedding, so this isn’t going to be an issue for them. Why the O’Connor family wanted this attention, I’ll never know but they have it now.

Their Yelp page has been overrun by negative reviews the vast majority from people who have never been to their restaurant, admittedly spurred on by uninformed comments about homosexuality being a choice. Is their view on LGBT rights ideal? No, but neither is it indefensible. This is the kind of situation communities sorted out for themselves before the state legislature decided to stupidly, stupidly draw a line in the sand for no good reason.

I’m not going to bother posting or repeating any of the reviews; if you want to read them, go to the page yourself. I will say that many of them are hateful and explicit in nature. I have no doubt that many of these reviewers are not even from Indiana, however the reviews are from LGBT supporters.

Friends, this is not a good look. One thing that’s been in our favor during this RFRA debate is the fact that we have the moral high ground. No one should be on the side of discrimination, ever. That being said, that high ground drops a bit lower when you behave with more hateful rhetoric than the side attempting to discriminate against you.

I understand the anger and resentment toward our state legislators. I also understand that there has been no outlet to channel resentment toward businesses that seek to discriminate. However, destroying everyone with a different opinion is not how this is going to work. We desperately want everyone to act with love and compassion towards those who are different from ourselves. That also goes for supporters of LGBT rights.

Choose to spend your dollars somewhere else. Make people aware of businesses that are discriminatory. But do it in a way that you can be proud of, that doesn’t give in to destructive, hateful impulses. Not everyone has had the same experiences or is able to reconcile their childhood teaching with the still-recent change in cultural expectations.

As we seek to promote equality for all people, I think it’s important to do so in a way that maintains one’s own personal dignity. I recognize that many LGBT supporters have had truly horrific experiences and feel compelled to lash out and punish those who want to discriminate against them. While understandable, I think it ultimately does more harm than good.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I think Bob Dylan said that (just kidding, I know it was Neil Young). It’s a good rule to live by; let’s all follow it.