Tuesday, April 14, 2015

LGBT Accompaniment Required for Entry: A North Dakota Coffee Shop responds to Anti-Discrimination Legislation

LGBT Accompaniment Required for Entry by Jonah Engler
When North Dakota legislators defeated a bill that LGBT advocates said would help end sexually-based discrimination, coffee shop owner Joe Curry had a simple response: ban the legislators who voted against the bill from his shop unless they had an LGBT escort.

The action brought national attention to Curry and his Red Raven Espresso Parlor, and while he said the posting on the wall was meant to be humorous, it was also meant to send a serious message. He posted a newspaper page with all 55 legislators’ pictures who voted against the bill with a sign that said the legislators were banned, “Unless accompanied by a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transsexual, queer, intersex or asexual person.”

Curry describes his clientele as “lefties” in a mostly conservative state; it has an art gallery, live poetry, music and comedy shows, and even a seed exchange. But he felt that attention needed to be drawn to the failure to pass the bill.

“I think the statement was made and I think it struck a chord with a lot of people,” Curry told the Washington Post. “I think it encapsulated a lot of the anger and disgust with all the people who shared it. It did its job.”

He admits that not everyone was pleased, though. Democratic State Rep. Josh Boschee, the state’s only openly gay legislator and a patron of Red River, did not approve and said he would have done things differently, while others made their displeasure known quickly.

“A few phone calls telling us that we were hypocrites and using some language that was slightly hurtful, but nothing that will affect us long term,” Curry said. But he also said that the response has been “99.9 percent positive”.

That seems to go beyond just Curry’s customers; North Dakota’s Valley News Live website, a production of NBC affiliate KVLY in Fargo, polled viewers, and the consensus was that not passing the bill was giving North Dakota a bad image.

Curry has kept the sign and photos, in case he ever feels the need to post them again. But he says hopefully the legislators who voted against the bill paid attention, and has no problems with them stopping by—even without an escort.

“I hope that they thought about it, at least, and I hope some of them giggled,” he said. “But in the end, they are all welcome here.”

Jonah Engler is a successful entrepreneur, investor, franchise owner and coffee lover who hails from New York City.

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