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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Gay NZ Couple Run Out of Business by Homophobic Neighbors

By Killian Melloy -
Kym and David
Kym and David
A New Zealand couple says a local family that targeted their bakery for abuse and vandalism has driven them out of business. The couple’s car and home have also been vandalized, according to a Jan. 12 article in local newspaper the Press.

David Zelton and his life partner Kym had relocated their bakery to a new Christchurch location last summer following an earthquake. But they did not receive a friendly welcome from all of their new neighbors: the couple told the media that a local family, and friends of that family, had vandalized their store and harassed their customers. Finally, after suffering what they say was an impact on their health and their relationship as well as on their business, the couple decided to throw in the towel and close up shop.

"They’ve yelled at customers outside our shop, saying ’Don’t go in there,’ calling us faggots," Zelton told the media. Though the couple had turned to the police, they got fed up. "We’ve had too many broken windows, and it’s costing us money," said Zelton. "We just have to let it go. We’ve got no choice."

The harassment they suffered caught the couple by surprise. "We thought we could be who we are, not need to hide in the wardrobe or anything. We don’t need to be treated like shit," Zelton said.

Others in the LGBT business community shared their sense of shock, the article noted. Suzy Lawson, an executive member of the GLBT Business Association, told the publication, "I don’t understand how, in the society we live in today, with the laws we have, how people can still feel uncomfortable [with gays]." No other gay business owners had recently had similar problems that Lawson knew of.

But gay customers of McDonald’s fast food restaurants in New Zealand recently bristled to find that although 132 NZ McDonald’s locations offer free Wi-Fi, customers attempting to surf to LGBT sites were blocked. Social network and dating sites were not the only ones affected; a support site for GLBT youth and gay news sites were also blocked, as was the Family Planning site. Jay Bennie, the editor of blocked gay news site, blasted the decision, telling the media, "If someone is jumping to knee-jerk reaction that gay is just about sex, lesbian is just about sex, transgender is just about sex, then they’re showing their ignorance and foisting their ignorance on the general public."

"We do have a responsibility to make sure any information available on our system is child friendly and we will go a long way to protect that," said McDonald’s managing director Mark Hawthorn.

But some sites were still accessible: LezGetReal reported on Jan. 12 that, according to 3 News, "Similar sites with gay themes... were still accessible such as gay dating site, news website and Big Gay Out festival sponsors"

Other media outlets recollected that only a few months ago McDonald’s had garnered praise from GLBT advocacy groups--and condemnation from anti-gay organizations--for its "Come As You Are" media campaign, which included a commercial aired in France in which a young man chats with his boyfriend via cell phone while his father orders lunch at the counter.

The flap over the filter used by McDonald’s drew considerably more press than the anti-gay attacks suffered by the owners of the now-closed Christchurch bakery, and aside from the business’ closure, the final outcome has not yet become clear. According to police in Christchurch, a teen had been apprehended in connection with vandalism to the bakery. Police also had been engaged in an attempt to "mediate" between the business owners and local residents, the article in The Press said.

Yes, We Have No Rainbow Goodies

The incident is something of a flip-side to claims from American social conservatives that a bakery in Indiana was facing eviction after having refused to fill an order of rainbow-colored treats for a local college’s celebration of National Coming Out Day last fall.

Just Cookies was approached by students from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis about an order of rainbow-themed baked goods, but declined the order, with the owners saying that the bakery was ""a family-run business," and for that reason would be unable to create rainbow-colored cupcakes or cookies.

"When I explained it to him the nature of the celebration, the gentleman told me that it was against their morals and values to do so, and then hung up on me," the university’s Heather Browning told local station Channel 6 News.

"I explained we’re a family-run business, we have two young, impressionable daughters and we thought maybe it was best not to do that," Just Cookies owner David Stockton told local news channel Fox 59.

When a local business leader noted to the media that the bakery does not have a lease and is in its current space on a month-to-month basis, the right-wing blogosphere pounced, turning the story into a tale of woe in which a family business was on the verge of being shut down by political correctness run amuck. A story originating on Sept. 30, 2010, at anti-gay religious site OneNewsNow declared that the bakery "now faces eviction," and while the text of the story has remained the same as it has been re-posted at religious and conservative sites, the headlines have morphed into miniature dramas of decent folk being bullied by radical gays.

"Bakery Turns Down Participation in Gay Activism, Might Be Evicted," one site headlined the story.

"Bakery Won’t Bake Homosexual Cookies, Now Faces Eviction," a headline at another site blared.

The original text was posted at OneNewsNow under the headline, "Bakery displays morals, now faces eviction." The story told readers that the family-owned business could be evicted because "owner David Stockton took a moral stand and did not want to endorse homosexual activity."

A readers’ poll associated with the story offered three choices for viewers to vote on. "What does this story most clearly demonstrate to you about the current culture?" the poll asked. The three choices included, "Radical homosexual activists demand tolerance but seldom display it themselves," "Communities are moving further and further away from encouraging traditional values," and "Business owners risk their livelihood by trying to live out their moral values."

"They weren’t asking to petition for anything, they were just ordering cupcakes for an event," Just Cookies owner Rebecca Scherpelz, Stockton’s wife, told the media when the story first broke in late September, 2010.

The head of the board for City Market, Wayne Schmidt, told the press that it was too early to make statements about what the eventual result might be, but added that since the bakery pays its rent on a monthly basis, its owners could in theory be asked to move from the business’ current location, where Just Cookies has been in operation for two decades. Schmidt went on to say, "It’s not a matter of can we afford to [see Just Cookies depart from the City Market] or not, it’s a matter of what’s the right thing to do." Schmidt did not say that the "right thing to do" would be to ask the bakery to leave, however.

But right-wing groups responded as though he had. "What a disgrace when municipalities cater to the likes of a gaggle of perverts who believe shoving one’s pee-pee into another’s poo-poo merits ’special’ consideration," declared a posting at Free, a conservative chat site where GLBT-related news is posted and discussed at length on a regular basis.

"This, from a group demanding ’tolerance,’ " another posted, to which a third chat participant responded, "Tolerance as long as you agree with their viewpoint!"

"Did you think you’d be allowed to have an opinion?" another posting read. "Wait until the army has special offices on every base and ship to root out anti-gay thought."

But the university itself spoke out in favor of allowing the bakery to have its own say in whether or not it would fill the order. Fox 59 reported, "IUPUI’s spokesperson said the school has no formal complaint against the bakery and added embracing diversity means allowing the business owners the right to their opinion and the right to choose how to serve its customers, as long as those customers are not discriminated against."

While the tempest was brewing, the student group’s order was accepted by another bakery.

A call from EDGE on Jan. 12 confirmed that, months after the initial flap, Just Cookies is still in business at the same location.
Kilian Melloy reviews media, conducts interviews, and writes commentary for EDGEBoston, where he also serves as Assistant Arts Editor.

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