Tuesday, April 7, 2015

On Pizza and Persecution

It’s a little weird how it happened—Indiana did what 40% of the 50 states have done, albeit with an added protection to allow individuals protection against anti-discrimination lawsuits if they deny goods or services to LBGT people. And where 19 states, including Connecticut, for God’s sake, got away with it, why did Indiana take it on the chin?

It was weird that it happened for other reasons: The “right” of a photographer to refuse to photograph a gay wedding seems a lot less appalling than the “right” of a landlord to refuse to rent an apartment, or a boss to refuse to hire a gay person. Yet in Indiana, those last two scenarios are possible, if—I hope—unlikely. So the fundamentalist florist has to photograph the wedding, but the fundamentalist boss can fire a gay person? Anybody out there who can explain that? Drop me a line….

It was weird for another reason, to me at least. Look, guys, some very decent, very fine people have a moral objection to my / our existence. There are, in fact, a lot of people whom I object to, starting with the fundamentalist Christians. Indeed, as a gay man—and terrible photographer—I would be appalled to photograph the wedding of the daughter of our own local fundamentalist firebrand, Wanda Rolón. So if a photographer says no to me and my gay wedding? I’d walk away and find somebody else. And I’m betting that for every florist who says no, there are at least as many who would say yes….

Weird, also, was the totally insane sense of religious persecution that fundamentalist fanatics exhibited—that old devil, “gay militants,” were goose-stepping straight into the churches and homes of the godly, and what Hitler did to the Jews? Hah—child’s play!

Then there was big business, since Walmart, down there in Arkansas where they were considering a similar Religious Freedom Restoration Act, growled, and that put an end to that. OK—it was clear: Walmart has over 3,000 stores in the United States, and though it’s hard to imagine a gay couple walking into a Walmart to order a wedding cake, trust me, it happens. So did Walmart want to be stuck justifying a baker who refuses to bake the cake? Or, did Walmart have the right to fire a baker who refuses to bake the cake. Anyway, Walmart and every other employer is walking on the thinnest of eggshells, since no employer can ask about religious beliefs, or even if they can work on specific days (think Saturdays for Orthodox Jews and Sundays for fundamentalist Christians.) So here’s what employers have to do:

The best way for the employer to gather this information is for the employer to state the normal work hours for the job and, after making it clear that you are not required to indicate the need for any religious-related absences during the scheduled work hours, to ask whether you are otherwise available to work those hours. Then, after a position is offered, but before you are hired, your employer can inquire into the need for a religious accommodation and determine whether an accommodation is possible.

Well, I had already figured out my newest scheme: Train as a barista, get a job at the competing café in Old San Juan, and then announce that I was Mormon, and therefore could not make coffee. And if they fired me? Well, a friend of a friend—that’s how things work down here—is on the board of directors for the ACLU. Naturally, Lady, the owner of the café, was totally great with this idea.

The weirdness didn’t lessen when a small town pizzeria announce that—sorry, guys—no pizza for gay weddings, thus eliminating the one food that has probably never been served at a wedding. Right—so everyone jumped all over them except for a zillion fundamentalists, and now the owners are close to being millionaires.

So for a week, I scratched my head about this, and during the week became obsessed with…well, here’s what I wrote last week:

I can tell you that he may have been born in Wisconsin in 1901, and that he died in 1978 in Phoenix, Arizona; I could tell you his social security number, if the Internet had not gone off somewhere. But there is absolutely nothing else I can tell you about the man who must have slept 20 yards away from me for twenty years or so.

There were walls separating us: He lived in one house, I lived in another. But there were many other walls. The fence between the two houses, the fact that he had no friends in the neighborhood, the fact that I can remember every other face of my neighbors, but his? I draw a blank.

It could be that he was never seen, and that, I think, is the point. He must have come home, he must have gotten out of his car. I even think he must have given me the $3.60 I seem to remember charging for delivering the morning paper: I have a vague memory of his house—which was as bland and nondescript as he, and how else would I have seen it? He never had visitors, never had anyone in; I recall him coming home late once or twice, but where did he go? Who were his friends, if any?

There was the silence my parents guarded against him: They never spoke of him, and never interacted with him, except perhaps once, when he complained about the pussy willow tree that grew on our side of the fence. The tree was greatly prized, since my mother would send the youngest son out to scale it—always when my father was away. The pussy willows would be in the vase, my mother beaming at the spring that they portended, and my father shuddering, since he knew perfectly well that his child had been clambering around on a still-icy roof. But my father kept quiet; the neighbor, who got the mess but not the pussy willows, did not.

I tell you these facts, but not his name, since he’s gone now, and deserves his privacy. Nor do I know factually what I know instinctively: He was gay.
This may or may not be, but let’s assume that he was, if only to imagine, for a moment, what his life may have been like.    

In fact, I have his dates wrong, as wrong as I may have had his sexuality. But I can tell you, now, how his life may have been, since the 1950’s have been well documented for gay people. As you can see in the second clip, the case for militant gays persecuting Christians could only be made if gay cops—dressed presumably in lavender—burst into churches, arrested everybody, and then doled out the information to the newspapers, which published the faithful’s names the next day, causing social stigmatization and loss of job. Because that’s what happened to gay people in the fifties.

I wonder, in fact, if both sides of this issue know this, and if they did, wouldn’t be acting more sensibly. I value jobs and apartments more highly than wedding cakes and flowers. If somebody doesn’t want my business, I take it elsewhere. I might—just might—grant a small business owner the right to say no, I want nothing to do with your gay wedding. I think the photographer has the more compelling reason—since he actually has to be there: The flowers and the cake can be delivered.

So what am I sure of?

Don’t, anyone, tell me that gay people are persecuting Christians!