November 12th, 2008
About 75 people showed up for the early lunch at El Coyote Cafe to listen to Marjorie Christoffersen explain her decision to contribute to the Yes on 8 Campaign. Most of those attending were men who had been customers of Margie’s restaurant for many years. Some were children of Mormons or had been raised in the faith. And while there was at least one who just wanted to vent his anger, most truly wanted to hear Margie out and, if possible, find a solution.
Before her presentation, Arnoldo, an employee of 28 years, expressed that the management doesn’t share her views and that she doesn’t talk politics or religion with her staff. All were allowed to believe, vote, or contribute as they wish. He received polite applause.
Then it was Margie’s turn.
Although Margie is usually a spry woman, today she was breathless, and distraught and appeared fragile, not an easy task for a woman of her height. She stood supported between her daughters and read a prepared speech – most of which had already been released.
She praised the restaurant as a beacon of diversity, people from all places and where everyone doesn’t have to agree, where they can get along even with differing views. She credited her aunt for being sympathetic to the plight of the “gay individual” before there was support and how the restaurant became a safe haven for “that community”. She told of visiting sick people and providing “a healing place”.
She explained that she had been a member of the Mormon Church all her life and that she had responded to their request with a personal donation. She shared that El Coyote had contributed to many gay interests and charities.
Margie told of the 89 employees whose families relied on their job. She expressed how customers were part of the Coyote family. She lamented that this situation could harm a place with such diversity and harmony and joy and mutual respect and diversity of viewpoints.
“It saddens me that my faith will keep some from coming to the Coyote. But I cannot change a lifetime of faith in what I believe deeply. And I cannot and will not change my love and respect for your views”.
She did not apologize or express remorse.
Billy Schoepner, the Maitre d’, announced that the restaurant would contribute an undetermined amount in the neighborhood of $5,000 to the Gay and Lesbian Community Center and to Lambda Legal. He also expressed an intention to run full page apologies in Frontiers, a gay magazine, and in LA Weekly, an alternative magazine.
But the crowd was more interested in Margie’s response than that of the restaurant.
The first question to Margie was if she would be willing to make a personal contribution to the efforts to reverse the proposition. She responded, “I have to be faithful to my views and my church”, and quickly left the room. Her daughters remained behind, looking angry, dismissive, and indignant that those there would question their mother or them. They answered no questions nor made any statements.
Lucile, a waitress that is much loved by some there, tearfully told how she felt that God had led her to El Coyote. It was there that she met and learned to love gay people, which prepared her to be supportive when her brother came out. She expressed her fears that if Coyote goes down, she goes down.
But it soon became apparent that those present had not been satisfied by Margie’s response or the concerns of the staff.
Our friend Regan stood and spoke about how she had been subject to many people saying wonderful and loving things to her, a black woman, but once she was out of sight they had a different story. She noted that Margie had entered fragile and trembling but had certainly had the strength to rush from the room. Regan was not impressed.
Many there were distressed to know that a tithe of their profits was given by the owners to the Mormon Church, an organization that planned, organized, and funded an effort to take away the civil rights of those who made her business successful.
An executive with the Trevor Project told how 1,200 to 2,000 kids call the suicide hotline each month and that most come from the Midwest and that many many of them were from Mormon families that kicked them out, ex-communicated them, and left them selling their bodies on the streets to survive.
Several people sought a solution. One suggested writing Margie letters to express how she had hurt them. Others wondered if an ongoing contribution to a gay support organization in an amount equal to the tithe she pays to the Mormon Church would not bring reconciliation. Some expressed a desire to help the staff find new jobs should they lose employment as the result of Margie’s stance.
But there seemed to be a consensus that as long as Margie was a visible part of the restaurant, those present could not eat there. She would have to at least stay home and distance herself from the business. Some insisted that she sell her interest in the establishment entirely.
Some with Mormon families told of the difficulty that comes with disagreeing with the Church. You lose all family and all friends and all hope of salvation. The Mormon faith does not allow for disagreement or dissent. Truly Margie had been put in a position by her church’s leadership that threatened her business and her happiness.
But one man spoke of how he was raised Mormon and his family is still in the church. He said that there comes a time when you have to decide whether to hold onto one particular doctrine of your church or whether you will refuse to harm those you know and love.
And sadly, Marjorie Christoffersen has made her decision.
It was a very sad room that left today. I did not speak to anyone who said that they would continue to patronize the restaurant. They felt that they could no longer profit a woman who used their support to take away their rights. Many felt betrayed, some had lost a home.
No one stayed for lunch.
Micah, blogging at Shut Up! I Know! was also present. His observations were similar to mine.
Earlier today the LA Times reported on the controversy
Bob Montoya, a manager at El Coyote, said customers have called and threatened to boycott the restaurant, but it does not appear to have affected business. Montoya said he thought a boycott, if one was called, was misguided, as the restaurant has a number of gay employees and has always been gay friendly.
“I”m gay and I work here, and I’ve been here for 31 years,” Montoya told The Times. “It’s gay friendly. People have been coming here for many years, gay and straight, families and everybody.”
Perhaps Bob has not noticed a change in business. But I drive home past El Coyote nearly every day. Last night the front parking lot was only about a quarter full, far less than usual.
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