I promised to post my take on last night’s protest, so here goes:
I stopped by the boycott of El Coyote Cafe last night just to see if it was on target and effective. I found myself drawn in. While I had not expected more than perhaps 30 activist types, I would estimate that more than 200 people took part (at one point – when you could still get from one side to the other – I counted about 150).
Those who were there knew why they were there and a great many were El Coyote customers. There were a great many hand painted signs and most showed an awareness of the facts involved. And while this was clearly seen as a part of a much larger protest effort by those I spoke to, this was not an irrational response to a rumor.
Unlike the mainstream media reports that Margie Christoffersen is “a manager” or “a daughter of the owner” (some even call her “an employee”), those there knew full well that Margie is the face of El Coyote. She is as much a part of the place as the fattening food, cheap margaritas, and bird cages full of plastic flowers.
And there is little doubt that the boycott was effective. During the period of the protest, only a handful of patrons drove into the parking lot and braved the jeers of boycotters. Perhaps not surprisingly, many were blonde. None were there unintentionally.
And while the parking lot was about half full, most of those cars didn’t move all night and I’m guessing that they did not belong to customers.
At one point a bus arrived and a large group of slightly-overdressed people entered the restaurant through a side door. Lisa Derrick identified them as French tourists, but I’ve not noticed another tour bus stop at El Coyote in the 19 years I’ve eaten there and find the coincidence a bit suspicious. Also, my admitedly limited experience with French people suggests that its likely that in a bus load of random tourists there would be several in the group who would refuse to eat at a restaurant being picketed by gays.
Although I had intended only to observe, I found that for this night, this was a boycott protest I could support. I soon found myself helping hold up a giant “boycott bigotry” sign. It’s not the wording I would have chosen, but it was close enough.
I was approached by a young man leaving the restaurant. He told me that he and his friends had a drink in the bar and while they sat there they realized that they just couldn’t stay and eat. “We decided we had to show our support for you.”
Well over half of the cars driving by honked or waved. A few circled around the block to honk again. Only one hasidic gentleman yelled “faggot” and one elderly man flipped us off – otherwise there was no visible negative response.
This was unquestionably a successful night of boycotting. But it was not a happy victory.
Those who work at El Coyote are the victims of the ownerships decisions – both that of Marjorie to contribute to the harm of her customers and the decision of her family to let her stay the face and voice of the establishment. I fear that unless a change is made quickly, this LA landmark will irreparably lose its base of gay and gay-friendly costomers and there aren’t enough busloads of “French tourists” to make up for that loss. And I feel sorrow that the employees – including Roberto and Isabelle, my favorite waiters – could all be hurt in the process.
And I still consider Margie to be a victim of the situation. Her church put her in an impossible position, fund an attack on those you love or lose your salvation. And while I cannot continue to contribute to her further enrichment (she told us her choice), I know she’s terribly hurt.