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Posts for July, 2009

Yelping Over Discrimination In El Paso

Jim Burroway

July 12th, 2009

Chico’s Tacos is a venerated institution in El Paso, Texas. It was founded in 1953 and is now the kind of place that locals take out of town visitors to visit, and former El Paso residents make a special point of stopping in whenever they’re in town. But that hasn’t prevented Chico’s Tacos’ Yelp ratings from plunging to 1½ stars over their discriminatory practices. They’ve been pummelled with 118 one-star ratings so far since July 10. That’s out of 153 reviews, most which had previously been very positive. It’ll take a very long time to recover from that. Not sure that this will have much of an impact with locals; they either love it or hate it. But it’s bound to deter some out-of-towners from stopping in.

El Paso Police Chief Disavows Prior Statements, Pledges To Enforce Anti-Discrimination Ordinance

Jim Burroway

July 12th, 2009

El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen has issued a statement “to correct and clarify prior statements” concerning the eviction of five men from an El Paso restaurant after two of them kissed. The new statement calls prior statements an “incorrect recitation of the law” and recognizes the police department’s responsibility to enforce the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance. That 2003 ordinance bans discrimination in public accommodations based on sexual orientation.

This statement is in response to public outcry over actions by police officers who were called to Chico’s Tacos restaurant after a security guard threatened to remove five male customers because two of them kissed. The guard told the group to leave, saying that “faggot stuff” wasn’t allowed. The men called police over their pending removal, but instead of enforcing the city’s anti-discrimination law, a responding officer threatened the cite the kissing couple for violating a nonexistent law against “homosexual conduct” — one that presumably would go so far as to ban something as radically “faggotty” as a kiss. Later, an EPPD spokesperson compounded the problem over the non-existent law by saying that the five men at Chico’s Tacos could have been charged with criminal trespass instead.

Chief Allen’s statement now recognizes the police department’s responsibility to ensure “the opportunity of each person to obtain goods and services in all process of public accommodation without fear of discrimination.” The new statement “recognizes the negative impact that discrimination can have on a community”and requires that all police personnel “be courteous and respectful in their official dealings with the public.” Chief Allen requires EPPD personnel to “maintain a level of competence” in enforcing the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance, and warns that failure to do so “will result in appropriate discipline.”

Click here to read the El Paso Police Department Statement

El Paso Restaurant Guards Release Statement Calling Kissing “Lewd Behavior”

Jim Burroway

July 11th, 2009
About 100 people protested outside the Chico’s Tacos restaurant in El Paso, Texas (Ruben R. Ramirez/El Paso Times)

Two of about 100 people protesting outside the Chico’s Tacos restaurant in El Paso, Texas. (Ruben R. Ramirez/El Paso Times)

It looks like a kiss is still a very radical act. The security firm hired by Chico’s Tacos has responded to the uproar over the five men who were kicked out of the El Paso, Texas restaurant after two of them kissed. It turns out that kissing is now lewd behavior:

The security company’s general manager, Robert Gamboa, released a statement Friday that said the guard encountered eight men, not five. The statement said the men were disruptive and caused a disturbance when the guard approached them.

“While at their seats, two members of the group did proceed to engage in kissing and other lewd conduct,” the statement said. “It wasn’t until another member of the group started to dance around in the aisle like a ballerina, that our officer approached them and asked them to settle down or they would be asked to leave.”

Carlos Diaz de Leon, one of the five men kicked out is described at being appalled at the statement. He insisted that there were only five men in the group and that no one was dancing. “That security company is ridiculous,” he said. He led a protest by about a hundred people in front of the restaurant Friday.

El Paso has an anti-discrimination ordinance which prohibits, among other things, restaurants from refusing to serve anyone based on sexual orientation. But that didn’t stop private security guards hired by the restaurant from ordering the men to leave after two of them kissed, saying that “faggot stuff” wasn’t allowed. Both parties called police, but instead of enforcing El Paso’s anti-discrimination law, officers threatened to cite the men with violating a statute prohibiting “homosexual conduct,” saying that kissing was forbidden in public. An EPPD spokesman later compounded the problem by saying that the couple could have been charged with criminal trespass.

The ACLU is calling for an official inquiry into the reported anti-gay discrimination, as well as the response by the El Paso Police Department.

Update on “Chico’s Five”

Timothy Kincaid

July 10th, 2009

The story of the five gay men kicked out of Chico’s Tacos in El Paso because they were gay has picked up momentum.

National news outlets, civil-rights lawyers from El Paso to Austin, El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen and City Council representatives all chimed in on the Chico’s five.

Also additional information has been presented.

The phrase the security guards used was, “Si seguian con sus payasadas, los vamos a sacar de aqui, no permitimos que anden haciendo cosas aqui de jotos.” Jotos is a pejorative term perhaps best translated as “faggot”.

Mirroring the situation in Ft. Worth, the police tried to defend their discriminatory actions – only making the situation worse.

But El Paso Police Detective Carlos Carrillo defended the officers actions, telling the paper that every business has “the right to refuse service to whoever they don’t want there.”

Well as it turns out, no the restaurant cannot refuse service due to sexual orientation discrimination. (El Paso Times)

Lisa Graybill, legal director of the ACLU of Texas, said a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court case determined that places of public accommodation cannot refuse to serve someone based purely on discrimination and must establish a reasonable basis for turning someone away.

Gay men and women have an additional protection in El Paso, where in 2003 the City Council adopted an ordinance that prohibits restaurants and other businesses from discriminating based on sexual orientation, she said.

Local civil rights groups are upset and some gay people are protesting.

Word of the altercation between the gay men and the security guard spread quickly through El Paso. A text-message and e-mail campaign on Thursday urged people in the gay community and others to participate in a peaceful protest at 5 p.m. today in front of the Chico’s on Montwood. Thursday night, about 35 people protested outside the Chico’s Tacos. Several held signs that read, “Equal rights,” and “I want to kiss in public” and “It was only a kiss.”

More Bigotry From Texas Police

Timothy Kincaid

July 8th, 2009

What is it about law enforcement in Texas?

Last Sunday night, Carlos Diaz de Leon and some friends stopped to have a bit to eat at Chico’s Tacos. Two of the guys kissed each other, which seemed to annoy the rent-a-cops.

“We went, sat down to eat our food and security guards came and said that if they kept doing that, they were going to throw us all out of the restaurant.”

Carlos said he then asked them why? Their response, according to Carlos: “They said ‘we didn’t allow that gay stuff to go on here.’ “

Carlos mistakenly thought that he and his friends have the right in Texas to be treated the same as straight people. So he called the police. But he didn’t get the response he expected. Rather than come to the support of Carlos and his friends, they were threatened with citation.

“Told us it was against the law for two males and two females to kiss in public, that they could cite us for homosexual activity.”

While there is a homosexual conduct ordinance in the state’s penal code, “We don’t enforce that law, there’s been court decisions about Texas’ law on that. We don’t enforce it and what happened there wouldn’t have even have met the elements of the offense, even if it had been enforceable,” said El Paso Police Department spokesman Chris Mears.

The police department admits the situation was not handled properly by a rookie police officer, but deny it was discrimination.

“Did he make a comment that he shouldn’t have made? Yeah, he did…but that comment I don’t think was discriminatory in nature, I think it was poor understanding of the law,” Mears said.

No, Mr. Mears, it isn’t just “poor understanding of the law.” If was official police harassment of a citizen of El Paso based on that citizen’s sexual orientation. It was discrimination. It was intimidation. It was bigotry.

In 2003 the Supreme Court of the United States told a state that its sodomy laws contrary to the US Constitution. And what state was that? It was Texas. It is simply not credible that there is a police force in the State of Texas that was not fully aware of Lawrence v. Texas and what it means.

Prior to the Court’s decision, it wasn’t as though the state was much in the habit of enforcing the law. They didn’t put folks in jail. That wasn’t its purpose.

The intent of the sodomy laws in Texas were to create a culture of intimidation, to leave gay persons under threat of being criminalized, to allow harassment without recourse, and to make it very clear that the State of Texas “didn’t allow that gay stuff to go on here.”

It seems to me like things haven’t changed much.

In light of the recent police brutality in a gay bar in Ft. Worth, it’s time to ask some questions.

  • Why don’t the police in Texas know that they don’t have enforceable sodomy laws?
  • Why does Texas still have sodomy laws on the books after they have been told by the Supreme Court that such laws are discriminatory and unconstitutional?
  • Why doesn’t El Paso’s Police Department consider the blatantly bigoted response of the officer to be discrimination?
  • Why would officers with the Texas Alcohol Beverage Control and with the Ft. Worth Police Department think it was “restrained” to bust heads, break ribs and thumbs, and harass 20 people selected arbitrarily and not associated with any obvious intoxication just because they were patrons of a gay bar?
  • And why is it still perfectly legal for Chico’s Tacos in El Paso, Texas, to refuse service to Carlos and his friends based solely on their sexual orientation?

I believe the answers to these questions are all the same.