Houston became the latest Texas city to enact legal protections for LGBT citizens on Wednesday, joining Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, and San Antonio. But in the East Texas city of Pittsburg, one restaurant is going out of its way to demonstrate the need for such protections, banning a same-sex couple from ever returning and citing a policy of only serving men who “act like men.”
After eating breakfast at Big Earl’s Bait House and Country Store, Collin Dewberry and his partner Kelley Williams were told by their server that they were not welcome to come back, KTLV-7 reported on Tuesday. She cited a three-year-old company policy — printed on a sign at the door — that the establishment reserves “the right to refuse service to anyone,” prohibits “baggy pants,” and requires that “men act like men and women act like ladies.”
The server’s father, owner Earl Cheney (“Big Earl”), told a local reporter that while “homosexuality, Blacks, [and] Hispanics” were all welcome to eat at his restaurant, it was the duo’s public display of affection that lead to their banishment. “A man’s supposed to stand up and be a leader. He’s not supposed to be a woman. He’s not supposed to come in here in a dress,” he explained. The couple denied the Cheney’s claim that they had been rubbing legs and Cheney refused to show the reporter the surveillance video. Cheney’s admitted his daughter told the couple the restaurant does not “like fags.”
Numerous Facebook users took to the company’s page to express their outrage at the restaurant’s policy of discrimination. However, the restaurant countered: “numerous phone calls received tonight from people that feel the same way we do has been outstanding. We have new customers due to the news story, and will continue to feel the same way.” On Wednesday, Big Earl’s posted:
My goodness, does anyone read or study? Big Earl has spent his life in the military to defend this country and will be happy to explain the constitution to you. Earl is well versed in the Bible and Christianity, has travelled the world and is well educated. It would have been nice for the full interview to have played in order to explain the background to what caused the incidence. The quote “we don’t serve fags here” was never said, instead, after being badgered, the young lady said “We do not like fags”. The behavior portrayed by the young couple was simply inappropriate and would have been considered so no matter what sexual orientation.
Since the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it has been illegal to discriminate against customers in public accommodations (such as hotels, lunch counters, or movie theaters) based on their race, color, religion, or national origin. While 17 states and many localities have enacted additional protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, Texas and the city of Pittsburg have not.
Opponents of LGBT protections have recently tried to frame such laws as violating the religious liberties of “artists” like photographers and cake bakers, whose consciences prevent them from participating in same-sex marriage ceremonies. But this example demonstrates that the absence of public accommodations protections for LGBT people can leave them vulnerable to being discriminated against in something as basic as their right to eat in public dining establishments.