The same right-wing religious, homophobic, anti-Democratic activist had his table set up in front of my local Von’s again today. Sadly, a man and women looking to be in their early 50’s were avidly perusing and signing his petitions as I walked in.
This time, though, I ignored the petitioner. Totally refused to engage with him and sought out the store manager instead. In a friendly manner, speaking politely and calmly and not caring if anyone overheard, I asked the manager what the store’s policy was on people collecting signatures out in front.
He was immediately defensive. “Oh, you mean that guy out there?” he shrugged in the direction of the petitioner, visible through the window.
“That’s right,” I said.
“Well, he’s protected by law. There’s nothing we can do. He has the right to be there, it has to do with public domain. You know, the amendments…”
“I know about the free-speech protection of the First Amendment,” I said, wondering to myself about what “public domain” law could trump Von’s private property rights. But in the end I’m no attorney so I opted to avoid arguing legalities and focus instead on communicating my alternative perspective.
“So, it doesn’t matter what position he’s advocating?” I continued. “He can advocate anything, no matter how offensive?” There was an African-American man ahead of me in line with his teenaged daughter. I wanted to say, “What if he was advocating against blacks and whites marrying? He could do that?!” but I didn’t, as I know the analogy between laws against miscegenation and same-sex marriage offend some African-Americans and I was seeking to win people over not alienate them.
“No, it doesn’t matter,” replied the manager, still defensive. “What do you find offensive?”
“He’s advocating against same-sex marriage,” I said. “I find that offensive. To the point that I got into a verbal altercation with him yesterday.” The African-American man finished his purchases ahead of me and left with his daughter. I advanced in line to where the manager and I were face-to-face. “I don’t know if you’re aware, but this past week a 14-year-old boy was shot and killed up in Oxnard. In part, he was shot because he was effeminate and had come out to his classmates as gay.”
“I hadn’t heard about that,” the manager replied, looking shocked.
“That’s right. 14-years-old. Shot in the head…brain-dead. His parents donated his organs. This happened in an Oxnard middle school classroom.” I paused for an instant, to let that sink in. “The climate fostered against gays by people like this guy out in front directly contribute to acts of violence like what happened to that boy.”
The manager was visibly softening toward my position. “I hadn’t heard about that…I wish we could get rid of this guy. We’ve tried,” he sighed. “But there’s nothing we can do. He’s protected by the law. I can give you the number of the police, if you want to call them. They’ve already been called out here yesterday, by somebody.”
That was news to me. And I was glad to hear I wasn’t the only local person angered by the guy’s presence enough to do something.
I told the manager I wasn’t interested in calling the police, however, I found the guy’s presence offensive. “It’d be different if he was advocating a position on a local bond issue or something,” I said. “But what he’s doing is different. It contributes to violence against gay people.”
I then took my purchases, walked past the petitioner—looking away from him the whole time, as I didn’t want to get sucked into a verbal confrontation again—and left.