Indiana Republican Gov. Mike Pence and the national LGBTQ community could learn a lesson from the firestorm that followed a televised call an enterprising reporter made to a small-town pizzeria in Walkerton, Indiana.
In Walkerton, population 2,200, one of the owners of the now-famous Memories Pizza spoke honestly when she told the reporter that the restaurant would not cater a same-sex wedding. Perhaps if not asked a leading question by a TV reporter, the young co-owner might have made a different, more human statement. We’ll never know.
When the proprietor’s statement went viral, the pink mob went to work. Now, in my life I have seen mob mentality firsthand more than once. As a youth during the civil rights struggle in Alabama in the 1960s and an AIDS activist in Washington in the 1980s, I saw the ugly face of mobs who wanted to kill African-Americans and gay men and children sick and disabled by AIDS.
What happened in Walkerton was done via faceless social media. The results were no less ugly. As I learned as a youth, mobs, gay or straight, attract the type of mentality capable of lynching, bombing, burning, shooting, and inflicting painful words. In the case of social media, hateful words are captured forever. The owners of Memories Pizza were so shocked by the national social media language directed at them — which included death threats not worth repeating — that they reportedly decided to close the business. No LGBTQ leaders stepped forward to call off the mob and encourage the business to reconsider its position. That might have been seen as caving in to the religious right by the LGBTQ community. We couldn’t have that because, in the minds of many, we are rebels. We can’t use LGBTQ diplomacy to change people’s minds. No, instead we have to threaten them with pink violence; social media threats that are one step below real violence.
Eventually, Memories Pizza reopened after its supporters used crowdfunding to raise nearly $1 million for the restaurant. I suspect that is just the beginning of what will be a record year for the small restaurant. Aside from the money and publicity, evangelicals and Roman Catholics — losers in their fight against marriage equality — were happy to see the pink mob try to destroy a small heartland business. It shows the country, they say, how heartless the LGBTQ community is. It helps cement the myth of an organized "radical gay marriage agenda," as Ted Cruz puts it.
The LGBTQ community should not be about hate and intolerance. We must peacefully protest and reject the anti-LGBTQ bias and intolerance against us. What the public saw at Walkerton was gays gone wild.
The enduring lesson of the struggle for marriage equality should not be whether supporters or opponents can be more heartless and cruel. Rather, it should be who has more heart and love to share with those who are evolving on the issue. Based on the social media frenzy and backlash in Walkerton, both sides have a way to go.
JIM PATTERSON writes and speaks about human rights. Learn more about his work here.