Monday, November 17, 2008

The -- Okay, MY -- Final Word on the El Coyote Boycott

The time has nearly come to move further discussion of the El Coyote Boycott off of my food blog, and get back to describing the sweetness of a caramelized onion or a perfectly charred steak. El Coyote has become just one part of a much wider political, social, and legal issue, which I'm interested in and will continue to discuss over at In fact, if you go there now you can see some pictures and discussion of Saturday's big rally downtown... where I saw quite a few familiar faces from El Coyote.

But since there's been such impassioned discussion on this board, I'll allow myself one last post on the subject.

I feel like I've been trying to be a voice of reason during what has been an emotionally upsetting time for regulars of the restaurant, be they gay or straight, and for the gay community that surrounds it. I truly appreciate the civil dialogue that's cropped up in the comments on my last two posts.

Last Thursday, I had a plan to dine at El Coyote in the early evening, but then heard about the planned demonstration there at 7. After, believe me, a lost night's sleep, I decided that I could support the freaked-out staff of EC and honor the protest at the same time, by showing up long before the protest started (so as not to cross a picket line), and then chatting with arriving protesters, when I left as they were arriving. I was helped in walking this tricky line, and developing coping strategies, by the best political strategist I know. Bly's take on boycotts is a must-read.

My group of six sat at the infamous Tate table (where Sharon Tate ate her last meal the night of her murder at the hands of the Manson Family). Billy, friend to every El Coyote regular, came by our table to thank us for our support in being there on what was going to be a nightmarish shift for the staff. We sucked down margaritas, fortification against the screaming, chanting, and horn-honking that could be heard coming from outside.

When we left, we talked, one-on-one, with some of the 175 protesters. All were understandably angry and frustrated; after all, 52 percent of Californians in our true-blue state had voted to take away equal rights granted to them by the constitution and the Supreme Court of California. A gentleman who gave his name only as Tom said he felt betrayed by manager Marjorie Christofferson's donation to Yes on 8; that whether Margie was an owner or not, his money, spent here over decades, was going to people who voted to taken away his civil rights, and he could no longer support the restaurant. He opined that if Margie was just an employee, she should be fired for her views. I asked if he would be comfortable being fired from his job for his political views. He said, "If I was a white supremacist... yes." This was of course impossible to formulate a suitable response to; there's no denying the emotion of being oppressed. We left, watching a sad scene of protesters harassing confused and frightened folks -- tourists, regulars, whoever -- leaving or trying to enter the restaurant, chanting "shame on you" and other, choicer epithets. As strongly as I feel about the wrongness of prop 8, this, I thought, is clearly not the way to win the hearts and minds of voters.

I went back to El Coyote on Friday night. There were still some protesters out front, maybe a dozen or so. But to my surprise the restaurant was pretty hoppin' inside. It was just... different. A straighter crowd. Much straighter. In fact, the management told me, and my conversations around the restaurant confirmed, that though there were a lot of extra-supportive regulars, like myself, there were also a lot of Mormons and other Yes on 8 supporters coming out to make their own statement.


I don't think this is the desired effect of a boycott.

Backlash against this boycotts has begun, from the most recent comments on my own blog to Tim Rutten's Op-Ed in the L.A. Times to the national media: I watched a debate on CNN
Sunday night where a pro Proposition 8 spokeswoman focused on "the hateful boycotts" and "harassment" of "Mormon employees of businesses" by the gay community. (I won't even tell you what Mike Huckabee was saying on Fox News!) This type of activity allows the H8ers to debate debatable tactics, rather than confront the larger issue of civil rights.

El Coyote has made every possible overture to the community short of "firing" Margie (the founder's niece), by making large donations on behalf of the restaurant to gay charities and even, as reported in the L.A. Times, gay and straight employees gathering personal donations totaling an amount five times greater than Margie's controversial 100 bucks.

Now, I'm not gay and this is not at the deepest level "my battle." Nevertheless, I will humbly offer to those of my fellow El Coyote regulars who happen to be gay this proposition: that El Coyote is not the enemy, it is an old friend, deserving of forgiveness. Do you really want to stay away while El Coyote -- a place where gay and straight used to hang out and speak the truth as only El Coyote margaritas can make you speak the truth -- stay away while El Coyote -- El Coyote??? -- transforms its business model into a hangout for Mormon families and Yes-on-8'ers?

Instead, why not take all that justifiable frustration and turn it into time and money donated to your local Repeal 8 campaign, energy at the phone banks during the next election battle, letters to legislators explaining, simply, that the majority does NOT have the right to deny civil rights to any minority group of law abiding, tax paying citizens.

I urge my gay friends to come back to El Coyote. Spend your time there doing as you have always done: relaxing, getting loose, and chatting -- nicely, please -- with the tourists and youngsters and oldsters in this diverse establishment, be they Mormons from Utah or bigots from the south or local blacks who voted for 8. Tell them how much this means to you. Tell them how human and compelling your stories are. Make El Coyote about what you're fighting for: love, not hate.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

El Coyote Boycott News

I was out of the office yesterday, and so was unable to report on yesterday's meeting between management of El Coyote and local members of the gay community upset about the revelation that a member of El Coyote's family ownership had made a personal, $100 donation to the Yes on Proposition 8 campaign.  I can be saved the time of describing the meeting blow by blow, as there is a factually correct account of it posted on

What the report fails to communicate is the level of upset among the El Coyote staff present.  Each and every one I spoke to was visibly shaken, some crying openly.  Each one stated clearly that although they disagree with Margie's personal position on the issue, that it is not the position of El Coyote as establishment or its management, so they do not understand the boycott.  They truly wish everyone could just get along, and allow individuals have their opinions without threatening the well-being of the entire establishment, a gathering place for a uniquely diverse community.  I tend to agree with that sentiment.

That said, it is not surprising that the meeting went the way it did, and it need not have done so.  One important element is missing from the reportage that helps explain why it turned ugly so quickly.  When Sam asked Margie if she would be willing to donate an equal or greater amount to Repeal Prop. 8, she deferred to management.  Management stated "We know Margie is so upset about this, and she would take back the donation if she could."

But when Sam pressed his question, Margie refused to donate a C-note to the opposite side, which would have effectively "taken back" the donation.  The deeds did not match the rhetoric.  I suspect that if Margie had agreed to do this, to put some meat into her apology, the issue would be dead.  But, sadly, it is not.

So... while I think the boycott is misguided, and its energy could be directed toward any number of larger, more complicit establishments, I understand and respect the anger and frustration of the community, and the need to make a visible protest of a visible target.

I had plans to dine at El Coyote tonight, at about 7:00... when the protest officially begins.  I will honor the protesters by not crossing that picket line.  But I will not boycott the restaurant before or after the protest.  The gay (and Other) staff, nearly all long-serving, dedicated employees, and truly wonderful people, depend on my dining dollars to feed their families.  Suggestions posted elsewhere that employees should "get other jobs" truly don't understand the nature of the restaurant: it is a family place in every sense, where owners, customers, and especially staff treat each other like family.  One might as well suggest these employees "get a new mother and father."

You may see me in El Coyote the next few days... you will also see me at the Repeal Prop. 8 rally at City Hall on Saturday.  I truly feel that's a more appropriate place to display our displeasure at the passage of Prop. 8.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Politics Meets Food -- The El Coyote Boycott

My novel, MY NAME IS WILL, is a cautionary tale about the danger of mixing politics and religion. I gave our friend Margie, the niece of the owners of El Coyote, a copy last week, but I doubt she's read it yet; now she's learning the lesson the hard way.

Margie appeared on a list of donors to the Yes on Prop. 8 campaign, which has led to calls for a boycott. Now as you know, I spend a lot of time at El Coyote, and I've spent some time here defending its kitchen. I'm going to spend a little more time defending it against a boycott.

Margie is variously described as the owner or the manager of the restaurant in various blogs and e-mails currently making their way around the 'net. My understanding is, she's possibly in line to take over someday; currently just an employee. When questions come up about the menu, or prices, or my and others longstanding request for some seafood, any seafood, she invariably refers us to the managers, Billy or Bobby. Billy and Bobby are both gay. In fact, I'd guess (with my fairly accurate straight man's gaydar) that a solid majority of the staff of the restaurant is gay. On any given night, particularly a Thursday (which has become an unofficial "gay night"; always amusing when I sometimes go there with Kent while Sa's at her belly dance class!) a majority of the clientele is likely to be gay as well.

I'm sure she's not going to need to hear from me about the mistake I think she made donating $100 of her own money -- and listing her place of work as"El Coyote Cafe" -- when I go there tomorrow or Thursday for dinner. But I hope that the boycott call doesn't hurt their business. Some of the wages that her family pays to all those gay employees no doubt made its way into the No on 8 coffers. I'd hate to take money out of the bank accounts and ti- takings of Billy and Bobby and Roberto and Jose and allof our other gay friends there, just because another employee (however closely related to the owners) prefers to donate differently.

We've talked with Margie quite a bit. She's the nice, tall, willowy lady who comes around with ice water and asks how you're doing. We talk about movies, current events, and, yes, politics. She's a Republican. So is almost half the country, and about four in ten Californians. She's also a lifelong Mormon (is there any other kind?). She was very excited about my book, and asked for a signed copy; I warned her it might be a little "racy" for her taste, but she wanted it anyway.

Perhaps when she reads the book, she'll get some reinforcement of the concept that toeing a church line on political issues is a slippery slope. But I think maybe she's already gotten that. From an apology letter posted online at shutupIknow, where there is some heated discussion of the issue:







Was Margie on the wrong side of this issue? I think so. Does the restaurant where she works deserve to be boycotted for it? I don't think so, but if you do, I'd at least go hear her out before deciding.

I leave you with a photo of one of the clearly-oppressed staff of El Coyote a couple of Halloweens ago. That's Roberto, affectionately known as Betty...

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Killing Time Until The Polls Close -- Houston's

I had big plans today.  I was going to work the Obama phone banks, then try to find somewhere where I could get a classic American hot dog and a slice of apple pie.  I was going to photograph it for you, to get you all warm and fuzzy about the U.S. of A. so that if you hadn't voted yet, I could inspire you to go out and do so.

I worked the phone banks, me and Donald Sutherland.  I was calling Virginia and Ohio.  People were mostly very nice, and many had already voted, and voted for Obama.

But then do you have any idea how hard it is to find someplace in Beverly Hills that serves hot dogs, apple pie, and martinis?  Did I mention I needed a martini? 

I went to Houston's at the Westfield Century City mall.  I don't, as you know, post bad reviews.  So I won't say much about it except to say that while they didn't have hot dogs, they also didn't flinch when I ordered extra arugula on my left wing liberal California arugula eating chardonnay drinking cheesburger.  And after requesting olives for my martini, twice, they finally located some.  Okay, here's a picture of the burger, and the martini.

Now on to the serious stuff.  Get out and vote if you haven't already.  If you have, and you're scouring the internet looking for early results... you, like I, will have to wait 'til polls close in Virginia at 4:00.

That's 45 minutes from now.  It's relocated to That's where I blog about Everything But Food, and I just posted a recap of my recent trip to Washington D.C., and the reading of my novel at the Folger Shakespeare Library.  There are some photos to inspire you about great presidents past, and perhaps great presidents future.

Happy Election Day!