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:

I HAVE BEEN SICK AT HEART THAT ANYONE HAS BEEN OFFENDED BY ME.

I HAVE FAMILY, FRIENDS, EMPLOYEES FROM THE GAY COMMUNITY WHO ARE TREASURED PEOPLE IN MY LIFE.

I HAVE BEEN A MEMBER OF THE MORMON CHURCH ALL MY LIFE. I RESPONDED TO THEIR REQUEST WITH MY PERSONAL DONATION.

FOR YEARS THE EL COYOTE HAS FINANCIALLY AND GENEROUSLY SUPPORTED THE GAY COMMUNITY AND MANY OF ITS CHARITIES.

PLEASE BE OUR GUEST FOR AN EARLY LUNCH WED., NOV. 12TH AT 11:00 AM AT THE COYOTE AND ALLOW ME TO SPEAK WITH YOU PERSONALLY.

PLEASE CALL AND MAKE A RESERVATION AS SEATING IS LIMITED. (323) 939-2255.

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...


8 comments:

  1. Thanks for writing that, Jess. I've had a post stewing in my head over the very bad idea of pursuing a culture war against Mormons (or El Coyote) over prop 8. I think I'll try to write it now.

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  2. I look forward, as always, to Bly's post. I think it's terrifically important not to play the vengeance and anger card following the election. This is a time for reason and civility to prevail, as i believe it ultimately will in the case of Prop.8.

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  3. Anonymous5:21 PM

    lol...the number ONE rule on how to get away with just about anything in politics: DO IT NOW, then apologize later when it too late to undo.

    Feel free to defend your friend all you want, but I'm boycotting. If her business completely fails, shuts down, and declares bankruptcy...then you can come to me for an apology...I promise to give a heartfelt one!

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  4. My point about Margie (and I only know her from El Coyote) is that it's not only not "her" business, but a prominently gay-friendly establishment... so to boycott it because of her private politics, however misguided, is to misplace your frustration... and therefore equally misguided.

    And if El Coyote fails, I'll collect on that apology... I needs them margaritas! :)

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  5. Anonymous7:10 PM

    Politics aside--and I do think that Margie and her church are on the wrong side of history--El Coyote is worth avoiding because their food is terrible. If you like old school, American-style Mexican food, El Cholo is much better. The warm, ketchupy salsa is especially bad. For me, the anti-gay politics of Margie are just another reason to go elsewhere for Mexican food, and in L.A. there are countless excellent options for Mexican food.

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  6. Anonymous11:18 AM

    Excellent overview! (and reader comments are interesting as well)

    Thank you for sharing Margie's response --- please let us know how the "lunch hearing" goes?

    MaryAnn here, sorry, the blog did not recognize my livejournal ID (?)

    Blessings. MAC/ Anaheed/ Library Elf

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  7. wistler11:25 AM

    If the gay patrons who frequented El Coyote don't voice their displeasure now, what's to stop Margie from attacking them in the future by supporting the next hateful legislation pushed by her church? Going from the donor information posted at opensecrets.org Marjorie Christofferson of El Coyote has donated to anti-gay causes in the past.

    If it wasn't for the boycott she'd go on supporting anti-gay legislation without feeling the slightest pang of guilt for betraying her gay "friends."

    Of course, she has every right to do this. But at the same time her customers have every right to look out for their own best interests by not enabling people who attack them.

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  8. Anita8:31 PM

    Hi Jess,
    Thanks for putting this boycott up for discussion. Both Prop 8 and the boycott of El Coyote are not well thought out. And who has anything to gain from either of them? Prop 8 was an ugly opinion poll. As I understand it, a change to the state constitution needs to be approved by the State Legislature and then, afterwards, needs to be approved by 2/3's of the voters. I don't believe Prop 8 will hold up in the California Legal System.
    And of course El Coyote can't fire an employee for donating to anything! If they did, I'd feel like I should protest that! And I'm totally against Prop 8.
    One good thing may come out of Prop 8 and that's community building to support equal rights for all. And maybe some people will make some new friends.
    But I'm glad we live in a country where people can and do speak up. I hope El Coyote isn't affected for long by the boycott. And I hope Margie changes her mind about everyone's right to marriage.
    Your Berkeley Sister-in-law,
    Nita

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