Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Sad Postscript - The El Coyote Boycott

According to several management-level sources at El Coyote, Marjorie Christofferson has submitted her resignation, both as a member of the restaurant's corporate board and as an employee. "Margie submitted her resignation today," manager Billy Schoeppner told me last Thursday. "I just got off the phone with her. She was crying."

This is the emotional result of the boycott of El Coyote launched by elements of the local gay community in response to Margie's personal, $100 donation to the "Yes on Proposition 8" campaign. So, the question is, does this mean the boycott's over?

During the largest protest against the restaurant, I asked many of the 200 protesters picketing enthusiastically on the sidewalk during prime business hours what they were after: what were their "demands" were before they would return to El Coyote? "Margie needs to resign," was the unanimous answer. So now she has. But various posts on other boards about the issue have expressed the opinion that "as long as ANY of the money I spend at El Coyote goes to the Mormon church, I won't spend my money there." It has been asserted on some other boards that: Margie is secretly the owner, because she's listed as the corporate contact with the state of California; that her family is Mormon, and because it's a family business, that means 10% of any money spent there is tithed to the church. I did some deeper digging, interviewing members of the staff, family, and longtime friends. Here's the real scoop.

"El Coyote is not Mormon. Margie's family isn't Mormon. They're all drinkers, except Margie!" Billy repeated to me over three days, over and over again. I thought this curious; Mormonism tends to run in the family. How did she end up the only one? Billy asked another manager, Larry; Larry asked Margie's husband Chris. Word came back. There were three Salisbury siblings: Blanche and the twin brothers George and Jim. Blanche and her husband founded El Coyote; George founded El Cholo. Jim married Margie's mother, Grace, and when her sister Blanche passed away, ownership of the restaurant passed to Grace. One of Margie's older cousins attended Brigham Young University in Utah, where he converted to Mormonism. Margie, at her cousin's recommendation, also went to BYU -- where she also converted. Jim (a life-long drinker and smoker) converted to Mormonism just before he died. Margie's cousin later left the church, leaving Margie (aside from, possibly, her two daughters) as the only practicing Mormon in the family.

As far as Margie's recent corporate involvement, El Coyote is run by a small, family-held corporation. Grace is its president and CEO. Margie has functioned as its Secretary. That's why she was the listed contact with the State of California. When she gave her notice as an employee, she also submitted her resignation from the board to Grace.

So there it is. Margie's out the door. I wonder who will be coming back in? The only possible rationale for continuing to boycott the restaurant (aside from not liking the food -- de gustibus non disputandem est, is I'll say about that) is that she might inherit a portion of it someday. True, she's the current owner's daughter. She also has siblings, so (and I am not, nor do I want to be, privy to anyone's will over this) maybe she'll get a piece of it someday. Is that justification for a boycott? Should your livelihood be imperiled for something one of your nieces, or nephews, or children did, or might do in the future? That seems absurd to me.

El Coyote has given thousands of dollars over the last few weeks to GLBT causes and charities. The restaurant is now -- believe it or not -- being boycotted by various right-wing groups for doing so. Mormon wards as far away as San Diego have sent groups to the restaurant in support of the restaurant's supposedly "anti-gay" policies. But of course, those Mormon's ain't drinking margaritas. Business is off dramatically, even considering the current economy. Waiters and waitresses -- many of them gay -- are having their shifts cut back.

The gay community has made an important, and nation-wide, point about civil rights, separation of church and state, and the power of the gay pocketbook. El Coyote has done everything it can -- and Margie has given up her lifelong job -- to make amends.

So could someone please declare victory achieved, and the boycott over? My local diner's in trouble.

11 comments:

  1. Joe Dodge5:37 PM

    Thank you for the complete story, well researched with in-depth reporting. One can only hope that the word of your article gets circulated to the people that can make a difference in their bottom line. As an ex-neighbor I wish them the best for '09 and would love to visit more myself (I miss their margies!) and propose we have a "comin' out" party for Obama next January, since I live so far away it's the least I can personally do.

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  2. It certainly seems like what was asked for. And I applaud her decision because, if her religious beliefs were so important to her, surely her convictions would not have allowed her to continue to work for a company that was going out of its way to declare itself diametrically opposed to her beliefs?

    It would have been beyond hypocritical to pay lip service to supporting the gay community but refuse to withdraw her support of Prop 8 or (as it's difficult to withdraw a contribution once its made) make a contribution to one of the many organizations working against Prop 8 to negate her previous donation. If she's really that firm in her stance, it wouldn't be tolerable to work in an environment that is openly courting the gay community and donating thousands to pro-gay causes.

    It wasn't up to El Coyote to fire her: they're promoting tolerance, diversity, progressiveness, and heavy drinking - and for those reasons, I'll keep on going. It was on Margie to choose to either stand by her religious convictions or to stand by her friends, family, and colleagues, and I guess she did.

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  3. Jess, thanks for keeping us all informed of the very sad sage of the very misguided boycott of Margie--oh, I mean El Coyote. This whole episode is all any right-thinking Mormon bonehead could ask for: divide and conquer, turn free-thinkers against each other, provoke the forces of change to commit violence. In fact, if I were a little more conspiracy-minded, I'd think the pro-8 bloc was surreptitiously behind the El Coyote boycott. Sigh.

    One small update: El Chavo in Silver Lake has recently been sold. The new owners seem hip, though I've not inquired as to their religious affiliations.

    Thanks, Jess, for your good reportage and your calls for sanity and perspective. But, as with food (as you say) so with politics: non disputandem est. I appreciate your links to other blogs; let's hope the boycotters begin to show a modicum of the sense you've shown and end this petty, ugly thing.

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  4. This really does feel like an everybody-loses situation. I think the real villain in the story is the Mormon church-- that's my own personal bias of course. Margie (whom I have never met) could see and sense for herself that gay people are good neighbors, co-workers, patrons, etc, but her church urged her to act in a way that would alienate her from them. What do you call an organization that compels you to hurt others and act against your own self-interest to support its dogma? I don't know, but you don't call it much of anything nice.

    And yet, though I blame the Mormon dogma for this situation, they don't seem to have lost anything from it. So like I said, and like you described: nobody wins.

    Do you think some variation on this story will end up in your novel? Am I allowed to talk about that?

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  6. Thanks to Franz and rasputin for their thoughtful posts. Two things, there's an interview with Margie in today's Sunday LA Times.

    Also, although the Times' Steve Lopez didn't stick around for dinner on Thursday, there apparently was a good crowd back for "gay night;" good enough that the staff was cheering in the kitchen.

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  7. Michael8:51 AM

    I saw this story a couple a week ago and spoke with many of my gay friends. I know many of us do believe the boycott is over and will be returning. Am I happy about this? No. It is sad. Personally, I think a more meaningful act on Margie's part would have been to declare (and realize!) that her creator gave her a free will. As she claims she knows and loves her gay customers, she should have decided for herself whether donating to 8 was the right thing to do. Only cult members follow the dictates of their leaders blindly.

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  8. watts9:54 AM

    Re: the Steve Lopez article...

    Cops in riot gear had to come out because of the protest? I don't remember that happening.

    Now every rightwing blog is spreading the lie that a violent "mob" of fascist queers attacked Margie Christoffersen. Once again we're being demonized by opponents of gay rights -- just like those dishonest Yes on 8 ads that Margie helped finance that she has yet to apologize for. (I guess her conscience is OK with spreading lies.)

    I'm unmoved by this sob story because those on Margie's side seem unwilling to defend her without lying and attacking the rest of us.

    If El Coyote wants my business it needs to set the record straight. If they can't stick up for themselves without vilifying their loyal constumers, they don't deserve my business. The kind of rhetoric Lopez is spouting makes it dangerous for us to even be seen in public.

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  9. Good story. I just hope that once the kerfluffle calms down and amends are made the place can recover. Actions have consequences but once the problem is resolved a little forgiveness goes a long way.

    I'd also add many Mormons I've met seem have no trouble serving alcohol or caffeinated beverages to non believers. I think (and I am not Mormon) they believe the injunction only applies to them or something.

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  10. Anonymous8:51 PM

    Jess, I don't know why you would believe a source from El Coyote regarding Marjorie Christoffersen's role with the company. While they told you on December 4 that Marjorie had resigned from the board and as an employee, they filed paperwork with the Secretary of State on December 11, 2008 which stated that she was one of the 3 directors and also served as secretary/treasurer of the company. If you are going to pretend to be a reporter, how about doing some actual reporting? You can request the documents from the Secretary of State - they are public record. These documents show that she did not resign as you were led to believe. To me this is just another reason why I will never step foot in that joint again.

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  11. I've been thinking about that last comment a lot. I have even printed it out and taken it to the restaurant, to pull out when Margie stops by to pour water.

    But the fact is, I'm not a reporter. (I have too much respect for what real journalists to do claim to be one.) I go to El Coyote for dinner and drinks, and to hang out with our friends who are on the staff. I have no interest in confronting Margie about all this. My inquiries with others on the staff got as far as being told that she's no longer an employee, and that she's not "on the board," but that it's still her family business and she could no more give it up than Obama could disown his grandmother. And I don't care to press the issue further.

    I understand those who might want to boycott the place to make a statement, or those who feel betrayed, and the number of gay customers has certainly dropped off. But personally, I don't and haven't supported a boycott. I think there are other, more sensible ways -- financial support, community involvement, talking to those who disagree -- to fight for marriage equality than to boycott the millions of businesses in the world with part-owners or heirs who haven't seen the light.

    And that's that.

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