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in brief: lesbian couple responds to homophobic letter from cafe owner

Shawnee McPhail and her wife, Arielle, were the targets of a quiet but nauseating act of homophobia last month in the US state of North Carolina.

The couple had just finished lunch at The Sting Ray Cafe, and were holding hands on their way to the car, when the restaurant owner, Ed McGovern, approached them with an envelope. Inside was a barely-coherent note of Biblical references with a personal (and pitiful) ending:

‘God said in the last days that man and wom[a]n would be lover of self, more th[a]n the lover of God.

That man and woman would have unnatural [affection] for one another. Then, the coming of the Son of Man, who is Jesus. So please, look at your life. See how it hurt[s] everyone around you. And ask the Lord to open your eye[s] before it [is] to[o] late.

The Love of Christ

P.S. my daughter also was gay. It destroy[ed] her life and my grandson.’

McGovern confirmed the incident took place as reported, and even admitted to giving a similar note to another lesbian couple in the past.

The story has been picked up by mainstream internet media such as Gawker and the Huffington Post in the last few days. On the 16th of January, Shawnee McPhail’s open letter to the cafe owner was posted at the Huffington Post.

Her response is measured and thoughtful. In it, she pleads for tolerance and acceptance, the end to the kind of small-minded bigotry that allows such events to happen.

She writes:

‘Lesbians and gays are not monsters lurking among the normal people in your restaurant, monsters from whom you need to protect your children. We are normal people. We have children. Instead of focusing on what separates us, look at what brings us together. With the freedom to speak comes the responsibility to recognize intent, and the responsibility for the effects of your words.’

Shawnee and Arielle have received criticism for drawing attention to the incident, but as Shawnee points out, the letter goes beyond a personal address. It symbolises an attitude of moral superiority that continues the relegation of the LGBTQ community to second-class citizens.

The idea in McPhail’s letter ‘…we are human beings, and we have the right to love those around us, to be flawed, to have opinions and to eat without being singled out as easy targets’ goes beyond sexual orientation. The dual notions of reserving judgement, even when something goes against your beliefs, and treating people with respect, should apply to everyone. Hopefully, the attention the McPhails’ story is receiving will foster discussions about respect and equality, for the LGBTQ community, and beyond.

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