Unless you read LGBTQ news sources, you probably haven’t heard about Brianna May and Kasey Mayfield, the lesbian couple who were turned away from a secular events venue in Winston-Salem, NC last week. Pretty much everybody knows about the Colorado baker who refused to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple, but few people are aware a string of similar cases are pending legal review in states where discriminating against LGBTQ people is against the law.
Wedding venue refuses to host NC gay couple's ceremony, citing its 'Christian values'
A North Carolina venue denied a same-sex couple a chance to have a wedding there, citing its "Christian values."…
Fewer still know many states like North Carolina don’t protect LGBTQ people from discrimination at all. Brianna and Kasey wanted to get married in an elegant, charming events center with no religious affiliation, but the venue said lesbians aren’t welcome.
The couple have no legal recourse.
The owner cited his traditional “Christian values” in turning the women away. When I read that, I flashed back to my fierce grandmother and to Mayberry, another little town in North Carolina she didn’t love nearly as much as the rest of America seems to.
My grandmother knew something about traditional values and unwarranted reverence for the past. I’d like to share her wisdom with you.
When I was a little kid, I loved Christmas!
Much of my love centered on Grandma Finn. Nobody could roast a turkey or bake a mincemeat pie like her. Mostly, though, I treasured sitting at the kitchen table as Grandma told stories about growing up in an era without cars, electricity, or indoor plumbing.
How she could make a real-life sleighride scene pop to life!
Around sips of cheap beer and drags of cool menthol tobacco, she’d describe the freezing old outhouse, the egg man and his cart and pony, the iceman whose draft horses helped deliver chunks of frozen lake to keep milk cool in summer, about a simpler time when life was …
Did you expect me to say better or more peaceful?
That’s not what Grandma Finn thought, actually. “Be glad you live now, Jamie,” she’d rasp. “Life was hard then, and so unfair.”
Grandma didn’t worship the era she was born in, she preferred the new one she’d matured into — with interstate highways, running water, homogenized milk, and critical self examination.
Grandma was a fierce anti-racist, though that’s a story for another day, and the very first member of my extended family to support me coming out as gay with uncompromising acceptance. She wanted things to get better, not stay the same or regress.
Grandma was Irish Catholic and devout
She filled her home with images of Jesus and Mary, and at Christmas her ancient nativity scene glowing with candle light filled me with wonder. She supported her second daughter’s journey to become a nun, and she said she wanted a priest in the family, though that never happened.
Grandma and priests! Now that’s a story!
Family lore holds that her parish priest was terrified of her and refused to visit her home while my dad and his siblings attended Catholic high school. Grandma’s sense of justice was unshakable, and tales of her cussing him up one side and down the other ring true, though I suppose they’ve been exaggerated over the decades.
Whatever he did to earn her wrath is a family mystery, but something about him offended her sense of justice. She despised him in particular, and she never reconciled with the clergy in general, not even after a new pastor took over the parish. I never saw her step foot in church, though she maintained a very strong faith.
Grandma questioned everything and exercised her own conscience, even when doing so made her unpopular.
Dad always called her his hero. After she was diagnosed with the cancer that eventually claimed her, he took her on trips all over the country. They explored rural, rustic America, including visiting Mount Airy, North Carolina, the real-life inspiration for Andy Griffith’s fictional Mayberry, the setting of a 1960s television series popular to this day.
Dad idolized Mayberry, but Grandma looked on it with deep suspicion.
Mayberry epitomizes a romanticized, “traditional” vision of America she never believed in. She sometimes waxed nostalgic about tastes and sounds of times forgotten, but she snorted in derision when Aunt Bea, the series matriarch, was portrayed as a bubble-headed weakling because she was a woman.
Grandma wondered out loud where all the Black characters were. “Probably hiding from all the “Whites only” signs, she snorted once around her beer.
Grandma didn’t respect tradition, and she didn’t respect religious dogma. She wanted to life to become better, more just, and more kind — no matter what any religious leader had to say.
I inherited much of my own sense of justice and disdain for tradition from her. She knew firsthand how life in the past wasn’t to be revered. She knew tradition often elevated injustice in ways ways she actively refused to support, even if it meant alienating herself from Catholic clergy while remaining personally devout.
Brianna May, Kasey Mayfield, and The Warehouse on Ivy
“As we would love to have you at our venue,” wrote Daniel Stanley in an email to Kasey Mayfield, “unfortunately we do not host same sex marriage ceremonies. We do appreciate you considering us.”
He sent that email after agreeing in principle to host her wedding. He changed his mind abruptly, only after she mentioned “the other bride.”
Stanley owns The Warehouse on Ivy, a multipurpose events center he renovated from the ruins of an old furniture factory. People find the venue charming and lovely. By all reports he did a beautiful job, and the building, which had been crumbling, is now a credit to downtown Winston-Salem.
What services do they offer? From Yelp:
We are a very unique venue that offers a space that gives that jazzy, classy yet speakeasy vip feel that can be used for any event from a basic birthday party to a beautiful elegant wedding. We allow outside catering as well as other outside vendors. We do have a team of great vendors we work with however we do not required [sic] our clients to use them. Contact us for a tour!
The venue advertises no religious affiliation. No Christian symbolism: not a single Bible, cross, or stylized fish is visible in any of dozens of photos available. The owner hosts holiday parties, birthday parties, awards dinners, and more. If management has policies about enforcing evangelical Christian beliefs, you wouldn’t know it from all the publicity photos of beer, spirits, and sparkling wine — or from the speakeasy reference, anathema to “traditional Christian values.”
In an email response to an inquiry from The Herald Online, the venue specified they discriminate ONLY against LGBTQ people:
“We will allow anyone of any color, race, religion or belief to use our venue at any given time. Although we love and respect everyone in our community, there [sic] own decision making and beliefs, we also strongly believe in our christian [sic] values.”
They seem to be telling the truth.
Researching this story, I found photos of what appears to be a Muslim wedding or wedding reception at The Warehouse on Ivy. Most of the women wear head coverings in the a style I recognize from my Muslim neighbors in the Detroit area.
Given the flavor of conservative Christianity popular in North Carolina, one wonders about Stanley’s “traditional Christian” values. Drinking alcohol is supposed to be a sin. Non-Christian weddings are not permitted in churches. Yet he has no problem with either of those practices at his venue.
Marriage in the US is not a religious institution in any case — and never has been. Same-sex marriage is legal and is endorsed by any number of mainline Christian denominations and almost the entire American Jewish religious establishment.
So what is Staley objecting to? Nobody is demanding he marry a same-sex partner. He already hosts events that wouldn’t be permitted in conservative Christian churches. So what’s the problem hosting an event that would be perfectly fine in churches and synagogues all over the country?
Grandma Finn would know the answer is mere bigotry
Staley is upholding old traditions centered around excluding LGBTQ people, traditions designed to force us into closets and prevent us from fully enjoying our civil liberties, from taking part in society as equal human beings.
Grandma Finn knew better. She didn’t revere tradition. Andy Griffith raised her hackles, and moralizing priests lit her up like a social-justice torch. I wish more of us were like her.
Today, in North Carolina, turning away a lesbian couple from a secular wedding venue is perfectly legal and perfectly unjust. It’s legal because people revere tradition and won’t examine their hearts and consciences.
Discriminating against LGBTQ people may be legal and it may be traditional, but lots of traditions change when they need to. Freezing outhouses were traditional once, yet warm indoor toilets seem to have won over hearts and minds much like electric lightbulbs.
It’s time to reject hate and move forward to better times. Right, Grandma?
James Finn is a former Air Force intelligence analyst, long-time LGBTQ activist, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, an essayist occasionally published in queer news outlets, and an “agented” novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.